How dirty is your denim, dear?

Oh, beloved denim. I think I speak for everyone when I say we’ve all got that one favorite pair of jeans that seems to go with most of the tops and shoes in our closets. How many pairs one has in total varies, but surely they cannot all be equal. Not in style and certainly not in environmental foot print.

It takes over 10,000 liters or 2,600 gallons of water to grow enough cotton for one pair of jeans. 2,600 GALLONS. That’s a lot of water. A scary fact in current times when climate change is causing more severe draughts and water supply, globally, is scarce.

But let’s put that amount into perspective and see what other “fun” things one can enjoy using that same amount of water:

  • Take 25 baths in a regular size bath tub
  • Eat one 16 oz. steak (believe me, in Texas this is not an unusual size)
  • Drink 44 glasses of wine
  • Or have 88 cups of coffee

I don’t know about you, but I sure enjoy a pair of skinny jeans way more than one steak! Or I would, if I ate beef. So does that mean that vegans and non-beef eaters can buy 50+ pairs of jeans per year with the same environmental impact? Nah, let’s not over-consume now, and there are still pesticides to consider.

jeans3
Environmental impact of one pair of jeans

According to our trusted source, the internet, it takes 2/3 of a pound of pesticides to produce enough conventional cotton to make one pair of jeans. Conventional cotton production accounts for 11% of the world’s pesticides and 25% of the world’s insecticides. The chemicals are harmful not only to the workers (five of the top nine pesticides used in cotton production are known carcinogens) but chemical runoff also affects surrounding ecosystems and contaminates lands and rivers. (The True Cost Movie highlights many important facts about growing cotton and its corruption; “Hello Monsanto”. If you haven’t seen that movie yet, please do.)

A better choice is organic cotton! Even if it uses the same amount of water, there are some great things to it; like no GMOs, no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, healthy soil practices, enhanced biodiversity and ethical treatment of farmers.

Google search, here I come.

The coolest denim brand I have found using only organic cotton, transparent sourcing policies and eco-friendly practices is Nudie Jeans. A Swedish company that doesn’t only live by mentioned practices, but also offers mending of old jeans at selected stores, (LA is my closest location), recycles denim and sells an all made in Europe product. Nudie buys the fabric in Turkey, the biggest producer of organic cotton in the world, and their jeans are sewn in Italy. It’s a bummer all their models are modeled by male models (that’s a lot of models!) online, but apparently many styles work for women as well. I am skeptic, but intrigued, and I can’t wait to find a retailer and try some of them on! All their other products, like tees and accessories, are fair trade or all made in Europe – they also source in Sweden (go local!).

nudie
Nudie Jeans stores: so stylish, euro and eco.

Next, I’d like to mention Patagonia and their line of eco-friendly, fair-trade, organic jeans. (Sewn in Sri Lanka). The drawback for me is that they only come in few styles and colors. Being designed for outdoor activities, comfort and “heavier use”, I am not sure these jeans would be best paired with a blouse and heels for a night of cocktails… I really appreciate Patagonia’s commitment to long lasting quality and the environment though. Did you know that every single cotton garment they’ve made since 1996, is organic? Love that!

Eileen Fisher has earned a shout out too, as they offer an all made in USA line, with jeans made of organic cotton! I have never tried anything on by Eileen Fisher, and at first sight, it looks like more of a classic ladies brand than a modern brand, but I have been surprised before. Made in USA plus organic? I’d be a fool not to try them on next time I need jeans.

If mentioned styles don’t work – don’t give up your eco-fight just yet. Do a search of your own for organic jeans and see if you find something you like better. If not, here are some other ways to make a positive eco-difference when it comes to denim:

  • Only buy jeans you are 100% awesome-looking in. Don’t jump on temporary denim trends.
  • Wear them in and wear them out. Mend them if they need mending. Repurpose the fabric for something else if they are beyond saving.
  • Support locally made and buy your pair from a small, local vendor. If you can’t avoid pesticides in the process of making your jeans, at least pump some money back into your local community.
  • Look for awesome pairs at resale shops and thrift stores. If you want many variations of jeans, or brands you know are bad for the environment, this is the way to buy them.
  • Honestly, you don’t need to wash them very often. And never, ever, like ever, throw them in the dryer. Wash cold and hang dry.

Good luck :)

Dang! You look hot in those jeans!

18 thoughts on “How dirty is your denim, dear?

    1. I don’t have any reason to believe Patagonia is lying about using a Fair Trade Certified factory to weave the fabric and make the jeans. There are quite a few in Sri Lanka, and also India. If the cotton is from India, it kind of makes sense to make it all there. Paying fair wages to people in Sri Lanka is most definitely cheaper than paying someone in US or Europe to make them, which makes for an ethical, eco-friendly, yet cheap choice for Patagonia. I do see things by them not labeled Fair Trade, which personally, I would not buy! Many items are made in China, where I don’t think I’ve heard of any Fair Trade Factories operating! So a no go for me, even if the cotton were to be organic.

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  1. Love this post! It’s very timely for me because I am in the process of working toward a plastic-free wardrobe. I have been researching organic companies and am familiar with all of these. I ended up buying 2 pairs of jeans (which I LOVE and look awesome in :) at a thrift shop. They are 99% cotton (don’t fall down like the spandexy ones these days) and made in the USA/Mexico. Even though they’re not organic, the second hand factor and countries of origin are a plus for me. I’m iff to a good start but have a lot of work to do. I also love PACT organic leggings and underwear.

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    1. Sounds like a great score to me! Second hand + made here is an awesome find!
      My husband and I love PACT, and I am planning on writing a post on them soon. Modeling some of the underwear for the post? – I think not ;)

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  2. I had no idea! I can’t believe how much water and pesticides goes into a pair of jeans! At first I was afraid I was going to be shamed into giving up my jeans, but I’m glad you said I should keep mine until they wear out and provided some better alternatives to replace them with when they do! Thanks for posting on the #WasteLessWednesday Blog Hop. Can’t wait to see what you share this Wednesday.

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  3. I have two pairs of jeans a more traditional style, and I hopped on the bandwagon with the 70’s sailor flair pant this season… they were second hand and made in the USA! I still look for that stuff even when buying second hand. Which may seem silly, but it feels good to wear quality. Great post! I will be sharing. ;)

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