Denim — it's versatility, function, and fashion possibilities have made it the definitive staple we all know and love. The number of washes, styles, and treatments is seemingly infinite — from stretch to structured and pre-softened to distressed. So, what goes into making these many denim styles? We asked as many questions as there are pairs of jeans in this world to get to the bottom of denim’s environmental impact. Here are the key sustainable methods for finishing denim that get 5 stars from us for sustainability:
Most denim jeans go through various wash stages with chemical agents, enzymes, pumice stones, or other materials to achieve a particular softness, discoloration, or vintage-inspired style. These wash stages can require a lot of water and the water that’s used is often very difficult or impossible to clean and recycle.
The good news: one alternative method - vapor wash - combines warm air with a small amount of water to create vapor that distributes the chemicals and enzymes evenly during a wash stage. Vapor wash achieves the desired look while reducing the amount of water necessary by upwards of 90% and the amount of chemicals used by as much as 70%.
Faux Stone Washed
Stone wash literally refers to denim that’s been washed with pumice stones. The classic pumice stone method pummels the fabric and the stone’s sandy residue has an abrasive effect, making it soft and worn-in. Natural pumice stones dissolve significantly after a single wash cycle and leave silt in the drains and wastewater. This makes recycling stone wash wastewater a very tough challenge, this process is also hard on machinery, and the reuse possibilities of the pumice stones themselves are limited.
While it might sound great to be using natural materials, the ramifications cause more harm than we’d like. Imitation pumice stones - made from eco-friendly and recyclable materials - are an efficient alternative. They can be reused for upwards of 100 washes and leave little to no residue, which means the wastewater from washes using these faux pumice stones is significantly easier to clean and reuse.
Ozone and Lasers
Do you have light wash jeans in your closet? How about jeans with lightened details or bleach effect? Well, if you want the bleached and light wash look, but don’t want the chemicals, it’s possible to achieve it using ozone, the natural gas found in Earth’s stratosphere. How cool is that? Ozone is an oxidizer and, when used in a closed machine, can create those lovely light tones with a fraction of the water and chemical usage, compared to typical industry techniques.
Lasers can sear the denim fabric to create the shading, distressed holes, and whiskers we see on many denim styles. They are a super-efficient alternative to sanding and brushing the denim surface, plus they reduce exposure to toxic chemicals for textile and garment workers.
Opting for pairs of jeans that incorporate these sustainable technologies can help reduce your personal impact on the planet and support the brands using more sustainable practices. Shop more sustainable denim with wearwell!