Ubiquitous. Essential. Versatile. Iconic. There are so many ways to describe jeans, which went from humble beginnings as workers’ clothes to present day’s runway fixture and wardrobe staple. It is for this reason that jeans find themselves as the subject of my green-to-glam idea starting with “J”.
Legendary designer Yves Saint Laurent, for one, held jeans in high regard: “I have often said that I wish I had invented blue jeans: the most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity – all I hope for in my clothes.”
In the 1950s, jeans became a symbol of youth rebellion and, because of this, were sometimes banned from restaurants and other public places. Today, trousers and other garments made from denim are perfectly acceptable, and many of us wouldn’t know what to wear to a social function other than a pair of (mainly blue) jeans. An average US woman is said to own seven pairs, and altogether there are more pairs of jeans on our planet than people.
Then, at some point in the 1990s, a new fashion came in when the ‘jaded’, distressed-looking denim became all the rage. This can be achieved by wearing (or should one say, wearing out?) one’s jeans, or – in our fast fashion era – done in a factory through a process known as sandblasting, which can seriously damage workers’ health. And this is not the only way in which jeans can make us and our planet jaded. Cotton used for producing the denim fabric is a particularly thirsty crop, and the indigo dye can end up polluting waterways and wildlife.
In recognition of the true social and environmental cost of jeans, some pioneering ethical fashion brands, such as Kuyichi, have introduced organic and fair-trade denim to the market. Responding to a growing consumer demand, several leading companies also jumped on the bandwagon by launching their own sustainable jeans. For example, Levi’s created the Water<Less jeans in 2010, which slashed the amount of water used in their production, and this year is launching its Waste<Less line made from a blend of cotton and 20% post-consumer waste such as recycled plastic bottles and food trays. For the best eco-jeans buys, read this blog by Fashion Me Green.
And it doesn’t stop there. Last year, a chemist and a fashion designer in the UK teamed up to create new environmentally-friendly denim which claims to remove harmful emissions in the air. This is achieved by coating the jeans with titanium dioxide particles – harmless to humans – that react with air and light to neutralize nitrogen oxide pollution from cars and factories.
If you are still left wondering what happens to your jeans after you’re done with them, Del Forte, the LA-based eco-denim brand, used to recycle old pairs of jeans through its Project Rejeaneration. Unfortunately, the eco-jeans line was closed in 2009, but I really hope the ‘rejeaneration’ concept will live on!
So is it possible to green our much-loved blue jeans? And, having brought about a social revolution a few decades ago, has the time finally come for jeans to lead the eco-fashion revolution of the 21st century? Time will tell…