Water is a crucial part in every creature’s life. With the high number of demands, only 3 per cent of freshwater available in the world for everything. Besides as drinking water, freshwater also used in apparel industry. This industry’s demand on water is high. Especially denim water use. Yet it also created polluted wastewater.
2014 data by the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE) in China shows that more than 6.000 wastewater compliance violations could be traced to textile and clothing manufacturing.
It is stated that in China, 11 per cent of wastewater are from textile manufacturing. China itself responsible for half of world’s garment production. In 2012, International Water Association reported that it amounted to 2.4 billion metric tons.
Chemicals such as bleaches, surfactants, solvents, acids, alkalis, dyes and inks, resins, salts, organic and inorganic stabilizers, softeners and fluorocarbons are used in during garment production. They are for stain and water-resistant coatings. They could end up in waterways.
Let’s also not forget the amount of water to grow and produce fibers for fabric. Research on environmental life cycle of clothes manufacturing has new data. A large portion of water use and carbon emission in apparel industry happens during the production of fibers such as cotton and polyester.
For example, the manufactures need 1800 gallons of water in growing cotton to make a pair of jeans. From cotton production to manufacturing a pair of jeans could takes up to 2000 gallons of water.
That being said, denim apparel brands such as Levi’s and Guess took notice of the condition. They do research and make changes in order to reduce water use and wastewater.
Read also: These Simple Things You Do Harm the Earth
Brands Research Denim Water Use Problem
Levi Strauss & Co. first conducted its Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) in 2007. It assesses the whole lifecycle impact of a core set of products. The assessment revealed that the greatest water and energy impact was in cotton cultivation and customer care. Levi’s then came up with Water>Less process.
The new study in 2013 looked at three products: Levi’s 501 jeans, a pair of women’s jeans and a pair of Dockers Signature Khakis. Levi’s learnt that its 501 jeans needs nearly 3800 Liters of water in one lifecycle. Cotton production takes 68 per cent of the water.
Customer care consumes 23 per cent of water of total 3800 liters of water. As of current average condition, American customers typically wear their jeans twice before washing. They also use more water and energy to wash and dry their jeans compare to other markets.
Denim has a relatively high water footprint. it is due to high content of cotton. Guess claimed a pair of its Classic Core 1981 Skinny Fit Jeans consumes 2701 liters of water throughout its life cycle. In detail, 64 per cent in raw materials, 2 per cent in fabric manufacturing, 2 per cent in factory laundry, 32 per cent in consumer care. In raw material process, 98 per cent of the water used in irrigation in cotton production.
Brands Answering Denim Water Use Problem
Realizing how much apparel industry consumes water in operation, many brands have been trying to work their way to a greener production process. Fact above reveals that cotton agriculture makes up the most in water use. Therefore, brands tailor their own action plan to work in the area. Costumer care may just be something out of manufacturing process. Nevertheless, Levi’s and Guess include it to their water stewardship program.
- Cotton agriculture
Levi’s launched Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) in 2005. BCI is a joined force among many brands including Adidas, Levi’s, H&M and Marks & Spencer. It aims to fundamentally change how cotton is grown. In focuses on decreasing the environmental impact on cotton, improving labor standards and increasing the economic livelihood of farmers. BCI farmers use up to 19 per cent less water compared to non-BCI farmers.
Besides making initiative, one of the approach the brands explore is to use recycled cotton. Levi’s claim that jeans made of at least 15 per cent recycled cotton save as much water as the entire manufacturing process consumes.
- Manufacturing and Finishing
Manufacturing process could be the area where brands get to have the most control directly. Levi’s came up with a series of innovative finishing techniques they call Water<Less. This technique combines multiple wash cycles into a single wet-cycle process. Then manufacturer incorporated ozone processing to give the garments the washed-down effect.
This technique can save 28 per cent of the water on average in denim finishing process. Levi’s launched it in 2011. Since then, it has saved more than 1 billion liters of water in manufacturing process. Levi’s also make its water reduction standard including Water<Less innovation publicly available. Thus, other brands could also start saving water.
- Fabric laundry
Besides Water<Less, Levi’s also launched Water Recycling and Reuse Standard. The program piloted in China with its vendor and able to saved 30 million liters of fresh water. That it done is recycling water and reuse them for facility process water (laundry). Not only that, this program also work for:
- facility landscape irrigation
- facility cooling tower makeup water
- onsite sanitary toilet flushing
- Costumer Care
Levi’s educate its customers thru care label, campaigns such as “Care Tag for the Planet”, “Are You Ready to Come Clean” customer quiz and “Don’t be a Drip” as well as ecommerce sales channels.
Levi’s now also put sign in store and on all product care tag on better customer care. This include encouragement to wash less, wash in cold water, line dry and donate when no longer needed. For years, denim aficionados have attested that not washing jeans often makes its lifecycle longer.
By wearing jeans 10 times before washing, the brand suggested that American customers reduce water and climate change impact up to 77 per cent.
In additional, Levi’s expanded its collection and do more in water conservation by making Water>Less collection. This collection could save up to 96 per cent of water use compared to other normal jeans collections. Levi’s has made more than 13 million Water>Less products. This means the brand has saved more than 172 million liters of water. Water>less product including the 501 jeans to Levi’s Trucker Jacket.
For Guess, it is called Water Management Action Plan. It focuses on future initiatives related to more water-efficient cotton sourcing and supply chain management. It will improve water stewardship which include, but not limited to:
- sourcing more sustainable cotton
- ensuring responsible water management practices of vendors
- communicating with customers on the impact of wash.
A separate report on this plan is due in 2018.
Not only that, guess join the Circular Fashion System commitments. It committed to collect more used garments. The garments then separated the garment to either donated to local non-profit organization or to reuse and recycle to reduce waste.
Guess Europe released its first eco-collection named #GuessEco in 2016. The production method aimed to reduce environmental impact. It claimed the 57 per cent water use reduction on average during production. Machinery they called Jeanology machines and innovative chemical that allow them using 20-50 liters less water for each garment. This resulting to energy reduction during production. Meaning it created less carbon footprint. not only the process saves up water, it also allow the machines in production to work less hour.