Ever wondered how much material goes into making a pair of jeans? Levi’s crunched the numbers in 2015 in their report entitled ‘The Life Cycle of a Jean’ and found that making a pair and making it last involves:
- The same amount of CO2 is generated by driving 111 km on a regular car
- Enough water for nearly 20 million Australian households for one day
- The same amount of phosphorous found in 1,700 tomatoes
- Enough land to build 20 average-sized homes in Australia
With proper care, jeans will last for years before rips and tears start appearing (and even then, torn jeans are still fashionable). However, once they reach the end of their usefulness, jeans get thrown out and die a slow death in some random landfill. The cotton used to make the jeans will degrade, but not before the chemicals from dyes seep into the soil.
That’s a problem in Australia, with over 800,000 tonnes of textiles ending up in landfills every year. While some end up here due to wear and tear, others end up because they’re “so last season” or something to that effect. The latter is a mindset that’ll take decades to eliminate.
In light of such a crisis, the fashion industry has stepped up its efforts to create ethical, sustainable clothing. While nothing beats hanging on to your clothes for as long as possible, manufacture of these clothes eats up far fewer resources. When the time comes to throw them out (hopefully due to wear and tear over time), they’ll break down faster than most stuff found in a landfill.
Now, here are a few clothing brands in Australia making a change for the greener:
Somewhere in Victoria, an underwear manufacturer asked itself: “Why bamboo undies?”
People have used bamboo as raw material for just about everything for centuries. Despite looking like trees, they’re technically grass that can grow up to 3 feet within 24 hours, making it available on-demand. It also needs 200 times less water than cotton—and still be as breathable and comfortable when made into fiber.
So, Victoria-based TACKLE Bamboo Undies contributes to the movement by taking bamboo fiber and crafting underwear out of it. The quirky yet functional design considers the wearer’s “happy plums,” as the company puts it, with a front pouch. Customers can sign up to have a fresh pair of bamboo underwear delivered to their doorstep every month.
The factory that makes bamboo underwear has accreditation from the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI). Some of the requirements for BSCI certification include fair wages and not using child or forced labor.
Denim took off in popularity decades after World War II, primarily among those who wanted an alternative fashion style. Its affordability and durability (miners and land surveyors mostly used it at first) would keep the material relevant even with sustainable clothing options on the rise. But, as mentioned at the start of this piece, making a pair of jeans requires tonnes of resources.
With this in mind, Queensland-based Outland Denim innovated the way the industry makes jeans. Its Wash House employs the following state-of-the-art technologies:
- Ozone replaces chemicals for bleaching, which uses 65% less water and 20% less energy and still produces the same aging effect on jeans.
- Lasers replicate the fade effects on the denim’s surface instead of chemicals. Without being exposed to any harmful chemicals, lasered jeans come out stronger.
- The E-flow system enhances the transfer of water and chemicals into the denim, forming a “nanobubble skin.” The procedure saves 95% water and 40% energy.
- The few chemicals the process uses adhere to textile chemical standards like OEKO-TEX and ZDHL Manufacturing Restricted Substances List.
The company's factory in Cambodia employs women, mostly rescued from sex and human trafficking cases. Awareness for said problems hit the roof in 2018 when Meghan Markle was seen wearing a pair of Outland Denim black jeans.
Based in the U.K., Boden entered the Australian market with its sustainable viscose and ECONYL regenerated fabric. The company hopes to source 100% of its materials from these two by 2025.
As viscose comes from wood pulp turned into cellulosic, which feels like authentic cotton or linen, the company’s source of viscose needs to come from managed forests. Meanwhile, the ECONYL regenerated fabric is plastic waste collected from seas (e.g., discarded fishing nets) and turned into yarn. Boden also introduced women empowerment programs in India, China, and Vietnam.
There are plenty more clothing brands that green efforts are worth mentioning. But, the fact that the fashion industry has become more aware of the need to save the environment stands. The closet of the future may comprise mostly of clothes made from recycled materials and by workers lucky to get the chance to turn their lives around.