Traditionally speaking (if you can call it that after only a few years), what makes denim sustainable is the use of 100 percent organic cotton and plant-based indigo dyes. Some brands use recycled denim and Del Forte had a great recycling program where they would take your old jeans and recycle them into new ones.
Another major step on the eco-denim scene has been to ban sandblasting. The sandblasting technique involves the ˜blasting’ of an abrasive material in a granular or powder form, at a very high speed and pressure, on specific areas of the garment surface to give it the desired distressed or used look. You know, the look some of us achieve more naturally from wearing our favorite pair of jeans for years and years.
A number of brands, beginning with Levi and H&M, have now announced plans to globally ban sandblasting. Gucci and Versace have followed suit. Benetton, Bestseller, Burberry, C&A, Carrera Jeans, Charles Vögele, Esprit, Mango, Metro, Pepe Jeans and Replay have also banned the process.
Their surprising decision came about from rising concerns over textile workers developing silicosis, a harsh lung disease caused from the airborne particles produced from sandblasting denim.
Turkey imposed a ban on the practice of sandblasting apparel in 2008, following a study conducted by news channel France24 that uncovered numerous denim workers in Istanbul who contracted this incurable disease.
As a result of the ban, some of the large denim companies in Turkey are now subcontracting to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria and Egypt, potentially making it difficult to monitor. However, brands that are engaged with their supply chain, such as H&M and Levi’s, are in a better position to police the restriction closely.
But not everyone is convinced that this is a good idea. Monitoring the ban means that someone would have to visit the factories, to which some argue that a more effective solution is to impose a ban on factories that fail to implement good health and safety practices when sandblasting. And another possible solution could be to provide workers with the appropriate protection, and use dust extraction equipment, making it less of a health risk.
Still, the decision to impose the ban is a step in the right direction, toward more responsible production that cares for its workers and their overall health. And because the ban could pose great operational risks for both companies, their actions should be applauded.
While I sit back and watch this play out, I think I’ll stick to buying vintage denim that already comes with that worn out, distressed look.
Kelly Drennan is a true social entrepreneur, devoted to making change within an industry known for its many negative social and environmental impacts including labour, energy, waste, water, and the use of toxic chemicals.
Kelly has successfully aligned her company Fashion Takes Action with many leading businesses and ENGOs including Fashion Fights Poverty, Social Alterations, Environmental Defence, Earth Day Canada, Change for the Environment, FEM International, Vancouver Fashion Week, Green Enterprise Ontario, Toronto Greenhouse and Fashion Group International.
As a media “go-to” expert on sustainable fashion, Kelly has been featured in top media outlets including the Globe & Mail, Fashion Television, Metro, Breakfast Television, Toronto Star, Virgin Radio, Green Living Magazine, UK Times and Flare Magazine. Kelly also writes the “green” column for Canada’s fashion industry magazine, Trends,and is a contributor to two of the top US blogs in the “green” space, Elephant Journal and Eco Salon.