Denim jeans are a global staple with more than 1bn pairs being sold worldwide each year. Jeans are bought by 96% of American consumers with an average ownership of 7 pairs for women and 6 for men*. Documentaries such as China Blue have exposed the harsh conditions garment workers face in the denim industry often working more than 12 hours a day, in compromising conditions for less than a dollar a day.
Jeans are made almost exclusively from cotton, a fibre that uses vast amounts of water, land and pesticides to produce. Including the growing, dying and treating process, 11,000 litres of water is required to make a single pair of jeans. Further more the trend for pre-worn looking denim requires a method called sandblasting which according to War on Want is ‘often performed without proper ventilation, safety equipment or training’ and ‘exposes workers to serious risk of silicosis, the deadly lung disease caused by inhalation of silica dust’.
While the process of making denim raises many ethical and environmental questions, the fabric itself is particularly hardwearing and practical for everyday use. Furthermore, the vast quantity of denim on the second hand market makes it a great resource for upcycling and resale in vintage stores. Companies such as Re/done successfully take apart quality vintage denim to refashion into new jeans that are in keeping with modern styles. In contrast to the sterile nature of mass produced trousers, the faded patches and old stitch lines on Re/done’s individually crafted pieces celebrate the longevity of the fabric and create a narrative making them desirable on another level.
Swedish denim label Nudie Jeans is similarly transforming the way consumers view their denim items. The brand encourages customers to take care of their garments with a free repair service at satellite mending stations around the world and even offers to recycle your jeans when they are no longer wearable. While they admit that process of making their denim is still highly water intensive, they recommend new trousers are not washed for at least six months in order to properly ‘break them in’. A process they encourage to give the jeans a ‘worn look’ which tells the story of the wearer and gives an improved, personal fit. They also recommend hanging jeans outside to air rather than washing them unless significantly stained, saving water in the consumer stage of jeans life cycle.
Exploring the practicalities of using second hand denim.
Inspired by visual and sound artist Cibelle Cavalli Bastos, who creatively uses found objects in her art installations, I created a denim look with materials sourced entirely from charity shops and kilo sales. Elements such as the buckles from a pair of dungarees and buttons from fly fastenings were utilised in new and creative ways, serving both practical functions and as a reminder of the garments previous lives.
See the results below;
*statistics from: http://www.statisticbrain.com/denim-jeans-industry-statistics/