I had planned to write about another issue this week, but something else popped up as I began writing. One of those morning shows was on the TV in the background. You know these programs. Every day they do interviews, give out live advice and so on. Well today, they reporting on the latest fashion trend. According to the fashion expert, distressed denim is in. In case you aren’t already familiar with the concept, distressed jeans look as if they are years old, all worn-out with rips and what not.
“They are cool, they are sexy,” said the fashion expert, “They are produced under dangerous and filthy conditions.” Ok, I admit that I may have added that last part.
The host continued by saying, “But I can’t believe that people would pay more for jeans that already have holes in them!” “Of course!” exclaimed the fashion expert, “A lot more work goes into them.”
Yeah without a doubt there is a lot more work involved. But why? And what kind of work? What are the consequences of our lust for distressed jeans?
Sandblasting is a production technique, where sand is shot out of a high-pressure air gun directly onto the jeans. This is so that they get that old, worn-out look. During the process, no consideration is given to the health of the workers, making it an extremely fast and cheap styling technique. It is no wonder that this process is loved by jean manufacturers worldwide. This dirt cheap production process, paired with the fact these will then be sold to consumers with a ridiculously high mark-up, means that brands can make quite a good profit out of these jeans. What an ingenious business model!
With the use of these air guns, tiny particles of sand are released into the air and spread throughout the whole factory. Also on the rare occasion that the workers have actually been given a face mask, the workers still can’t escape these dirty flecks of sand. After years of working in these conditions, the workers often end up being diagnosed with silicosis, a serious, incurable lung disease. People who contract silicosis die a very painful death because they can no longer breathe properly.
A documentary from Al Jazeera uncovered sandblasting in a Chinese factory where jeans for major U.S. labels were being produced. The pictures paint a very sad and hopeless scene. They show dark, dirty, underground rooms, where the workers spend many hours a day sandblasting jeans for western consumers. There is no fresh air, no windows and very little ventilation. Even the workers themselves have no idea what sort of chemical they are using. Another documentary by the German news channel NDR spoke to a man who worked in one of these Chinese factories. “…There are so many (chemicals)… the boss mixes it up himself and then just gives it to me,” he said.
In the last few years, NGO’s such as the Clean Clothes Campaign, have been fighting against the use of sandblasting. Although some brands have forbidden its use within their supply chain, other brands have made no such promises. And even if the brand has forbidden it, doesn’t mean that the producers adhere to this rule. They often conceal the use of sandblasting by inspectors by doing it at night or hiding the equipment. They feel compelled to go to such extreme measures because they are under so much pressure from the brands to meet strict production deadlines.
So do you still think that worn-out denim look is still cool and sexy? I’ll be the first to admit that jeans are my favourite item of clothing and they probably always will be. But the next time I want a pair of distressed jeans, I will hack at them myself with a pair of scissors and a piece of sandpaper. I get the same look, save myself a lot of money and, most importantly, no-one will be harmed in the process (unless I cut my finger!).
Check out this video on how to easily give your jeans the distressed look.