I would be so bold as to say that you have a pair of jeans in your wardrobe. In fact, maybe you have a few pairs of jeans – straight-legged, skinny, flared, baggy, bootcut (although probably not since the late 90’s), high waist, low waist, the list is endless.

Perhaps you wear jeans most days, they’re easy, functional and fairly resilient, so why wouldn’t you? In fact, Danny Miller, author of Blue Jeans, says that half of the global population is wearing a pair of denim jeans on any given day.

But denim wasn’t always a main staple. Originally made from hemp (more sustainable than cotton in its water consumption) but later made from twilled cotton, denim was developed for workers in the 1870’s for it’s durability. Post WWII it became a symbol of protest against conformity, a representation of solidarity to the working class and then later a uniform for youth subcultures. By the 1980’s it was firmly in the mainstream and worn by all. No longer a mark against conforming or a political statement, they have become the ultimate “neutral foundational garment” says Miller.

The beauty of jeans is their ability to wear and fade just so, that they almost act as a storyteller for the wearer. A tear here and a rip there and as the colour fades the stories and adventures embedded in them get richer and deeper. Hell, we don’t even need to go through the process of ‘wearing them in’ when we can buy jeans that look like they’ve been worn for years, with the imagined spirit of Marlon Brando or James Dean’s lifestyle conjured up by a designer and painstakingly recreated in production by a garment factory worker. We can sit happily at our desk with the appearance of a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle without putting in any of the legwork. Yet the finishing treatment of our denim jeans with options of bleaching, stonewashing and sandblasting not only damages the quality of the fabric, reducing the durability of this once traditionally hardwearing fibre, but diminishes our strong emotional and physical connection with this wardrobe staple. Find out more about the TRAID funded project Clean Jeans with War on Want here.

Transforming Denim Workshop
Transforming Denim Workshop

Could this explain why we are throwing away over 28,000 pairs of jeans in the UK each year? We wear denim but could the reality in fact be that denim is wearing out the world?

If we are to wear our jeans to the end, patched up within an inch of it’s life, what can we do with them when they can no longer be worn as jeans? Certainly we could cut off the legs and wear them as shorts for a quick fix and as long as the British summertime lasts, but what then? By extending the life of our jeans by even 3 months we can reduce 5-10% of our carbon, water and waste footprint. So what if we could extend the life of our jeans by a few more years?

Denim Workshop Camden 21

TRAID launched the Transforming Denim workshop in Camden at the end of July, a two day course teaching participants to give longer life to our denim waste.

Despite the global impact of our denim jeans, talks and discussions were had to inspire change on a local level. Ideas were developed to take action in our local communities to create positive and sustainable change to reduce the negative impact of our clothes, while encouraging others to do the same.

Over the course of the two days we transformed a pair of jeans into a useful rucksack. By repurposing our jeans we have the opportunity to recognise the value of this hardworking material and continue to utilise it’s durability in another form.