In 2009, the Turkish government banned “denim sandblasting” after more than 50 denim workers died from silicosis, an incurable respiratory disease caused by inhaling silica dust. Silica dust comes from sandblasting denim, the process used to make bright new jeans look faded, frayed and distressed.
This was particularly horrifying for me, since I confess that I am a sucker for the well-worn and weathered look when it comes to jeans, and in the past have paid a pretty penny for a brand new pair of jeans that look, well, old. (Somewhere, my mother is shaking her head in disapproval.)
For years, denim designers, from the lux to the discounters, have taken care of that distressed look for us. What many of us don’t know is that sandblasting the denim comes at a devastating human cost.
The process, which involves blasting denim with pressurized silica, is incredibly hazardous and dangerous for workers involved in the process, even when wearing protective gear. Despite the evidence compiled by a group of scientists who studied the deaths in Turkey and confirmed the dangers of the practice (their 2011 study was published in Chest Medical Journal), the practice continues worldwide. The group of scientists has called for a global campaign against the practice, calling on the lazy like me to give up this fashion whim.
According to a report by Clean Clothes Campaign, some brands have not yet given up their sandblasting ways - Diesel and Inditex (sold at Zara) both claim they will stop ordering sandblasting jeans but haven’t yet made the shift, and Dolce and Gabbana have shown no indication of cutting out the blasting.
Thankfully, others have headed to the call. H&M, Levi’s and Armani have all given up sourcing these toxic jeans from supplies who continue the practice.
The latest big announcement comes from Target. The retail giant has pledged to stop selling denim manufactured from suppliers who use sandblasting. Considering Target’s buying power, this decision has the potential to significantly impact the denim market, at least for low to moderately priced jeans. Nice move Target!
As for me, well perhaps it’s time to start wearing my jeans out myself. From now on, I will definitely stick to brands that don’t use sandblasting, be it Levi’s, Target, or our very own Reco Jeans. Strategically placed holes and the perfect fade are not worth the lives of innocent people.