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A while ago I did something I don’t usually do. I was walking past the clothing section of a nearby store and saw a few pairs of jeans in a basket for the price of 1€ per pair. I always try to focus on gathering used materials for my projects. I like the fact that the materials already have a history when they become a part of my designs. But I hate seeing clothing being thrown away before they have ever even been used, so I stopped by the basket. I don’t know what this particular chain store does to leftover clothing (to be honest, I should ask) but I can only assume they become textile waste. So I grabbed a couple of pairs with me, in order to upcycle them into something a bit more useful.
The other day, after finishing this custom order, I decided to take the jeans apart so the denim would be ready to use for my sewing projects. I started ripping the waist seam, thinking of using the waistband for another one of these skirts, when I noticed a small puff appear in the air. Going further my hands started getting a bit sticky. Suddenly I realised what I was dealing with. A pair of sandblasted jeans. The jeans were so light in color overall, it didn’t even cross my mind they could be sandblasted. After ripping just that one seam I was covered in this fine, white sand dust. It was all over my clothes, my desk, the chair and floor as well. From one single seam.
Sandblasting is a method that is used to give jeans an aged, worn out look. I have to say, I was naive to think the use of this method would be history. Sandblasting is forbidden in the EU, and several years ago already there was a big discussion on how it should be banned in the whole world. Silly me, I thought it was, and I thought companies were using other methods for aging denim these days. Obviously, I was proven wrong – and I wanted to look into it right away.
So, I knew sandblasting was banned in EU. I had a look at the label inside these jeans and found out they were made in Egypt. I searched the importers website and could not find any information on where these particular jeans were made exactly. I tried to find out if there were jean manufacturing facilities in Egypt that are using the sandblasting method but obviously there would be very little information on that, if at all. So I had to rely on other articles I found online about the use of sandblasting.
Sandblasting jeans kills people
Above is a short video of how sandblasting is affecting workers in the jean manufacturing industry. The dust causes silicosis, a fatal lung disease, which can’t be cured. The video is a few years old but according to this article sandblasting is still used in the manufacturing of some of the largest jean brands.
What can a single consumer do to help ban sandblasting?
For as long as consumers quietly accept sandblasting jean brands are not going to make changes. Distressed jeans are popular and they make these companies a lot of money. The most important thing you can do as a consumer is stop buying sandblasted jeans. Ask your retailer how the distressed look in their jeans was made. There are other, more sustainable and ethical ways of creating these looks. These new methods are more expensive but they are saving lives. Find out about ecofriendly online clothing stores that sell ethically made jeans. Buy second hand. Or get a pair of regular jeans and create a distressed look yourself. That way you know no-one died in the process – and you’ll also learn to appreciate the hard work put into making stylish jeans.
Back to the pair I bought. I did buy it, so the worst thing I could do would be to throw it away. Someone, somewhere on this planet already suffered in the making of it, so I am darn sure going to appreciate his/her work. The jeans are being thoroughly washed before I rip any other seams. I will use the denim to the smallest bit to make sure nothing goes to waste. I promise to keep finding second hand materials, I promise to never buy sandblasted jeans again in my life, and I promise to share what I know about this method anywhere and everywhere I can. Please do the same.