The Death of Denim: How Great it Would be!

Denim is a cotton product. It is cellulose so it will deteriorate in the environment provided it is not combined with man made materials. It is easily destroyed by bleach. It burns easily. However when it is made into a nice tough pair of blue jeans, it can last a long time in the environment.

Denim has been around the fashion scene forever. From denim jeans to denim jackets, this fabric has been a commodity in the US. But, in the last year the denim industry has seen a pretty significant drop in sales. We’re certainly not complaining given the extremely destructive pollution by textile manufacturers, the denim industry being one of the worst. So what would it be like if denim died as a fashion trend? How much better off would our environment be? Let’s take a look.



The Destruction of Denim

If you don’t know, denim is produced from cotton. Around 1.5lbs of cotton is needed to produce one pair of jeans.

1500 gallons of water are needed to grow 1.5lbs of cotton needed for one pair of jeans.tweet it

So, 1500 gallons of water are going into one pair of jeans. Wow. Keep in mind that on a yearly basis over 450 million pairs of jeans are sold in the US. That is A LOT of cotton, and A LOT of water. And, that’s just the US- not including other jean clad countries like Canada and those in Europe.

The entire textile industry is extremely destructive to our planet. Manufacturers are known for the dumping of waste water and harmful chemicals into waterways nearby. The denim industry is the worst, seeing as the chemicals used to create denim are the most destructive. Denim manufactures dump chemicals such as cadmium, mercury and lead into water sources- and these same chemicals are used to make your favorite pair of jeans.

One can only imagine the destruction these chemicals have on the environment as well as the quality of water. Nearly 1 billion people do not have direct access to clean water. And, we’re further polluting water sources to create fashion. Water pollution is at all-time heights. Should this pollution continue, the executive director of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo predicts a grim future. Naidoo says “The wars of the future will not be fought over oil. The wars of the future will be fought over water.”

Keep in mind that the countries who produce the highest quantity of textiles, including denim, are China and India. These countries are now battling the serious consequences of such successful textile industries; dangerously polluted water sources. In areas where clean drinking water is already compromised, locals may find even greater difficulty in obtaining the essential life source.

Distressed denim , a popular trend in the last several years poses different threats to the environment. These articles of clothing endure the coloring of toxic dyes, acid baths, sand blasting and are then chemically bathed; all the produce the popular distressed look. All that to make a pair of jeans look old? Pretty crazy. This distressed look requires multiple treatments, which further causes a negative impact on the environment as the repeated washing of the jeans results in repeated introduction of dangerous chemicals in the area water supply.

Another denim disaster can be seen in Tehucan Mexico, also known as the “heartland of Mexico’s denim industry”. Tehucan is known for housing dozens of industrial laundries which are responsible for completing the finishing touches of denim jeans. The laundering of these jeans includes the use of bleach, dye and detergents all of which are dumped as waste water into the area’s rivers. This waste water is then used to irrigate corn fields. Not good. Unfortunately, these laundries are unregulated and Mexico is not managing the contamination of the water source. This is resulting in Mexican rivers literally being dyed blue. This leads to some serious questions as to the impact the textile industry is having in other developing nations. How many rivers are being dyed blue, and what other produce is being watered with chemicals used to clean jeans?


Denim- Sales Dropping to Record Lows

So, we’ve established the serious consequences and negative impact on the environment that the production of textiles, denim in particular, is creating. But- want some good news? Denim sales in the US this past year aredown a whopping 6%! That is pretty significant stuff! Executives in the denim industry are surprised with the rapid decline in denim sales. Unfortunately the downwards trend has not been quite so significant in Europe, who has only seen a 3% decrease. VF Corp who represents the brands Lee and Wrangler state, “In the Americas, the jeans wear business was down to a low-single digit rate due to continued challenges in the U.S. mid-tier channel and the ongoing unfavorable women’s denim trend.” So if denim sales are on the down trend, and jeans are going out of style…what are people wearing?


What’s Taking the Place of Denim?

If you’ve looked around recently you will notice some new fashion trends. Fashion trends that are promoting comfort. From leggings and yoga pants for women to cargo and athletic pants for men; the focus of the current fashion trend is all about ease of movement and comfort. Denim is having a hard time adjusting to meet the needs of this new trend. As a traditionally tight, inflexible fabric, denim has taken second place to the more flexible, comfy fabrics seen in yoga pants and athletic pants. This new look and style is being called “athleisure” for the underlying athletic design of most of these products. These trends are seen in people of all ages and sizes- from the legging clad teens to the yoga pant sporting moms and grandmas.

Recent studies on the purchase of teenagers found that many of them have traded the previous denim centered brands like Levi’s, Guess, American Eagle and Miss Me Jeans for more athletic brands like Nike, Lululemon, Urban Outfitters and Victoria’s Secret.

The nice thing about this new fashion trend? It’s not denim and therefore its production is not having quite such negative effects on the environment as that of denim production. Only time will tell how this new fashion trend will impact the denim industry. With fashion trends lingering longer than they have in the past, denim makers may find themselves in a pinch.



Lululemon has become a popular brand for athletic wear or “athleisure” wear. It has quickly become the go-to retailer for comfortable, fashionable and quality athletic clothing. Take a look at these:Seawall-Track-Pant-II. These athletic pants are comfortable, light weight and offer a great alternative to denim jeans. Not only are they comfy and better for the environment, they’re stylish! Lululemon is a great retailer to help you ditch the denim and find clothes that are more environmentally friendly.

What Can Consumers Do?


Consumers should educate themselves about what denim is doing to the environment and why this is important. Once consumers are aware of the detrimental effects denim production is having on the environment, they will be motivated to identify more ethically produced clothing brands. Denim is going out of style, both from an environmental stand point and a fashion standpoint. Get involved by sharing what you learn with your friends.
For people who just can’t give up their denim jeans, try purchasing used jeans from a thrift shop or consignment shop. There are also many eco-friendly companies that make eco-friendly jeans from recycled denim. This is a much more environmentally safe way to wear jeans. Recycled denim is another option for the blue-jean addict. Resist the urge to buy new jeans, the environment will thank you for it.

A start has been made with the decline of denim in the fashion world. If this continues and more people opt to purchase clothing made with more environmentally friendly fabrics, the environment and drinking water of many countries will see great improvement.

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