From Bruce Springsteen to Britney Spears, cultural icons have been donning denim for almost 150 years. But it's high time we addressed the material's environmental impact
From a fabric known as Serge de Nîmes (twill from Nîmes) or Bleu de Nîmes (blue from Nîmes), via a US patent for a pair of work trousers by Jacob Davis and one Levi Strauss in 1873, and its introduction to the catwalk by Calvin Klein in the 1970s, the humble denim has come a long way. Now a staple of everyday wear and high fashion alike, jeans' status as a wardrobe item for pretty much everyone seems unlikely to be under threat any time soon. But denim's impact on the environment is something that can – and should – change.
Denim can be hugely damaging to and draining on the environment. Firstly, the fabric is made from cotton – a notoriously thirsty plant – which means it typically takes around 1,500 gallons of water to make just one pair of jeans. Cotton cultivation also tends to require the use of pesticides and insecticides, which pollute nearby water sources and soil, and can affect the health of those who work closely with it.