Killer Jeans


Here are a few questions:

  • Have you ever thought about who made your jeans? 
  • Are you guilty of buying lots of jeans but only wearing one or two pairs
  • Do you buy new jeans that were acid-washed/ ripped / torn / worn-out so that you could get a "lived-in" look?  

In the book "To Die for: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?", Lucy Siegle wrote a small section about the jeans industry. One point that stood out for me was how the ever-popular distressed jeans look has caused serious and potentially fatal health issues in the factory workers that make them.  And what was more interesting, is why the factories or their clients did not impose rigorous health and safety work practices to protect the workers.

Chest Xray

Sandblasting is one of a number of techniques used to create the distressed jeans look. The process requires manually blasting the jeans with the sand to give them a worn look and to soften the denim. Silicosis is caused when small particles of silica dust from the sand embed themselves within the lungs.

Stacked Denim Jeans 16

The issue was first brought to light in 2004 in Turkey, a major exporter of jeans, when young men were under-going medical tests prior to their military service. Dozens were found to be suffering from silicosis, and all had been working in denim sandblasting factories.  Due the awareness of silicosis and sand blasting, many brands have actively sought to ban this process. These include Levi Strauss, H&M and Mango.  A full list can be seen at the Clean Clothes Campaign here.  Others have stated that sand blasting does not occur in their supply chain, but have not publicly banned it, while other companies say they will stop ordering these types of jeans soon.   

The Turkish government has since banned sandblasting, but there have been over 40 garment worker deaths due to silicosis and over 1,000 registered cases of silicosis in Turkey alone, and doctors suspect this figure could be higher.  Unfortunately, the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization has yet to add sandblasting in the garment industry to their lists of hazardous occupations. And what about in countries - e.g. Bangladesh, China, India -  where there is less health and safety regulation?  Who will protect and look out for the health of their workers ? Who will provide medical help for any workers may have contracted silicosis? 

Denim Jeans 2

As consumers, I believe we can choose not to purchase garments that are not human friendly. If you want to have a distressed look, there are many easy DIY methods:

Sand paper / nail file / pumice - just rub it onto your jeans!

Razors - carefully slash your denim!

Scissors and thread picker - cut your jeans and use the thread picker to pick on the threads in the newly cut portion of the jeans.

This is my blog post for the 

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  1. Such an informative post, Aggie!!! I was totally unaware of this and will do some further reading.

  2. An important issue and blog post Agy, much better DIY options you've provided here

  3. An interesting post. I didn't realise this was still going on. I never really understood the point of sandblasting. If you want jeans to look old or vintage it makes sense to buy second hand. Your DIY suggestions are a much better alternative. There are now quite a few organic jeans brands that are a good alternative too.

  4. I'm old enough to remember when distressing jeans yourself was the only way to get distressed jeans. I've never really understood why you would want the factory version of it anyway. I'm not sure I agree with banning the process though. Sandblasting is a common task in Western countries workshops and they use the appropriate safety gear. I think that the better practice is to enforce workplace safety. I've watched the rise of workplace safety become part of legislation here in Australia and it has truly impacted on how employers and workers think and behave and changed the overall culture to being safety concious. Now it is just the normal thing to do instead of the unusual thing.

    1. Thanks, Stella for your comment. I believe the ban is because it's difficult to implement and enforce workplace safety. It's very different from developed nations like Australia.