It is a well-known fact that manufacturing denim is an energy and water intensive process. For example it takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce just one pair of regular blue jeans.
It takes considerably more energy and water if you opt for a distressed pair. Many manufacturers are well aware of this fact and are doing their best to reduce this footprint by using many methods like energy and water reduction in their plants, using organic cotton etc as part of their CSR.
However, the human impact of sandblasting continues unabated in many factories, despite the health risks to workers. Sandblasting is a process whereby micro particles of sand are ‘blasted’ onto the fabric to achieve the worn and frayed look.
Large amounts of silica dust is generated during the process and when inhaled can cause a lethal pulmonary disease called silicosis. Workers in Turkey and Bangladesh have died as a result of this illness.
So what are your favorite clothing retailers doing about it?
Several Retailers Have Already Banned Sandblasting
Sandblasting gained popularity with retailers because the retail prices of sandblasted jeans is often significantly higher than jeans without such finishings. However it comes with a hidden labor cost. Several campaign organizations have been working towards banning this process. Labour Behind the Label has urged British companies like New Look and Marks & Spencers to ban this process. Other fashion houses like Levi’s, H&M have also banned this process. Asda said it was in the process of phasing out sandblasted products. Diesel said it would stop using sandblasting on its clothing from early next year and Next said it had stopped all new orders. Primark said it had halted sandblasting at more than half of its previous suppliers and expected to be out of 90% by the end of the year.
Other brands like Benetton, Bestseller, Burberry, C&A, Carrera Jeans, Charles Vögele, Esprit, Gucci, Mango, Metro, Pepe Jeans and Replay have also banned the process.
Versace Takes a Stand
Another campaign organized by the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) on Change.org where more than 1,200 people from around the world signed a petition urging the Italian fashion house Versace to ban the dangerous technique, has resulted in them banning the process as well. A major luxury brand taking a stand against this dangerous technique ought to have a positive trickle down effect.
According to a statement released by Versace, they were not using the process before but they have now decided to “take a stand” against this practice. They said that any supplier found to be employing the sandblasting process “will be considered in breach of contract and dismissed accordingly.”
Sandblasting Denim Causes Silicosis
Sandblasting has often been performed by migrant workers during long work shifts, in cramped, unhygienic treatment rooms without ventilation or safety equipment. In some cases workers even slept on site. In 2009, Turkey prohibited manual sandblasting with silica. The ban was effective and resulted in a major decline of the practice throughout the country.
New Eco-Friendly Alternative
According to Science Daily there is a new eco-friendly alternative to sandblasting called surface activation. The process washes down denim after dyeing to give jeans a look comparable to sandblasting. A study published in Biotechnology Journal claims that not only is it better for the environment, but it is also more efficient and cheaper. Science Daily reports:
“The surface activation technique presents several advantages, including preventing the decease of fabric strength, shortening the duration of the wash-down process and reducing the concentrations of costly chemicals.”
Now that Versace has joined this list, hopefully in the future this will galvanize more brands into taking action and banning the process altogether. Especially considering there is now a cheaper and safer technology in place.
Image Credit: ishane, Creative Commons