Since learning about the impacts of fast fashion on our environment back in 2016, I can honestly say I have cut down big time on shopping. I think thoughtfully about my purchases and find myself happier than ever with what I have. Of course, there are times, as any girl, where I stand there in front my closet, hungry for the dinner I’m about to attend to and think “I HAVE NOTHING” but that happens every so often.
It seems that when I do receive or purchase clothing – it’s pretty much at my birthday or Christmas. A couple of years ago during the holiday season I tried on a pair of Madewell jeans from Nordstrom and fell in love with the fit – that’s why this year I asked for another pair in light wash.
When I went in to pick out my pair, I came across this (below). An “Eco” tag. I asked the store associate what this Eco tag meant (wondering if it could it be greenwashing?) and she said that the jeans are produced and dyed in a way that conserves more water. It seemed ambiguous. I looked it up right there on the spot, and while she was totally right, there was a lot more fascinating details that she left out. So I’m here to explain a bit more!
First, a little background on denim. Why is it harmful to our environment?
It’s important to note that denim production wasn’t always bad for the environment. Back in the day, we used to make them only with cotton – meaning that they were totally biodegradable!
Biodegradable: when you throw something away that is biodegradable, it will naturally degrade (or decompose) into nature without any harm to the environment and enter back through nature’s ecosystem.
Now a days, when you look at the tag from Forever 21 or H&M, you will see that they are made using cotton (probably with pesticides, which is a whole other story) and also [insert non-biodegradable material here such as spandex or polyester] which does a couple of things.
- It makes the material break easier so it doesn’t last as long.
- It will typically exert plastic particles when washing into our water stream.
- The material will remain in landfills for thousands of years, harming water sources and emitting toxins into the air.
In addition to the afterlife of jeans, it takes 3,781 liters of water to even produce one pair.
Jeans are also typically dyed using harmful chemicals. Azo dyes, that are common among denim production, have even been deemed to release carcinogens and are banned in the EU.
So what should I look for to make a sustainable denim purchase?
Tags that say 100% cotton (organic cotton is a plus) on their material listing. It can really be from any brand – which is awesome! I just found an example on Zara.com (which I didn’t expect as a fast fashion giant).
It’s also really interesting to go to a thrift store and see how jeans were made back in the day – the right way – with cotton being the only material. Then compare it to a tag seen in Forever 21….
Got it. So let’s get back to Madewell’s Eco Collection. How do these pairs of jeans differ from regular pairs of jeans?
These jeans are not only organic, without harmful chemicals and non GMO, they are also made using exoskeletons of shrimp and lobsters!
Bring in the dancing lobsters.
As soon as I read this I thought – okay I’ve heard plastic water bottles and ocean plastic but shells of crustaceans? How?
Turns out that shrimp tails and lobster tails (that we throw out after a nice meal down the shore) contain a fiber called Chitosan.
Chitosan: a fiber that helps denim dyes bind more efficiently, without as much water, and without as much dye! YAY!
Sooooo when Chitosan from our little sea friend food waste is applied to cotton, it can:
- Reduce water consumption by 12x
- Reduce energy consumption by 90%
DAYUM. What a way to reuse leveraging our food waste to make a difference.
On top of leveraging this productized process called , there is a specific factory in Vietnam that Madewell works with to produce their jeans in this way. Among it’s other clients including Everlane, they have worked with Madewell to ensure that their eco denim collection requires 65% less chemicals and 75% less water than traditional denim production.
In short – go for this tag or 100% cotton denim if you see it!
The best thing that we can do as consumer is vote with our dollars so that they continue this effort and invest to expand the line.
You can find more information about Madewell’s Eco Collection here.