Premium denim, sustainability & Levi’s

I was pleased to read that Levi’s has decided to ban sandblasting to fade their jeans. If you’re late to the party, the processes used to make premium denim affects like fades, bleaching etc is very toxic to workers and the environment (for more background, see Denim laundry contractor pt. 2). Sandblasting is injurious to health due to exposure to silica. Now, this is where Levi’s mandate gets interesting. Levi’s already has stringent compliance standards to ensure worker safety but they -and H&M- have decided it’s not enough. Get this:

…we recognize that there are factories – often linked to counterfeit operations – that do not apply these same safeguards. And because they don’t rigorously enforce proper health and safety standards for sandblasting, they put unsuspecting workers at risk.

This is a serious industry concern. And even though we at Levi Strauss & Co. are confident in our practices, we’ve decided that the best way we can help ensure no worker – in any garment factory – faces this risk is to move to end sandblasting.

This move is unprecedented, marking a new era of corporate citizenship. With this strategy, Levi’s is not only removing the potential dangers their workers can face but they’re protecting workers who are employed in counterfeiting their products. Truly amazing.

And because Levi’s is so big and well known, they have the heft to persuade other denim producers to follow suit -if only via consumer education and their subsequent activism. I’m hoping it will only be a matter of time before sustainability minded consumers fore go premium denim with its devastating consequences to health and environment. I hate to be the one to tell you but if you buy treated denim, you’re part of the problem.

It almost –almost– makes me want to forgive them for instructing consumers that the location of their hip is 4″ below their natural waist (see image).

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11 comments

  1. ken simmons says:

    And what better way to end the grunge denim look and be there with the spiffy unfaded denim look as the replacement. Smart strategy.

  2. Sabine says:

    I never considered sandblasting as a possible health concern, but I neither ever did it, nor read up on it and living in the prairies as I do, sand is flying constantly, but my hat off to them for this bold move.
    It will make my life easier in the long run too

  3. Liz says:

    At least they have one measure their actual hip, though they call it the seat.

    I’m always after my kids to use the standard terminology for things … do I have to use my Mom voice on Levis, too?

  4. Eric H says:

    Wow, they actually still use sand?

    This looks like a PR ploy (I think that is ken simmons’ point) because “green” sand-blasting media such as baking soda has been in use for a while (it’s water soluble). The grit in the air, whether sand or other media, is easily mastered with a combination of paint-booth-like enclosure (tin and/or plastic, very cheap), water mist (in the tropics? very cheap), and/or filter masks. We were using recycled copper slag – I think it may be too big to inhale without noticing, and I seriously doubt whether denim is powerful enough to shatter it! Sure, a bare-bones operation in Asia may not be the most likely place to find these practices, but if Levi’s was serious about safety, their contractor inspection would as easily detect and enforce these as any other safety issue.

    Of course, the press release didn’t announce a ban on all artificial aging treatments (in fact, just the opposite: he wrote, “There are other ways to achieve a worn finish. We’re confident our customers – no matter how they like the finish of their jeans – feel the same way.”). If they aren’t sandblasting, but they are still chemically aging, then this just means the chemical/physical aging ratio is going to go up. Which is the more dangerous? They also aren’t banning sanding, which loosens cotton fibers, which are perhaps not as dangerous as silica, but “white lung” isn’t unknown.

  5. Kathleen says:

    I thought it might be a PR thing too but I really don’t care if it is. I don’t care how it is that people or organizations become more sustainable, only that they do.

    The first rule of change is:
    Change behavior, then attitudes will follow.

    Long lasting change rarely happens any other way. We all look for justifications and rationalizations for what we do after the fact. We do it to prove to ourselves that ours were wise decisions. It is in the justifications phase that attitudes change. People then look for more ways to become aligned and congruent with their expressed values -in this case, more sustainable.

  6. Marie-Christine says:

    Absolutely, the consumer is part of the problem.. That’s why boycotts work.

    But 4″ below the waist? Are we measuring hips on Barbies? Or maybe that’s it, they don’t think anyone will admit to having them, but they’re actually fitting love handles?!?

  7. Britannica says:

    I think they tell customers that their hips are four inches below their natural waists because of what they are selling them- pants that sit low on their bodies often called low-riders, hip-huggers, etc. Wikipedia defines them as “Low-rise jeans, worn by both men and women, are jeans intended to sit low on, or below, the hips.” If the name implies that the pants sit on the hips or people expect that pants sit on the hips, then isn’t it a good thing that their measurement is five inches higher than the real hip?

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