by Chet Van Wert
For me, no piece of clothing feels as good when I put it on as a favorite pair of jeans. I’ve learned over the years which brands, sizes, and styles make me happy, and where to buy them. Rethinking the jeans I buy was nowhere on my To Do List. I really didn’t want to think about it, until I learned a few things about the jeans I’m wearing now (watch this one-minute video from Patagonia).
The Bad News
- It takes 2/3 of a pound of toxic herbicides and pesticides to grow the cotton in this one pair of jeans. It’s grown in places like South Asia or Africa, where they use chemicals that were outlawed in the United States a long time ago – and for good reason: this stuff injures farmworkers, seeps into the soil and the ground water, causing cancer, immune and nervous system disorders, and birth defects, and kills wildlife.
- More than 2,000 gallons of water are used to grow the cotton and dye the fabric that goes into a single pair of conventional jeans. When that water is discharged, it contains toxic chemicals that poison drinking water and aquatic ecosystems. Entire rivers in Asia no longer contain living things and are unsafe to drink (although, sadly, many people have no other choice).
- My jeans were probably sewn in an Asian sweatshop under appalling conditions that we outlawed in the United States over a century ago – child labor, fire hazards, long hours and low wages. These are miserable, subsistence level jobs that offer no hope of getting ahead.
Yes, the pair of jeans I’m wearing right now, and probably yours, too, are products of a system we can’t live with. So, what’s the answer?
You and I have the power to change this system. The solution is incredibly simple. Patagonia, Certe, PureClothes, Industry of all Nations and other ethical producers have done a lot of work over the past 20 years to develop reliable supplies of organically raised cotton, environmentally friendly fabric dyes, production methods that use less water and energy, and Fair Trade sew shops. We can wear their jeans and feel great again.
Dirtball Fashion and others have pioneered jeans made from recycled materials here in the United States – another solution we can feel great about.
The most environmentally friendly option is probably to extend the life of jeans that are in good shape but no longer wanted by their original owner. The environmental price for second-hand clothes has already been paid. You can buy them cheap and wear them with a clean conscience. Try ThredUp if you don’t have a handy thrift shop. Learn more from our 7-step Guide to Sustainable Dressing.
Check our constantly updated list of greener merchants we’ve discovered on GreenerDailyLife.com, and sign up for our newsletter to get updates as our list of sustainable fashion brands grows.
For more information on the environmental footprint of your clothes:
- “The True Cost,” a 2015 documentary available on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, and at TrueCostMovie.com.
- An amazing short video on “The 2-euro T-shirt”.
- Free downloadable e-books from Fashion Revolution (fashionrevolution.org):
- Learn more from the bloggers and other resources we’ve shared on GreenerDailyLife.com.
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