California’s Denim Industry Trying To Get That Distressed Look Without Using Water During Drought

California is in the middle of a long drought right now, with state officials asking everyone to pitch in and do their best to conserve water. But that’s a bit tricky for the state’s denim industry, which produces about 75% of the “premium” jeans sold worldwide. Because getting that expensive, distressed vintage look is all about washing… and washing again, and again. With water, of course, which is in short supply.

Some companies are now investing in waterless technology as an alternate to washing and distressing denim with water, reports MarketWatch, along with advising consumers to only wash their jeans after 10 wears instead of the common two-wear-and-wash routine.

So-called premium denim is used to make jeans costing anywhere upwards of $100 sold by companies like 7 for All Mankind, True Religion and J. Brand. Repeated washing with stones, or bleaching and dyeing the denim creates that ideal look.

“(The) water issue in fashion in Los Angeles is a big deal,” John Blank, economic adviser to the California Fashion Association, a trade group, told MarketWatch. Making premium denim “requires water. It is all about that processing. It is the repeated washing to get the premium look. This is what people pay for.”

He says Southern California produces 75% of the high-end denim in the U.S. that’s sold around the world, employing about 200,000 people in the area., making it the largest U.S. fashion manufacturing hub, said Blank.

One company called Blue Creations of California Inc. does garment washing and dyeing for several upscale brands, and is now planning on buying a second “ozone machine” soon. Those machines use ozone gas to get the stonewashed look without using water, the company says.

Since it purchased its first ozone machine four years ago, the company says it’s cut its water usage by as much as 50%.

“The drought is definitely having an impact on design and on the manufacturing process of garments,” a company rep said.

Some companies that send their denim to Blue Creations have even required that it use the ozone machine in most styles, which only adds up to about $1 more in cost per item for customers.

Levi is also using the ozone machines to replace the bleach it used to use to lighten denim, and is cutting down on how many times it washes jeans as well. Last year, Levi CEO Chip Bergh urged people to stop washing their jeans to cut down on water usage, saying people can just dry and spot clean then instead.

Why the fashion industry is eyeing the California drought impact closely [MarketWatch]

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