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Are New Jeans Worth 5 1/2 Years of Drinking Water?

Have you stopped to think about how much your new clothes impact the world around us? Do you know how much water it takes to make just one new pair of jeans? Read on and you might think twice about shopping for another pair of new denim.

We all know we should drink about eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. This amount equates to about 182 gallons each year or roughly 1,000 gallons of water every five and half years.

Did you also know that one pair of jeans requires approximately 1,000 gallons of water to make? Between cotton production and manufacturing processes, your latest pair of new jeans drank up all the water you need for the next five and half years. You haven’t even washed them yet! Isn’t that crazy?!

Actual water usage for a specific pair of jeans depends on many factors, not the least of which include how and where the cotton was grown, who turned it from cotton into jeans, how it was treated (stone-washed, bleached, sand-blasted, etc…), and how far they traveled to get to you. The 1,000 gallon estimate, however, provides a valuable directional reference point to understand just how much impact our fashion choices have on our world.

River Blue

The trouble with jeans extends far beyond consumption of our drinking water (and, for that matter, jeans aren’t the only perpetrator of excessive resource consumption in the fashion world). River Blue, a documentary, dives into rivers around the world to expose how much of our resources are being used up by fashion production and how the discarded water pollutes so much of the potable water that remains on our Earth.

So What Can You Do?

Buy Less ~ Most simply, you can buy fewer new pairs of jeans. Invest in a classic pair of denim that will last for years and wear the heck out of it. Denim, after all, gets better with age (which is precisely why so many people pay crazy dollars for vintage or worn-look finishes).

Take Care ~ Take good care of your jeans. They don’t require washing after every wear. Hang dry them instead of using a dryer, which shrinks and wears down the jeans more quickly.

Revive ~ As we head into colder weather, many of us have a new pair of jeans on our wish list. Do you really need a new pair? Is something you already have good enough?

Buy Secondhand ~ It may feel a little intimidating at first, (at least it did for me), but you’ll be surprised what you find with a little patience and knowing what styles suit your body. You can find great secondhand, high quality denim. These jeans below came from The Salvation Army.

Update the Old ~ How about breathing new life into a pair you already have with a simple DIY? Modify jeans you already own to match changing styles and preferences.

Recently, I trimmed off the ends of a pair of jeans I’ve had for a couple years to create a frayed edge from what previously was a leg too long for me. I didn’t really love them anymore, and the frayed edge fit a more current style. I love them now (and they will only get better and more frayed after being washed).

A year ago, in search of new denim shorts, I bought a secondhand pair of denim jeans (with horribly ugly bottoms but a good fit through my butt and hips) and immediately turned them into shorts that I continue to wear regularly.

How To: To update your own pair of jeans and create a slightly cropped, frayed hem, line up the inseam to make sure the legs are even.

Using a rotary cutter, cut across the bottom of the pant leg where you’d like the new length to be. (Scissors work as well, but a rotary cutter is a bit easier to use when trying to achieve a straight line. It’s definitely not necessary, though, if you don’t have one and don’t want to buy it.)

I used another pair of jeans I had and liked as a guide for length, but you can also just put them on and mark your desired length.

Choose Wisely ~ When ready to buy a new pair, choose a company that prioritizes responsible production. Levi’s, for example, places an emphasis on environmental improvement in their supply chain and production process. The Good Trade also shared 15 Fair Trade and Eco-friendly denim brands. Not all of these companies place an emphasis on water conservation, but it’s a great list worth checking out.

None of us can single-handedly change the world and redirect the trends of damage caused by a culture of fast fashion. But together, we can all be responsible for our own small steps that add up to material change.

Next time you think about buying a new pair of jeans, consider if it’s worth giving up your drinking water for the next five and a half years. Maybe a secondhand pair or a pair already in your closet will suit your needs just fine?

By no means am I suggesting we all stop buying jeans entirely. I have a handful of pairs (most of which are secondhand) and jeans are great. Thinking about these statistics though, I can’t help but recall the closets full of 20-some pairs of nearly indistinguishable jeans I watched some of my college roommates collect or have seen in friends closets in recent years.

Did they really need that many pairs of jeans in different shades of blue?!

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