Denim jeans – from fashion statement to ecological leg print

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The denim fabric of a jeans
The denim fabric of a jeans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to conserving water we often just see the obvious – leaking taps, mismanaged water systems, and chemically-polluted water effluent.

But what about mundane objects, every day items that we never think of that consume vast quantities of water without us sometimes even knowing about it?

Some of the larger companies who are massive water consuming or have massive water consuming processes, have begun to look into their processes and find opportunities to reduce their water footprint.

Levi Strauss & Co found that the life-cycle of a single pair of Levi® 501 jeans used more than 3,000 litres of water. Of that, 49% was used during the cotton-growing stage, 46% when customers washed their jeans and 6% during the manufacturing process.

I was interested to see at the weekend that a PhD researcher (Dawn Ellams) at my alma mater Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, has developed denim jeans using a fibre made from sustainable wood instead of cotton. The jeans have cotton-like qualities but only use one fifth of the water, energy and chemicals needed to manufacture conventional jeans. Manufacturing one pair of cotton denim jeans uses on average 42 litres of water.

Conventional denim production methods can also require up to 15 dyeing vats and an array of harmful chemicals. Dawn’s research has identified several areas within the manufacturing process which offer opportunities for saving water and reducing carbon emissions. The ‘no-cotton’ jeans are made using Tencel®, a fibre created by man-made cellulose fibre production company, Lenzing AG.

Full marks for all those in the denim jeans industry for starting to think about ways to reduce water in the manufacture of denim jeans. But to be really sustainable, with a cradle-to-grave approach, more innovation is required in reducing the amount of water required or necessary for washing jeans (although for many people jeans are not always washed this frequently as other items of clothing such as shirts and underwear for obvious reasons).

Water-wise washing it yet in its infancy but through innovation we can look towards new ideas that will reduce the amount of the water used for washing or clothing items.


On a lighter shade of green:

A woman called her husband during the day and asked him to pick up some organic vegetables for that night’s dinner on his way home.

The husband arrived at the store and began to search all over for organic vegetables before finally asking the produce guy where they were.

The produce guy didn’t know what he was talking about, so the husband said: “These vegetables are for my wife. Have they been sprayed with poisonous chemicals?”

To which the produce guy replied, “No, sir, you will have to do that yourself.”


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