Despite many of us looking to sweatpants and cycling shorts during the pandemic, jeans remain the seminal wardrobe staple, with 4.5 bn pairs sold around the world every year. But there’s a hidden cost to our love of denim: producing just one pair of jeans can use up to 10,850 litres of water and harmful chemicals are often involved in the process.
“The main [textile] for jeans is conventional cotton, which requires huge amounts of pesticides and fertilisers to grow,” Laura Balmond, programme manager for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular initiative, tells Vogue. “During production, large amounts of chemicals and synthetic dyes are used. Jeans are washed multiple times to get desired colours and then on top of that, acids, chemical bleaches and stone-washing are used to give certain effects on the denim.”
That’s why the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched The Jeans Redesign initiative in 2019, which aims to tackle the pollution, waste and harmful practices associated with producing jeans. Its guidelines set out the minimum requirements—including materials used, durability, recyclability and traceability—that brands should adhere to, with the likes of Gap, Wrangler and Lee among those who signed up.