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Samantha Politano

Dirty Denim: Climate Conscious Jeans Rebel Against the Grain

When we think of the term sustainability, the word really means durability. Something that can withstand seasonal trends and adapt or transform according to- or in spite of- changing styles. So what article of clothing do most people have in their closets that fits this description the most? Jeans. Originally created for workers who needed long lasting clothes that could survive difficult labor conditions, this article of clothing is now a 140 year old fashion staple! Although we probably wear the same pair of jeans over and over again, we most likely have several other styles on our closet shelves as well- different washes, different fits: low rise or high rise, different colors. Mass appeal and manufacturing success has its consequences, and that includes hazardous working conditions for workers sand-blasting jeans and polluted rivers, such as the Pearl River in China that has turned blue with denim dye:

Pearl River denim dye

The Pearl River in China showing blue wastewater discharged from a denim washing factory Photo: Lu Guang/Greenpeace


It is estimated that 70 percent of Asia’s rivers and lakes are contaminated by the 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater produced by that continent’s textile industry. The environmental consequences are so staggering, they have become the subject of an award-winning documentary: River Blue. Not only are the natural water sources being contaminated, but just to produce one pair of jeans, it takes about 1800 gallons of clean water to grow enough cotton needed. One pair!


Environmental denim statistics

Staggering statistics. Photo” @Fash_RevUSA


As more information is disseminated about the environmental consequences of denim production though, more designers and fashion industry players are taking initiatives to counteract the harmful effects. Two companies that we are impressed by are: CottonConnect and Better Cotton Initiative, which work together with brands and retailers to build a sustainable supply chain starting from the cotton farmers to final production.

It’s also encouraging to know that Levi Strauss & Co, the historic leader for denim production, is taking the lead in fighting climate change. One of their most recent initiatives has been a partnership with Cotton Incorporated’s Blue Jeans go Green recycling program. And Levis has partnered with Re/Done denim out of Los Angeles, a “denim movement” that “takes the vintage [Levi’s] denim apart at the seams, repurposing it as the fabric of new jeans… in Downtown Los Angeles using water conserving methods and no harsh chemicals.” Quantities will always be limited since each pair is handpicked, hand cut, and distinctly one of a kind. Tomorrows’ Cofounder Ashley Powers is a huge fan!


Ashley Powers wearing secondhand clothing

Tomorrow’s Cofounder Ashley Powers in her Re/Done jeans and secondhand sweater, wading through our kiddo’s kitchen toys. Photo: Haley Lieberman


US manufactured Boyish jeans knows very well about the environmental effects of denim production, and they state the sobering stats on their own website. However, you can feel good about buying from knowing that they only use 1/3 of the amount of water that regular denim uses and then they recycle the water, so in the end no water is polluted or wasted in the process.

Lastly, at Tomorrows we are huge fans of upcyling the denim we already have. For Haley’s twin’s birthday party she staged a denim patching station. Parents brought their kids’ jeans and jackets that needed to get a little “extra,” and the kids picked out patches that were then ironed on to their items. Everyone walked away happy. See pics of Haley’s twins below! Jackets were bought secondhand, and then patched with their names on them.


Upcycled Levi kid denim jackets

Tomorrows’ Cofounder Haley Lieberman’s twins in upcycled secondhand Levi’s jackets. Photo: Haley Lieberman/Shop Tomorrows


Or take a cue from Etsy, gain inspiration from Pinterest, or check out the runway for more ways to give your old denim new life.


Adult upcycled denim jacket

Photo Credit:


We all love our jeans. As parents, we live in them! Now that we know more about the consequences of the denim industry, we can think different differently about how we acquire our next pair. Just like we do on Shop Tomorrows, we can all embrace the concept of sharing, reusing, and upcyling. Let’s give “mom jeans” a whole new meaning – responsible denim lived in by us!

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