What’s in your denims?
It was 1873 when Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis figured they should put rivets into men’s work pants, and they ended up inventing the legendary “blue jean”. Little would they have known that it would become the most widely worn garment in the world, with estimated annual sales of six billion pieces. Or that a workman’s clothes would become a fashion statement, made sexy by Calvin Klein and Brooke Shields. The scale of the global supply chain that has evolved to support humanity’s insatiable appetite for this humble garment boggles the mind. If we ever hear of it, that is. It’s safe to say that jeans are a big deal.
A journey along the path that your jeans takes from farmland to retail outlet is eye-opening. Not least because of the environmental impact that becomes evident along the way. One of the biggest concerns with jeans is the water footprint. Cotton, the primary material used to make denim, is one of the most water-intensive crops. According to an article on the Guardian, the global average water footprint for 1kg of cotton is ten thousand liters. Assuming an average bathtub holds two hundred liters of water, that amounts to fifty bathtubs! All that to make two pairs of jeans. Even if that ten thousand number is incorrect, even a tenth of that is a lot.
Add to that the water needed for the stone washing process. Stone washing is a process that gives jeans that worn, distressed look that’s so popular these days. But it comes at a cost. Stone washing too may require anywhere between twenty to seventy liters of water, depending on the type of jeans.
And then there is the issue of chemical effluents. The dyes used to color denim may contain all sorts of toxic chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde. Far from ideal for the environment. Multiply that by the sheer number of jeans out there. There are billions of pairs of jeans in the world, and when they reach the end of their life, they often end up in landfills where they can take decades or even centuries to break down. That’s a whole lot of denim taking up space on our planet.
And let’s not forget about the human cost of denim production. Much of the manufacturing is outsourced to poorer countries with lax regulations, leading to exploitation and poor working conditions for garment workers. These workers may be paid pennies on the dollar for their labor and subjected to long hours and dangerous working conditions. In fact, a tragic example of this occurred in 2013 when the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1,100 people. It’s a sobering reminder that our fashion choices have consequences far beyond our own closets.
So, the next time you’re tempted to add a new pair of jeans to your wardrobe, don’t panic. But do take a moment to think about what’s really going into it. You could potentially choose to shop from sustainable brands, wash your jeans less frequently, or recycle or donate old pairs. As Uncle Ben said, “With great denims, comes great responsibility.” (He may have said that about power but you get the idea)
This article is written by Parijat Garg and Dhruv Maniyar. As of March 2023, Parijat Garg is an Executive Vice President at IIFL Asset Management. Dhruv Maniyar is Assistant Manager at IIFL Asset Management.
Disclaimer: Securities investments are subject to market risks and there is no assurance or guarantee that the objectives of the scheme/fund will be achieved. The views & opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of IIFLAMC / 360 ONE WAM Limited (Formerly known as IIFL Wealth Management Limited) and/or its subsidiaries.