Clothes are important to us, not only for warmth and protection, but it also gives us a form of identity. For most people, choosing and wearing the right clothes that matches their personality is one of the essentials in their everyday lives. Whether it’s a suit for work, a dress for a party or just casual, it reflects who we are and how we position ourselves in society. Indeed, some people don’t really care what they wear, as long as it looks good, but for most of us it can be a difficult task; buying and wearing the right clothes.
As the availability and choice of clothes is so large, especially through the increasingly popular way of buying clothes online, the options are almost limitless. Most of us including myself enjoy the widespread availability and choice of buying clothes online. It is easy, fast and cheap as there is no need to drive to a clothing store. However, the probability of ordering too large or too small clothes online is far greater than purchasing it at a physical clothing store. Thus, there is a larger risk of having to send clothes back when buying online and as it occurs on a large scale, the amount of returns causes more air pollution which contribute to global warming. Obviously, there are many more harmful activities that cause pollution such as industrial activities, deforestation and chemical wastage. However, the difference between those polluting activities and sending clothes back is that we can do something about it.
To gain better understanding of how clothes are manufactured, distributed and eventually purchased and used by consumers, the life cycle assessment of Levi’s 501 jeans will be illustrated and explained.
Levi Strauss & Co
Levi Strauss & Co also known as Levi’s, is an American clothing company known worldwide for its denim jeans. It was founded in 1853 by Levi Strauss who opened a west coast branch of his brothers’ New York dry goods business in San Francisco, California. In 1873, Levi Strauss and tailor Jacob Davis produced the first blue jeans. The company employs approximately 16,200 people worldwide and it sells over 110 countries worldwide. (wiki/Levi_Strauss_%26_Co)
Life-cycle assessment Levi’s jeans
Step 1: Cotton production
About 20 million tones of cotton are produced each year in around 90 countries. China, United States, India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and West Africa account for over 75% of global production.
it can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton; equivalent to a single T-shirt and pair of jeans.
Agriculture is the largest source of pollution in most countries. 2.4% of the world’s crop land is planted with cotton. Unsafe use of agricultural chemicals has severe health impacts on workers in the field and on ecosystems.
The use of genetically-modified (GM) cotton varieties has significantly increased in recent years. Several of the major cotton-producing countries cultivate a large percentage of their cotton fields with GM varieties that are resistant to some insect pests and/or tolerant of certain herbicides.
River Basin impacts
Unsustainable cotton farming, with massive inputs of water and pesticides, has already been responsible for the destruction of large-scale ecosystems such as the Aral Sea in central Asia and the deteriorating health and livelihoods of people living there. Cotton prodution is responsible for extracting significant amounts of water from several large River Basins including the Indus River in Pakistan, the Murray-Darling Basin in Australia, and the Rio Grande in United States and Mexico. (WWF global/cottonfarming)
Step 2: Fabric production
Once cotton leaves the field, textile mills around the world turn the fiber into fabric.
Step 3: Garment Manufacturing
Products are manufactured by suppliers that cut, sew and finish the products.
Step 4: Transportation & Distribution
Products are transported and distributed to retail, online and wholesale locations around the world.
Step 5: Consumer use
According to Levi’s life cycle assessment of jeans, consumers can reduce the impact of their jeans on the environment by up to 50 percent by line drying and washing them in cold water.
Step 6: Recycling
Levi has recently launched a recyling initiative in an effort to encourage everyone to extend the life of a pair of jeans by donating them to charities instead of contributing to the 23.8 billion pounds of clothing that end up in landfills each year. (http://www.levistrauss.com/sustainability/product/life-cycle-jean)
Clothing footprint: what is it?
A clothing footprint is actually the effect of cloths we wear on our environment. The way we grow crops to make cloth, the process of manufacturing it, how it reaches us, how we clean our clothes in our daily life and finally, how they are disposed of all are taken into account. (http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com)
What can we do to reduce our clothing footprint?
It is fair to say that most of us consider ourselves fortunate to be able to have the choice and availability of different types of clothes. The ease and speed with which we can purchase clothes online has many benefits in terms of time and money. Altough our understanding and awareness about the labor that goes into producing clothes is increasing, there is still more than meets the eye. Especially, the various stages a pair of jeans goes through before ending in someone’s wardrobe. It is interesting to see the materials, machines and labor used in the production of those jeans. What is even more compelling is the fact that more than 20,000 litres of water is needed to produce one kilo of cotton! Altough clothing manufacturers like Levi are undertaking steps to signifcantly reduce their carbon footprint of producing jeans; more than 50% of the potential environmental impact are we ourselves accountable for. Therefore, it is important that we have a common understanding of the work that goes into producing clothing and the ecological footprint that we as individuals leave behind when we buy, use and dispose our clothes.
Biodegradable: capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms and thereby avoiding pollution
Pertorchemical: a chemical obtained from petroleum and natural gas.
Ecological footprint: the impact of a person or community on the environment, expressed as the amount of land required to sustain their use of natural resources.