How Ethical Are Your Jeans? The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

How Ethical Are Your Jeans? The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Disclaimer: This article is not just another rant about how we are all guilty of drilling holes in the ozone layer, melting the igloos of polar bears, or fish kills in Florida. In fact, it’s a little more close to home than that. This article is about your jeans, the one you are probably sitting in right now. You might find the prospect of discussing your jeans with a random stranger a bit odd, but it’s about time we have this conversation. Bottom line up front: there is a high likeliness that your jeans are unethical and we have a problem with that. No, now don’t stare down at your crotch. Look right into this screen and read on.

You must have heard the term ‘fast fashion’ being tossed around on TV and in newspapers. That unsustainable practices are happening in the fashion industry which has resulted in a big chunk of bad press, particularly after the Rana Plaza building disaster which led to Fashion Revolution Day.

It is now believed that the industry is producing low quality products that release tons of harmful substances into the environment, fail to last as much as a single season and threaten the lives of workers due to exploitation and poor working conditions. These issues are at the crux of ethical fashion.

And the jeans industry has gone way overboard. Maybe not so much qualitatively, but definitely quantitatively! The jeans industry is one of the biggest culprits of fast fashion; guilty for contributing toxic effluents released into rivers. This YouTube video is a good starting point if you want to learn more about it:

Jeans are worn all over the world. Regardless of whether you live in Australia, UK, USA, Canada, Dubai, each individual is believed to possess at least one pair of jeans. You can’t claim the same about tuxedos or sweatshirts. Jeans are the one basic clothing we all share. Men, women and even children.

So let’s get real about your beloved pair of jeans…

Jeans have evolved to become a fashion staple that is valued for its on-the-go, casually comfy, dress-down-dress-up look. And the more battered a pair of jeans look, the more comfortable it feels, and the better… right?

And you probably didn’t want to wear out your jeans for years before getting to that faded, distressed look so you decided to go right ahead and purchase one that looks exactly like the one you found on Pinterest, correct?

Well what if I told you that this ‘worn out’ look comes with a great ecological and human price tag?

To get jeans to appear appropriately ‘aged’, fashion companies make use of a highly toxic process called ‘sandblasting’; a technique proven to cause fatal lung diseases -including silicosis – and linked to the deaths of many garment workers. And despite protests against this process, some companies still incorporate it into the manufacturing process.

How Ethical Are Your Jeans? The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

So this use of a process in jeans production which directly impacts the lives of humans so harmfully – we call this, The Ugly!

And more bad news.

The Bad on our ethics chart are jeans that pollute the air, the water, and the land. Denim has a soiled reputation of causing ecological harm and environmental depletion right from Day 1.

To start with, most denim uses conventional cotton which is grown using toxic pesticides that are sprayed on the plants to kill bugs and other insects. But once applied, it not only kills the pests, but drains into the soil and nearby rivers, where it continues to harm other forms of life.

In some places, like Xintang in China, factories also release polluted water used in the denim dying process, which then flows freely into water outlets. This untreated blue-black water mixes with river water and adds toxic metals such as cadmium, lead, copper, and mercury, killing the fish, sea weeds, and corals.

How upsetting to find out these painful truths about your denim!

But, hold on. It’s not all doom and gloom for jeans.

But there is a bright side.

The Good: Fortunately for us, there are companies and organisations which have pledged to minimise the ecological harm caused by the manufacture of jeans. Some giants of the denim industry, such as Levi’s, are playing the good samaritan and developing more sustainable ways to manufacture jeans. They are abolishing sandblasting and using up to 96% less water as compared to the amount used formerly.

Nudie Jeans ethical jeans ethical denim
Credit: Nudie Jeans

Diesel is also receding its productions to stay within ethical boundaries.

Of course this wouldn’t be an article on the ethics of jeans if we didn’t at least make mention of the eco-friendly alternatives to mainstream brands such as Mud Jeans, Monkee Jeans, and Nudie Jeans. These ethical jeans brands are trying to improve their production standards to provide social benefits as well.

The world over, more jeans companies – and fashion brands too – are brainstorming ideas to help bring trade opportunities to third world countries to improve their standard of living. There are also brands striving to use organic material in the making of denim. And other organisations are launching campaigns which bind people in a brotherhood of handed down jeans.

So now that we’ve done our bit in educating you about the shenanigans of the jeans industry and the brands doing their bit, it’s upon you now to apply this knowledge and from here on, make sure to ask, how ethical are these jeans?  After all, the jeans must go on!


I held my blue jeans for a while

Somehow I couldn’t crack a smile

Is it still my favorite piece from the closet?

Now that I know it had added to mercury land deposit

A pair of jeans is like an extension of oneself

For ages it has ruled over my closet shelf!

I don’t want to hate my jeans

Please make products that don’t hurt the greens

We recommend you read this post next: 5 Sustainable and Ethical Jeans Brands for the Hip, Not Hippie

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