The Distressing News About Denim


Part of the reason I have been so off-again/on-again about blogging lately, is because I have been busy doing research for, and working on, my novel. It turns out, that my creative energy is not an endless well of inspiration (though I certainly wish it were!), and it gets used up rather quickly – especially on days when I focus on my book – leaving my brain sort of mushy and too scattered to put another sentence together. This has been a good thing, however, since I’ve gotten a significant amount of progress made in the last few weeks. Passages that started out as superficial sketches and outlines are slowly starting to fill in with some color and clarity now, and it’s been exciting to watch as everything has come together. I’m really starting to look forward to the release date – drawing nearer – this Fall!

For those who don’t know, the plot revolves around Jane Cross, a young woman who gets tangled up in a series of unexpected mysteries surrounding the death of her Grandfather, when she makes the trip from New York City to a small town in Oregon for his funeral. As many fellow writers have no doubt experienced, parts of the book felt like they wrote themselves when I sat down behind the keyboard. In fact, the decision to make my main character a writer for a fashion magazine was not a conscious one – I have no idea where it came from! And it’s a plot point that I’ve struggled with from time to time, unsure how to write about something I have virtually no experience (outside of my own closet) with.

Slowly but surely, however, the pieces have been falling into place, and it all started with research. In one scene, Jane takes a tour of a denim factory – and this actually becomes a key plot point, because certain important actions occur on her drive to and from the building; Not to mention the two characters she meets there become important in future books in the series. unfortunately, I don’t know anything about how jeans are made! Luckily, Google stepped in for me and saved the day with several helpful resources on the process of sourcing, dyeing, and weaving denim into a pair of pants. And I was actually pretty surprised by what I learned.

Photo Credit: Munir Uz Zaman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Photo Credit: Munir Uz Zaman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Truth About Denim

Approximately 450 million pairs of jeans are sold per year, in the United States alone. Not only are there a wide array of options to choose from, just for the basics – boot cut, tapered, slim, skinny, dark wash, faded wash, vintage wash, acid wash *shudder* – but we’re also seeing an explosion of novelty choices as well, including bright colors and funky patterns.

One of the most popular choices in recent decades has been “distressed denim” – or jeans that are given a worn look in the factory, before they ever reach your closet. In fact, people will often pay significantly more for this distressed look. However, this trend doesn’t just tend to leave your jeans with a shorter life span, it also does the same for those in charge of creating it.

Factory workers tasked with the job of sandblasting denim in order to create that oh-so-coveted worn look are often exposed to dangerous silica dust, which can lead to lung and respiratory complications such as Silicosis. Silicosis, which is similar to Coalworker’s Pneumoconiosis – or “Black Lung” – is also known to cause severe fungal infections, and has been linked to lung cancer, and even death.

With the amount of jeans on the market today, and the growing number in each of our closets (I have at least four pairs of plain denim jeans, myself – not counting the ones dyed other colors such as turquoise and black), the problem of Silicosis is also growing.

More recently though, something called Raw Denim or “dry” denim has been making its appearance (or re-appearance) onto the market, and it’s significantly more worker- and eco-friendly. Oh yeah, and not only that – raw denim jeans look and fit better, too! The idea behind raw denim is that it is left virtually untreated, except for the dyeing of course. But essentially, it’s denim in its purest form, and it’s left completely unwashed after the weaving and dyeing processes are finished. What this means is that not only are the carbon dioxide emissions from the manufacturing process significantly lower than with pre-washed and distressed jeans, but there’s also none of the same worries about the health and longevity of the workers. Plus, when you break in your own pair of jeans, the wear, tear, and fade marks will be exactly where your body puts them – leading to a better fit, and over-all better looking pair of pants.

Of course this is just an overview ;) You can find out even more about denim – and how it relates to murder – in the first of a new mystery series The Adventures of Jane Cross by Andrea Kelly, debuting this Fall!

Denim Resources:

The Telegraph – Top Chains are Urged to Ban Sandblasted Jeans

Labour Behind The Label – Consumers Alerted to Killer Fashion Trend


3 thoughts on “The Distressing News About Denim

  1. I remember the natural wear and tear of my Levi’s back in the day! I tried to find the old commercial but only found the lyrics – I still know all the words!

    “I bought a pair of Levis, they’ve really been around, I’ve taken them camping and I’ve laid them on the ground. They’ve come with me to parties, they’ve climbed up a tree, why they’ve been to school so often they’re nearly smart as me. And after years and years of wearing my Levis in and out, I couldn’t help but notice that the knee wore out. So I sewed on a patch a flower here and there and they look so good again I can take them anywhere. I’m using them as cutoffs and flying through the air, now I really think it’s time that I bought another pair. You can live in Levis.”

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