That is the big question for you and me, is your wardrobe drowning in liters of water? To resolve some doubt and confusion and to make my case clear, none of us (as far as I know) have an actual working source of water in their closet, yet we all have liters of water in our wardrobes. We all have waterfalls on our shelves with clothes, and the water comes from a very simple piece of material we all own – denim.
Now the fun part begins, I won’t leave you drowning in water but in staggering facts and thoughts about the water systems running in our jeans: first let’s establish a few things. According to Fashion United on average each one of us owns around six or seven pairs of jeans, but uses only three of them. Now go to your closet, or maybe after finishing reading, and count how many jeans you own. It’s a simple task, which will take 2 minutes tops and (spoiler alert) make you feel either guilty and compunctious or proud and messianic. I will admit, when I did this simple exercise I definitely did not feel like a savior of the environment. I own eight pairs of jeans and quite frankly I wear only three of them – the statistics do not lie.
Now that we have established the number of water sources in our closet, let’s dive deeper into the topic. It takes around ten thousand liters of water to produce each pair of jeans, so my wardrobe might as well be Atlantis. All of this information is shocking, putting us in an awkward situation of guilt and remorse, so how come are we hearing about this just now?
Jeans have existed for over 200 years and are one of the most common items in everybody’s wardrobe, and yet we know so little about them. So dear readers, let’s change that. To make a positive impact and make a difference we have to explore the topic and have some background knowledge to shine around during public environmental debates.
Let’s start with a brief history lesson. Jeans became popular after Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis presented their first pair of Levi’s 501 in 1873, and from then on they had hundreds of different innovations, alternations, and additions, from copper rivets to the pocket corners and tearing. Not only the design of iconic jeans has been changed, but also the ways in which they are being produced and consumed.
The initial denim pair of trousers was designed for California’s gold miners and laborers, as they were useful for workmen – the material was strong and more importantly they lasted long. Now, if we compare it to today’s material, well, there is a lot to say about jeans. However, “durable” and “long-lasting” are not exactly a term any of us would use to describe a pair of Zara jeans. Such a fashion staple, yet such a waste.
The market of producing jeans shifted dramatically over the century, now it’s all about fast-fashion, mass production and trends leading to little waterfalls in our closets. The production of jeans is a long lasting process which of course is being sped up in our fast fashion environment, so imagine what were the effects in 2016 when 1.2 billion pairs of jeans were sold worldwide. Just go shopping and see the world we live in: our shopping malls are filled with constant new collections; we live in a land of new and constant fresh designs.
Naturally, to keep up the pace companies exploit workers, taking advantage of or ignoring all labor standards. The workers not only stay in terrible conditions, but are also exposed to unsafe and harmful chemicals just so we can have the newest collection. What about the newest collection from six months ago? What is the old collection? All the garments that we can find on today’s market shelves are relatively new, and the collections we find in second-hands or outlets are no longer called „old”- they are vintage, when the truth is that sometimes they are just from a few seasons ago. And unfortunately the durable denim mineworkers wore is almost impossible to find nowadays.
What is the solution then? Should everyone just stop buying jeans? Should we stop showering to save water or stop doing the dishes after buying new denim clothing? How can we change the current situation? The truth is, we can’t do major contributions like introducing new laws, etc. However, what we can do is discuss and rethink the next time we are looking for a new pair of jeans, ask yourself: “Do I really need it?”
The ones who can really make a big change in the industry are the brands and companies. Levi’s promised in the 90’s that they will change their ways of production to be more ethical – using organically grown cotton and setting standards for worker’s rights. A few more companies decided to improve the lifecycle of jeans and include in their production more innovative recycling methods. That’s a good first step, but how many fast-fashion brands actually followed similar policies?
Jeans are a part of human history; they show our everyday habits like in which pocket do we actually, carry our personal items, keys, wallets, phones. Jeans are the basic garment in our closet that shows the details of our ordinary life, so let’s hope that the production changes so, we can all still wear a track of human history.
Written by Julia Kaczmarek