In honour of World Oceans Day which took place at the beginning of this week on Monday 8th June, I wanted to take the opportunity to spend today’s blogpost discussing the environmental impacts the textiles industry has on our oceans. Or, perhaps more specifically, how the water-thirsty denim industry impacts the wide range of life and biodiversity connected to our watery ecosystems.
In America only, 450 million pairs of jeans are sold each year, leaving the average woman with seven pairs of jeans in her closet, however most women will only regularly wear four of these pairs. Our over consumption of denim products, let’s not forget the denim jackets, shorts and shirts of the industry, results in a much larger, devastating impact on our oceans. But these repercussions do not simply tunnel down to our wastage and disposability of the garment, moreover some of the most disruptive consequences come from the manufacturing of the denim itself.
To make a simple pair of jeans can take up to 10,000 litres of water. As a result of denim’s origins largely being from genetically modified cotton, one of the thirstiest agricultural crops, areas of moist soil and bodies of water have been dried out. The Aral Sea was once the fourth largest lake in the world, but since the 1960s has been shrinking at a considerable rate. The reason? Well, all fingers seem to point to the many hectares of cotton farmland that surround the once fish-filled and thriving lake. In addition, when producing denim products, our need for variety and novelty comes at the cost of a heavy use of chemicals. In the dyeing process especially, a concoction of chemicals is applied to our jeans, many of which are kept secret from consumers. Indigo dye usually contains the chemical formaldehyde, which is known to not only be harmful to humans, but also extremely detrimental to the environment when it is deposited, untreated, through pipes directly into rivers that flow to the sea. In the documentary film River Blue, it was mentioned that families in rural China could recognise the ‘trendy’ colour that season by looking at what colour the river had been changed to, by the nearby factories. This untreated, chemical-infested water then not only gets used by local residents as drinking water, but it also makes its way into the oceans where it comes into contact with all sorts of marine life and habitats, thus causing irreversible, detrimental damage.
With all this in mind, it is clear that our fashion choices have never been more important, not because we need to be ‘on trend’, but rather we need to be standing up for our ecosystems and being conscious of the consequences a seemingly small, everyday purchase like denim can have. But let’s not lose hope. Brands such as United By Blue, are aiming to better typical denim practices, and are even using their brand to contribute to the cleaning up of our oceans. Though we may not see what is on the horizon for sustainability and our planet as clearly as we would like, it is as vital as ever that we not only ride the wave, but stand up, firmly root our feet, and surf it all the way to a healthier planet.