Sandblasting: the hard truth behind your worn-out jeans


Distressed jeans are everywhere, and for good reason too. Worn-out denim is the perfect balance between on trend and timeless fashion; minimal detail but detailed enough; dressed up but equally dressed down. But hey, you already knew that... which is probably why you’re reading this now!

What you may not have known however, is this high-street honey comes with a dark secret.

Unbeknown to the everyday consumer, the rips in our everyday ‘high-street’ jeans are actually the cause of harmful and incurable lung diseases among factory workers.

Sandblasting is process that gives denim that ‘pre-worn’ look that we all know and love. To manually sandblast jeans, workers are equipped with a hose, an air compressor and sand. The process? Literally blasting jeans with sand to give them that distressed style.

While your new high-street jeans may look and fit like a glove, there impact is quite the opposite.

Shocking statistics from the World Health Organisation have confirmed that the aggressive process of sandblasting actually leads to incurable diseases like lung fibrosis, emphysema and silicosis among factory workers.

Silicosis is caused when small particles of silica dust from the sand embed themselves within the lungs, causing shortness of breath, coughing, weakness and weight loss. Silicosis is incurable and, in its acute form, fatal. According to reports, Silicosis kills about 100 people every single year.

While many workers understand the effect that their occupation is having on their health, they are forced to continue to work for as low as $70 a month so they can feed their family.

That’s shocking. Is there a solution?

Straight out yes. There are so many ethical ways of producing distressed denim which do not harm workers — using lasers, machines or scraping by hand are just a few common practices.

However, even with this information, consumers usually have no way of knowing whether or not their new jeans could have been contributed to an incurable illness like Silicosis.

In 2013, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) documented an investigation on 6 denim factories in the South China province of Guangdong — an area responsible for half of the world’s jean production.

Of these 6 factories, the CCC could only confirm that 1 had completely dropped their use of sandblasting. 3 of the factories claimed to have officially banned sandblasting, but interviews of the workers suggested the opposite.

Unfortunately, we as first-world consumers are stuck in the mud of fast fashion. And while we cannot prevent factories from treating their workers the way they do, we can shift our focus to ethically accredited, slow-fashion brands, which have locked the door and thrown away the key to backwards practices like sandblasting.

In our eyes, it’s way past time to think more about the choices we make every day as consumers. To not just get tempted by how great something looks or seduced by the price. To think about what has actually gone into making an item, how long it will last, who made it, and where it all came from.

At Justice we refuse to participate in the exploitation of garment workers in dangerous and brutal overseas factories. Instead work closely with the last of the great denim craftsmen right here in Melbourne, Australia. In fact we’re so close to them, we could even tell you their first names and how they enjoy their coffee!

For us, ethical production is a commitment to a different way of doing business. It’s about putting the principles of fairness and decency before profits. For the greater good.  

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