Countless scenes in the award-winning documentary RiverBlue: Can Fashion Save the Planet? show the indigo-tinged rivers and denim-dyed lakes of China, Bangladesh and India. These toxic bodies of water are the result of the manufacturing of our wardrobe staple, jeans, and the ecosystems in these hubs of fast fashion factories are being destroyed.
We know that fashion is contributing to the slow but sure demise of our planet. Twenty percent of the world's water pollution is made by garment manufacturing. Eighteen hundred gallons of water are used to produce just one pair of jeans. We know this. So, we're buying less and better quality. We're shopping vintage and buying secondhand; we're giving our cast-offs to recycling plants and charity shops.
But when 25 billion gallons of water are required for one year's worth of global textile production, it feels like any individual effort is a drop in the ocean of a worldwide problem. We can howl at Blue Planet all we like, ban plastic bags and straws and feel better about our life choices – but unless we hold brands accountable, and demand real change at the source, there are dark days ahead.
AG Jeans, a longtime champion of eco-friendly practices, is leading the charge on this front. The Los Angeles-based denim brand is putting long-term solutions into place where other brands are merely paying lip service to sustainability. And now, to celebrate World Water Day, the label has announced the installation of new water filtration systems in both its LA and Mexico factories, meaning that 100% of the water used will be recycled.
A typical denim manufacturer uses 380,000 gallons of water per day.
"A typical denim manufacturer uses 380,000 gallons of water per day," founder and CEO Yul Ku explains. "AG’s state-of-the-art technology will reduce our usage to just 1,200 gallons per day" – and this is only due to evaporation and minor spillages caused during the process. Using a multi-step recycling system, which filters out chemicals, dyes and other toxic waste, every drop of water is recovered from the manufacturing process and, being so pure, is clean enough to drink.
AG has long been a leader in both the denim and sustainability sectors. The label already uses Ozone Technology, which reduces water consumption by half during the production process, recycles around 1,400lbs of scrap material per week, and uses natural and biodegradable materials like Tencel and Modal. "The return on our new machinery isn't huge," a brand rep tells Refinery29. "We'll maybe see a return on investment in 20 years – this technology is expensive – but taking these steps is so important to us."
Alongside the innovative new recycling process, the label has partnered with Boxed Water Is Better, a brand that puts its money where its mouth is when it comes to eco practices. The packaging of its water is 100% recyclable, made from 74% renewable sources and shipped flat before filling to reduce the carbon footprint further, and the brand plants two trees every time its #BetterPlanet initiative is hashtagged on social media. AG estimates that it will be saving 73,000 plastic bottles (previously given to customers in-store and employees in-house) per year with this new partnership.
Of course, the brand has cool kudos, too. As well as being the face of the brand for AW16, Alexa Chung collaborated with them to create several collections of vintage-inspired styles – think sellout overalls and kick-flare denim. An influencer favourite, worn by the likes of Bettina Looney and Camille Charrière, AG epitomises the laid-back LA aesthetic. Fashion-approved and environmentally sound? Count us in.