Patagonia debuts eco-friendly denim

The new jeans from Patagonia are sewn in Fair Trade Certified factories, which help workers get closer to a living wage. Photo: Patagonia.

The new jeans from Patagonia are sewn in Fair Trade Certified factories, which help workers get closer to a living wage. Photo: Patagonia

Blue jeans are as American as apple pie, and a good pair is practically priceless. But what’s the true cost of a pair? What if you found out that most denim taxes the environment more than some politicians want to tax the middle class? And what if you want some jeans that aren't sewn in a place you’d consider a sweatshop?

Patagonia had all of these queries in mind when they started researching the manufacturing process of blue jeans.

“Traditional denim is a filthy business. That drove us to change the way our jeans are made," says Helena Barbour, Patagonia's business unit director for sportswear.

Just how filthy? It starts with growing the cotton, where tons of dangerous chemicals are used. The dyeing process might be worse because it produces millions of gallons of wastewater. And that’s to say nothing of the working conditions in the plants where the sewing takes place.

“We wanted to find an alternative solution to using the standard indigo dyeing methods we once employed to create denim. It took several years of research, innovation, trial and error, but the result is a new path for denim,” continued Barbour.

Most models of the new jeans from Patagonia include Coolmax or spandex for added stretch. Photo: Patagonia.

Most models of the new jeans from Patagonia include Coolmax or Spandex for added stretch. Photo: Patagonia

The new eco-friendly denim in the jeans from Patagonia, which hit the shelves last month, have enough stretch to rock-climb in and the denim uses 84 percent less water, 30 percent less energy and emits 25 percent less CO2 than conventional synthetic indigo denim. Utilizing organic cotton that’s grown without pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers, they double down with a dye that’s more environmentally friendly.

Patagonia’s dye process helps color bond quickly with the denim. The speediness results in shorter production lines. Want that broken-in or weathered look? Look elsewhere: stonewashing, sandblasting and bleaching are practically the rolling coal of jeans production. But going without the weathered look will help jeans last longer, which is the ultimate in “green” — a pair that doesn’t have to be replaced as often.

Available in three men's and three women's cuts, most models are $99 and include Coolmax for added stretch, but the Performance Straight Fit Jeans for men are $119.

The jeans are built in Fair Trade Certified shops. Here’s how these shops work: Patagonia pays a premium for every item they buy and the money goes into an account the workers control. The funds are designated for social, economic and environmental development projects, but can also be taken as a cash bonus, which can get workers closer to a living wage.

Closer to a living wage?

“We are aware of only a small handful of factories in the world that offer a living wage to their entire workforce; this is a rarity in apparel manufacturing, and a challenge that the industry as a whole faces,” said Mark Little, Global Product Line Director, Men's Sportswear.

“Some workers in our supply chain do earn a living wage, but most do not as of yet. Towards the end of this year, we will be working with the Fair Labor Association and Fair Trade USA to pilot different methods to raise wages on top of our current Fair Trade efforts. Our current Fair Trade program is a medium-term step to address living wages to put our money where our mouth is and show our commitment now,” continued Little.

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