Distressed denim may be all the rage in the fashion world at the moment, but the style comes at an environmental and human cost. In Tehuacán in Mexico it is the local people that pay price for our fashion. Once famous for its mineral springs and spas, Tehuacán, the ‘City of Health’, is now home to around 700 clothes manufacturers, many with little or no environmental controls or standards. Workers are routinely exploited, their employee rights ignored. The worst environmental culprits are the dozens of factories that make the faded or distressed denim that is so fashionable right now. The chemicals used in the process are discharged into the rivers and streams around the factories, turning the water blue and damaging the crops that depend on the water systems.
The main chemical used is potassium permanganate, a strong bleaching agent that was once used to induce abortions. Mariano Baragán, a local farmer said: "As well as being blue, it burns the seedlings and sterilises the earth." The government agencies that should be monitoring the factories are allowing this to happen, probably because the local economy depends on the factories, and their foreign corporate customers. It is these corporations that should be enforcing stricter controls on their client factories to protect both the workers and the environment. We as customers ultimately have the power to change this with our buying power. We chould only buy products from ethical and fair trade companies.