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Fashion uses 1.5 trillion liters of water per year — here’s how we can do better

A few simple steps that actually can make a difference.

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Ever think about the link between fashion and the world’s water supply? Most people don’t — even those who consider themselves savvy on sustainability. But the truth is, a lot of water goes into making our clothes. Take the jeans and T-shirt you’re likely wearing right now: Producing just that one kilogram of cotton can consume up to 20,000 liters, or 5,300 gallons of fresh water. That’s about the same amount of water as leaving your tap running for 33 hours. Or the amount you use in a year of showers. Multiply by your entire closet, and everyone else’s, and you start to see the scope of the problem. Luckily, there are ways we can do better — ways that don’t involve wearing your favorite pants to threads.

Ahead, you’ll find ways you can make a real impact on your wardrobe’s water usage. From making over how you care for your clothes (spoiler: we’re going to ask you to do less laundry), to choosing Dockers® pieces made with more sustainably-grown cotton and Water<Less® techniques that use up to 96 percent less water, these are simple, start-right-now steps that actually make a difference.

Graphic of khaki pants with text that reads: “Producing just one kilogram of cotton can consume up to 20,000 liters, or 5,300 gallons of fresh water.”

Choose your cotton carefully

Cotton is a smart choice for clothing that looks good and lasts. But cotton is a “thirsty” crop that’s usually cultivated in warm, dry areas — meaning its production puts added stress on already-scarce water supplies. Pesticides used in traditional cotton cultivation also can adversely affect air and water quality. So if you’re looking to reduce your impact, then choosing cotton with care is a great first step.

Try shopping for organic cotton: It’s grown using fewer pesticides, reducing chemicals in the air and water supply. Recycled cotton is another smart choice that saves fabric from landfills and reduces the need for water-intensive cotton production. You also can look for cotton sourced through the “Better Cotton Initiative.” BCI, the world’s largest cotton sustainability program, trains farmers worldwide in better water stewardship practices to reduce wastewater and pollution, and has reduced water irrigation use in some areas by up to 20 percent.

If that sounds like a lot, don’t worry — you don’t have to spend your life scrutinizing labels. Dockers® and its parent company, Levi Strauss & Co., have been making the switch to more sustainably sourced fabrics since 2010. By the end of 2019, 83 percent of the brand’s cotton came from BCI farmers, organic cotton farms, or recycled cotton suppliers; the company plans to reach 100 percent in the near future.

Illustrated graphic of a pile of folded khaki pants. Text reads: “Water&lt;Less® water-reducing and recycling techniques can save up to 96 percent of the water used in the finishing process.”

Take it to the finish line

Cotton cultivation isn’t the only thirsty part of making clothes. Unless you’re buying raw, untreated denim, most clothing is “finished” after assembly — that is, items are washed to give a broken-in look and feel. The process makes clothes softer and more comfortable, but it’s water-intensive: Finishing just one item of clothing can use about 34 liters, or 9 gallons, of water.

To reduce that amount, LS&Co. developed Water<Less® techniques: a collection of more than 20 different water-reducing and recycling processes that can save up to 96 percent of the water typically used in the finishing process. Some methods are a little unconventional, like tumbling pants with bottle caps and golf balls instead of the usual water and fabric softeners, but the collective impact is undeniable. In the first half of 2020, Dockers® made 86% of its products using Water<Less® techniques — saving more than 20 million liters of water so far this year (and counting). The brand created a full collection to celebrate Water<Less® techniques, which were created and implemented 10 years ago. Shop the full Dockers® Water<Less® collection here.

Illustrated graphic that reads: “In the first half of 2020, Dockers saved over 20 million liters of water using Water&lt;Less techniques — that’s the amount of water in 8 large-sized swimming pools.”

Launder, way less

This might surprise you: After cotton manufacturing, the most water and energy-intensive part of your clothing’s lifecycle is consumer care. So remember these five key words: “Wash Less and Line Dry.” Washing your favorite khakis every 10 wears instead of every other wear reduces their energy use, climate change impact, and water intake by up to 80 percent.

And before you ask, most clothing manufacturers say we wash our clothes more than we need to. Experiment with techniques like hanging clothes outside between wears, hanging in the bathroom while you shower to remove wrinkles, or spritzing with a fabric refresher for the smell-good factor. Raw denim heads swear by the trick of freezing your jeans to eliminate odors, but a brief tumble dry with a dryer sheet works even better.

Illustrated graphic, text reads: “Washing your favorite khakis every 10 wears instead of every other wear reduces their energy use, climate change impact, and water intake by up to 80 percent.”

Reuse and reimagine

Let’s be honest: Treating our clothes as disposable is a big part of the problem. One study shows that the average consumer now buys 60 percent more clothing than shoppers did 20 years ago — but we keep our clothing half as long. Another found that more than half the clothing made annually is discarded within one year.

We can do better. Shopping your own closet, buying vintage, or swapping unwanted clothes with friends can hit the spot when you crave something new, without impacting the environment. A tailor can breathe new life into old clothes, or if you’re the DIY type, upcycling is built into Water<Less® khakis, which feature handy cut lines to help you turn your former-favorite pants into your new-favorite shorts.

Overall, wearing and loving our clothes for longer might be the biggest win of all — luckily, with Dockers® quality and versatility, that longevity is built right in.

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