FASHION UNSTITCHED: The Dirty Truth About our Beloved Blue Jeans

Who doesn’t own a pair of blue jeans? These have become trendy family faves since the day Levi Strauss (1877) made them popular. What is it that’s made this staple, basic, and, these days, a luxurious, sought-after item, at any stage of one’s life?

Originally created for work purposes- think overalls, not only was the twill cotton weave of denim strong and sturdy, it also did not require much washing since they were used for outdoor work only. More than being washed, they needed to be comfortable. Ever heard of the saying ‘the more you wear them, the better they look and feel”? Yes, that’s originally what jeans were all about.

It’s only when Levi added that extra orange threading, that they started becoming more of a looker. And let’s think of the 50’s and the Marlon Brando bad boy look- and James Dean too. Every decade after that brought in its newer fashionable styling- and jeans became a staple in our wardrobes.


And why the term ‘blue jean’? A very brief bit of history…Jeans were already around in the 17th c. The indigo used to fabricate jeans, came from Genoa, Italy: blue of Genoa; which then morphed the term into blue jeans. Denim, stems from the word ‘serge’ in French; which is twill, a very sturdy kind of weave. This weave originated in Nimes, France. So the term quickly became: Serge de Nimes…Denim. There’s way more to the story- (you’d have to attend my classes:)

Now let’s get to the dirty talk. Do you know how much water is required in the making of one pair of blue jeans? It can take anywhere between 7000 to 10000 litres of water- almost 3000 gallons. Not clear enough? Ok. Well it’s the equivalent of almost 70 bathtubs filled- or over 10000 one litre water bottles. Just for one pair. Today the vast majority of jeans are dyed with synthetically produced indigo. The process causes an enormous amount of pollution. It’s so bad that in the poorer countries where jeans are produced (for us in the West), their rivers actually run blue. No doubt with about 40000 tons of indigo being produced each year!

Question is, how many pairs of jeans do we really need? Records show that as of 2018 over 4 billion pairs were sold worldwide. I won’t get into more numbers and statistics- but I’m sure you get the picture. So why do we keep buying, when in actuality this is a sturdy garment, which does not require regular weekly washes? Believe it or not- experts have confirmed that jeans should only be washed every 3 to 6 months- yikes! Spot cleaning is recommended. Unless you are using jeans to work the fields daily.

As consumers, what can we do? One of the disciplines I teach is Fibres and Textiles, where I strongly recommend sustainability for both industry and the consumer. New ways of handling or solving the problem starts with each one of us- and must be key when it comes to jeans.

We, consumers can start by doing the following:

1-Wear them out!

2-Wash less often

3- Upcycle, Diy, repurpose

4- Pass them on

5-Most important of all, buy mindfully- try buying second-hand, so that circularity sets in

I love my blue jeans, and I wear them over and over. Right now denim on denim is a fun trend, and another way to get good use of what you have in stock. I seriously shop only vintage jeans. I also upcycle a lot. The important lesson is not to throw them out! Too much has gone into producing them; let that not go to waste- and for nothing. Landfills are already a disaster.

Here’s my favourite denim look. This darling jacket here, I’ve cropped short to give it a facelift. The jeans are 10 years old. I’m also wearing a classic Kiss tee- and a classic black loafer. Everything (except shoes) worn here is pre-loved.

Did you know about this dirty side of Jeans? Please comment below.

Fashion Unstitched is a series where I take you through bits of fashion history, fibres and textiles, guest interviews, industry talk, fashion events, sustainability, museums, reviews…If it’s fashionable- I’m covering it!! Suggestions, and collaborations are welcome. Send me an email. Thanks for reading.

14 thoughts on “FASHION UNSTITCHED: The Dirty Truth About our Beloved Blue Jeans

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  1. Great educational and eye-opening post, Lucy! I learned about this when I did the course through MOMA last year. I’m not much of a jeans person (I’d always rather wear something more interesting like a skirt or funky pair of trousers), but I always buy secondhand. Love your fun outfit – hooray for KISS!

  2. I don’t wash my jeans very often at all. But, it’s so disconcerting to see what just one pair of jeans does to the environment. I am currently trying to find a textile recycling place near me as I have lots of clothing and socks that just are not good enough to donate. It’s hard to find a place!

  3. It’s horrifying when you find out how much water is used in production of some of our everyday items – jeans, almond milk, avocados….I wear my jeans until they fall apart, I have 2 pairs that are about 10 years old, and they’re quite holey. But I like it.

  4. That was a super fun post although the pollution and water waste part is very disturbing. But I already knew that and therefore have been trying to shop more preloved and less retail. And I never just throw anything away! I love this double denim look on you. Your Kiss tee is so cool! I never find cool band tees second hand.


    1. Thanks Shelbee for reading- I appreciate it. And I already knew this about you- second hand and donating are so important. And yes, band tees are the hardest to find! xx

  5. Thanks for sharing this information. Jeans are so iconic and continuously popular, we don’t stop to think about their effect on our planet. You look great in your blue jeans with the denim jacket. Who created the rule that you should never wear a jean jacket with jeans? I think your outfit looks just fine!
    Thank you for participating in Talent-Sharing Tuesdays Link-Up 20.

  6. Hi Lucy!
    You look great in jeans, love those! I didn’t know one pair of jeans required that much water! I have heard “experts” say to wash jeans less. I have also heard to remove bacteria from lots of wear, to stick them folded in the freezer! We are a society of mass consumption! Some brands like Madewell have programs where you can give your unwanted jeans for $20 gift cards- so they are recycled.
    Thanks for an interesting post!
    thank you for linking!
    jess xx

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