As consumers become ever more concerned about environmental and ethical issues, pioneers in the global denim industry are cleaning up its act.
Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, which describes itself as a “craft jeans maker”, has an open-door policy.
“Anybody can walk in here, even without an appointment”, says Han Ates, the founder of the London-based small business. “Through that we create transparency”.
Transparency has become a buzzword in fashion of late, with labels keen to show their best practice, both in terms of how well they treat staff and how environmentally friendly they are.
By opening up its doors, Blackhorse Lane Ateliers is able to show potential customers that its factory is clean, the 20 employees are happy, and that the jeans are worth keeping – rather than throwing away at the end of each season.
Visitors to the workshop can even get a bite to eat, as it is home to a pop-up restaurant at weekends. “When you are connected to your local community, then you become accountable” adds Mr Ates.
More importantly Mr Ates says that his company sources all its rolls of denim from mills in Japan, Italy and Turkey that he has personally visited to ensure their commitment to environmental and social responsibility. This is vital for any jeans company that wishes to be ethical, because the manufacture of denim can be heavily polluting.
Textile industry consultant and expert Andrew Olah says that making jeans can carry a sleep environmental toll, because the dye used to give them their usual blue shade – indigo- dos not easily stick to the raw cotton.
“To get the dye on, we have to dye the fabric multiple times”, he says. “And by dying it multiple times, obviously we need to use more water and more energy”.
Then a jeans-maker may wash and bleach the jeans many times to lighten the colour, creating even more waste water. By someone estimate it can take thousands of gallons of water to make one pair of jeans. “The industry use a huge amount of water, and a huge amount of energy”, adds Mr Olah.
In many denim mills and jeans factories the used water – which contains the dye, plus bleach and other chemicals – is simply released as waste water. Thankfully a growing number of producers are now eliminating waste water together.