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Here’s the Skinny on Jeans: It Costs Way More Than You May Think

Everyone pretty much has one…a pair of jeans is a staple in anyone’s closet. In fact, an average person owns around seven pairs of jeans. But jeans or denim in general cost way more than you think.

There are about 40 shades of denim blue and the darker the shade is, the “dirtier” our environment becomes.

From a retail standpoint, a pair of jeans probably doesn’t cost that much. A big part of that relatively low retail price comes from the fact that denim manufacturing is now being done in lower cost countries like Mexico, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and China, just to name a few. In Xintang, China, 300 million pair of jeans are produced daily, and through mass production and extremely low labor costs, a pair of jeans can range from $20 to $40. Pretty inexpensive? Think again.

The process to produce denim is a fairly involved one and is very costly to the environment. A pair of jeans require 1.5 lbs of cotton, 1,800 gallons of water, 5 oz. of chemicals and 1.5 kW of electricity to produce. Multiply this over 300 million pair per day? The impact is tremendous! The cost of pollution and emissions are even higher: the textile industry produce 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater which flow untreated directly into Asia’s rivers and lakes. In fact, some textile workers refuse to live in Xintang due to the high levels of pollution and contaminated water that have turned the color of lakes and rivers to…denim blue.

Water in the East river has turned indigo blue from the chemicals and dyes from textile plants, which have rendered water unfit for consumption and killing marine wildlife.

Carbon emissions and human labor are one of the biggest issues the fast fashion industry has brought about as well. The industry has contributed 30% of emissions, which includes fabric production, packaging and transportation. Workers are also exposed to poor working conditions, including lack of protection from chemicals, abuse, and very low pay. The amount of waste needs to be taken into account as well as many of these clothing items end up in our landfills.

A study by the Impact Institute, has shown that the true cost of each pair of jeans should be around 30 euros ($32-$33) more than what it retails for to capture the direct and negative external effects (Negative Externalities) and other hidden costs.

I think this is a good way to start, but I also think that there are initiatives out there that offer a better solution. Enter, the Circular Economy. The circular economy is “an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design.”

The transition to a circular economy requires us to deviate from the linear processes that we have been using since the Industrial Revolution. In a circular economy, products are designed with the goal of eliminating waste by introducing materials and components that are durable, reusable, repairable and refurbishable, or at the very least, recyclable.

In a circular economy, waste is reduced to a bare minimum with the intent to restore, regenerate and reprocess. It’s a completely different paradigm and one that preserves our scarce resources.

In the circular economy, jeans are being redesigned to be used more, made to be made again and made from recycled or renewable raw materials. This initiative is called Jeans Redesign, which publishes guidelines that fast fashion companies can use to make fashion more environmentally and socially responsible. Since it was introduced in June 2021, more than 100 organizations from 25 countries have begun to redesign their processes and their products and moving towards a more circular way of doing things. From reducing rivets to natural dyes, organizations are paving the way towards a more sustainable and socially responsible solution.

MUD, H&M, Levi’s and other denim manufacturers are chipping in to promote a more circular future.

Are there barriers? Sure, plenty of them. But in my humble opinion, I think this may be a good path moving forward to ensure that economic growth is truly sustainable.

So the next time you purchase a pair of jeans, maybe rethink if this one is sustainably made, and maybe consider, just like me, whether you would simply consider some ultra comfy joggers instead.

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