Denim is a popular fabric all over the world. According to research, at any one time, approximately 50 percent of the global population is wearing a pair of jeans and at least 3.9 billion pairs of jeans are produced globally per year. The overall denim jeans market worldwide was valued at US$ 69.50 billion in 2018.
However, the color of the jeans is mostly light blue and vintage in appearance, which is a great problem for denim lovers.
Industrial wash and finish is one of the primary stages in the denim supply chain that has become a key focus for denim brands to reexamine their ecological impact. It is well documented that during the wash and finish process there are traditionally vast amounts of water and chemicals used to bring a faded look.
Chemicals like chlorine, potassium permanganate (PP) and sodium hypochlorite are just a few of the hazardous chemicals used at this stage.
Many casual garments are treated by a washing process—like stone-washing of denim jeans – to give them a ‘worn appearance’. The blue denim is faded by the abrasive action of pumice stones in stone-washing.
Readymade vintage jeans have been the standard since the late 60s when stone washing was first-come, however, nowadays, stone-washed looks are the go-to for pretty much every style of jeans out there.
While stone offered a readymade vintage appearance, acid wash championed an even bolder and sharper contrast, which made it an instant hit for punks, pop-stars and rebellious youth of the time.
In the past that in certain denim-producing nations like China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc., toxic indigo sludge has entered rivers and streams, creating destruction to the local environment. Potassium permanganate (PP) and acid washes are acid-based.
So, they need to be properly neutralized to bring jeans back to a neutral PH otherwise the garments will irritate consumers’ skin.
Also, bleach/chlorine/hypochlorite kills the good bacteria in freshwater streams.
Traditional stone wash requires 70+ liters of water simply to eliminate sand residues, and to achieve acid wash with light base color it requires 2/3 baths. As the bleaching agent needs rotation to work successfully. The root of the problem lies with brands who are developing jeans to be retailed below 50USD.
If brands want to drive sustainable production, they need to consider buying a product at the right price. If the right price is missing then sustainable jeans production will be a dream, not a reality.
Saitex, a Vietnam-based cleanest denim factory in the world, 98% of the water is recycled with the other 2% loss due to evaporation. The factory supplies to big players such as J Crew, Everlane, Madewell, G Star Raw and Outerknown uses a filtration unit which ensures all the contaminated water is recycled and cleaned before it is funneled back into the space age laundry.
It utilizes vertical washers, ozone technology and lasers to finish jeans, which is sustainable as well as profitable.
Big player Levi’s introduced FLX technology in 2017 and already they are seeing the return on investments from the technology. The computer-driven laser technology uses nothing but energy to replicate localized wear patterns without water, chemicals, or stones.
The company aimed to roll out the program across the brand’s entire denim range and go completely chemical-free by 2020.
There are some other alternatives to achieve that stonewash look for Boyish’s jeans-a sustainable women’s denim line focused on quality, fit, and authentic washes. Fux stone made from clay or polymers, e-flow and nano enzyme bubble technology as just some of the innovations available in the market.
Of them, E-Flow and nano enzyme bubble technology are a form of ozone technology, which harnesses the natural bleaching capabilities of ozone gas to give a range of overall bleach effects with substantially reduced environmental impact.
A leading international company has been developing responsible bulk production stonewash finishes by using simple spraying technology and enzyme on 2.3 used fabrics. The trick is to fill the machine with less water so that the weight of the wet garments themselves create abrasion against each other while spinning in the machine. The wash is also known as ‘bubble wash’.
In conclusion, there are so many ways to ensure sustainable wash during the denim/jeans manufacturing process. However, what needs to make sure sustainable washing is brands have to get into the topic and better educate themselves.
Brands need to extend their hands to increase cooperation with chemical companies and laundries to increase innovation to ensure a sustainable denim wash process. And brands working with factories in developing countries need to take responsibility.