Magazine article World Watch

Bluejeans

Magazine article World Watch

Bluejeans

Article excerpt

Introduction

The bluejeans story begins in that hotbed of haute couture, Bavaria, which also gave the world leather hotpants (lederhosen). Levi Strauss left southern Germany for the United States in 1847 and by the 1870s was running a prosperous dry goods store in San Francisco, where the gold rush boom had created heavy demand for tough work clothes. Running out of canvas, Strauss turned to upholstery fabric (denim, from the French serge de Nimes), dyed it blue, and sold pairs of Levi's jeans for $1.46 apiece. Jeans are still made for work, but they're also for play and for showing off; high-end pairs sell for hundreds of dollars and in 1999 a run of pre-wrecked Gucci bluejeans sold out for $3,700 each. The average U.S. consumer owns seven pairs of jeans.

Fate

Recycling of textiles, including denim, is an old practice. Manufacturers' cutting scraps are collected and returned to mills for reprocessing as rags and wipes or for re-spinning into new fabrics. Recycling rates generally remain low, however. Jeans themselves sometimes follow this path, but they also gradually disappear into dryer lint or are reincarnated as pocket purses, quilts, placemats, pot holders, book covers, pencil cases (pencils too), paper, insulation, and a bewildering variety of other products. Many pairs are simply thrown out and landfilled, where the chemicals incorporated into fabric or dyes retard biodegradation.

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Manufacture

It takes up to nine months to design a pair of jeans and get it into stores, partly because "kind of blue" won't do and designers repeatedly exchange color swatches with manufacturers while searching for the perfect shade. Things speed up at the plants, many of them in developing countries (Mexico, Bangladesh, Costa Rica). Garment workers there, mostly young women, cut and sew denim fabric pieces under quota systems that set a breakneck pace. …

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