Life of Jeans: From Plants to Pants (Part 1)

If there’s one piece of my wardrobe that has never failed me, it would be my pair of dark indigo straight legged jeans. These jeans go through thick and thin with me, whether I’m trekking through the city or having an impromptu dance party.

We often look to jeans as the comfy, go-to pair of pants that match almost every outfit. Rarely are we interested in what our jeans are made of, let alone how they’re actually made. This month, Good Journey will be going through the life of jeans: From plants to pants. To understand the world of fashion in the realm of how our jeans are made, we must start from the beginning; fashion begins on the farm.

If you take a look at any typical pair of jeans, the content label will tell you that 95-100% of your jeans are made of cotton. At first thought, our minds think of cotton as the cute, fluffy, puffy plants that are often picked in large pieces of land. It’s hard to correlate cotton and jeans, but this is truly the start to how these soft, natural plants are made into the pants we love oh so dearly.

Here’s what you should know about cotton.

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According to the World Wildlife Fund, cotton farming produces 20 million tons of cotton each year in around 90 countries. It accounts for over 75% of global production (in several countries including USA, China, India, Pakistan, Brazil, and Uzbekistan) and is used more than any other fiber.

Cotton is a popular pick because it has a lot of characteristics that we like in our clothes. It’s comfortable, strong, easy to handle and sew. It’s also really easy to print and dye, which is why your typical high school club shirts are made of cotton. Its durable and absorbent, which makes it the go-to fiber for jeans.

Cotton is mostly used for textiles, but also a variety of other products. While cotton is natural and renewable, the demand for cotton has increased so much to the point where farmers are pressed to produce as much as possible in a very short amount of time. Increase in productivity means turning to chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers (which we’ll talk about later this month) for our cotton to come out in factory-scale quantities. So while cotton is an important and resourceful fiber, our manmade needs and practices slowly and negatively hurt the environment.

Besides the environmental consequences, there are also labor issues surrounding cotton farming. In Uzbekistan (the 5th largest exporter of cotton), millions of children and adults produce cotton in slavery-like conditions organized by their own citizens and government.

Cotton has great value - but we could easily be getting more than we bargained for in cotton that is picked by forced labor, made with unhealthy and damaging chemicals, or part of a larger issue of deteriorating the environment as a whole.

Don’t give up hope!

Thankfully, many brands are coming together to make sure we are consuming and creating cotton-filled products that are made sustainably. The World Wildlife Fund saw the need to create better practices in the cotton industry, so as a result, the Better Cotton Initiative was established. This organization works with farmers, government agencies, buyers, investors of all the stages of the market chain to promote and adopt standards that care for the health of the environment as well as the care for farmers. This means healthier cotton and healthier people producing the fine resource that provides us so many different products we use on the daily - including those never-fail jeans.

Written by Gracie Leung

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