There was once an age when if you wanted your blue jeans to have that cool worn and weathered look, you just wore those Levi’s 501s again and again. But those days are long gone, as denim jeans designers of all price ranges, from luxury brands to discounters, take care of that worn denim look for you.
What many of us do not know is that those faded or frayed look, which comes thanks to sandblasting, comes with a cost. First the work, which involves blasting denim material with pressurized silica, is dirty and dangerous, even with protective gear. Garment workers in countries including Turkey who are employed in factories where sandblasting is the standard practice have paid a price for others’ high fashion: silicosis, an incurable respiratory disease caused by the inhaling of silica dust. Earlier this month, the 50th known victim who worked at a denim factory in southwestern Turkey died from silicosis.
Turkey banned sandblasting in 2009, but the practice continues in the Middle East and worldwide. Brands including H&M, Levi’s and recently, Armani have given up sourcing these toxic jeans from suppliers who continue this practice. Others, like Versace, only stopped the practice after a nasty fight with activists who had their comments on the company’s Facebook page repeatedly deleted. Meanwhile Dolce and Gabbana still sell sandblasted jeans.
Now Target has pledged to stop selling denim jeans manufactured from suppliers who use sandblasting techniques. The company followed Levi’s lead and studied alternative ways to achieve that worn and distressed look. The solution? Workers can instead use hand tools to distress that denim in order to achieve that wanted look.
For advocacy organizations including the Clean Clothes Campaign, Target’s decision is a victory for those who want to see the more hazardous garment manufacturing processes disappear in favor of safer and more humane techniques. Meanwhile Target’s managers are committed to working with organizations like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Natural Resources Defense Council to work on improving its supply chain. With the recent signals that apparel manufacturers have sent to stakeholders that they are serious about responsible sourcing, Target’s decision is welcome news because corporate social responsibility is more than scoring environmental points. After all, that “S” in CSR stands for social.
As for that worn and faded denim look, you could just wear those jeans over and over again.
Leon Kaye, based in California and who has recently returned from the Middle East, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business. You can follow him on Twitter.