After blood diamonds, itís killer jeans

There's more dirt that has spilled out from fashion's shiny closets. If blood diamonds and children in third world countries labouring in sweatshops wasn't enough, now, turns out, your favourite pair of designer jeans could have killed someone.

Many of us would have dismissed blood diamonds as just another shade of the glitzy stone (perhaps light pink, ruby-red?) unless Leonardo DiCaprio hadn't educated us in a swanky accent in "Blood Diamond", on how they actually finance wars in conflict zones. It wasn't until diva Naomi Campbell was hauled into war crime trials and forced to admit she accepted the 'dirty rocks' at a party hosted by Nelson Mandela in 1997, that the world sat up and took notice. Even though two-thirds of the world's diamonds are still extracted from African war-zones, diamonds still are, and will remain, a girl's best friend.

Did you know that acid washed jeans (also known as stone washed/dirty jeans), one of the hottest items in high fashion, are just another example of the lengths humans will go to to look pretty, never mind the casualties? Nicknamed 'killer jeans', the world's top designer companies employ techniques like 'sandblasting' to attain that perfect faded, artificially worn-out look. The technique's killed labourers across the world, but companies like Dolce&Gabbana, Giorgio Armani and Roberto Cavalli refuse to ban it.

What is sandblasting?
It is a mechanical and abrasive process where sand particles are forced at denim fabrics under controlled pressure settings. A pair of jeans that goes through the said process can be sold at 50% higher than its original rate. Inhaling the silica powder and crystals present in sand can lead to Silicosis, a lung disease. Even after exposure is ceased, the dust continues to cause fibrous scar tissue to build up inside airways and can lead to death. And there's no cure.

Silicosis affected more than 4000 labourers in Turkey, the only place where there is a comprehensive report on the subject. Sandblasting is also done in countries like Bangladesh, China, Egypt and Mexico.

Banning sandblasting? Not interested
When approached with the data and statistics on this occupational hazard, companies like Levis and Gucci banned sandblasting immediately, while most others tried to be diplomatic about it. Foreign supermarket chain Asda said it would phase out the product rather than discontinue it. "It's our intention that there will be none on sale in our stores by the end of this year," a spokesman said. While Diesel said it would stop using sandblasting from next year, Next had stopped all 'new' orders.

"In the space of a year, workers could contract Silicosis. We need to just stop this," a spokesperson for an international clothing workers' union pleaded to deaf ears. When cajoled, Versace eventually agreed and said that 'any supplier found to be employing sandblasting as a technique would be in breach of contract.'

When Deborah Lucchetti, spokesperson for the Clean Clothes Campaign (a vocal company against sandblasting), approached Dolce&Gabbana to ban the process, the reply she received was, "They telephoned me to say thanks for the information and that it did not interest them." Giorgio Armani and Roberto Cavalli refused to talk to them, even as Luchetti says, "This is a serious issue. People have died."

The best way to avoid using killer jeans is to stop buying jeans with the artificially worn-out look. It is better to achieve the look the natural way - by wearing them out!

Sandblasting: who's doing what

Will ban, but within the year

Still not banned
Giorgio Armani
Roberto Cavalli

Carrera Jeans
Pepe Jeans

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