The lived-in look that makes a new pair of distressed jeans irresistible right off the shelf often comes at great cost to the garment workers who make them.
That’s because sandblasting – the process of weathering denim by blasting sand onto jeans using high-pressure machines – contaminates the air workers breathe and can lead to an incurable lung disease called silicosis.
Worker advocacy organizations such as the Clean Clothes Campaign have been working with industry leaders to change this practice. As more designers, manufacturers and retailers recognize the harmful consequences of sandblasting, safer processes should be adopted.
Levi Strauss & Co was among the first to ban sandblasting as part of its commitment to its workers, and now Target has joined the iconic jean maker in a stand against this technique.
By late 2012, Target will no longer carry any products that have been sandblasted during the manufacturing process.
“Factories that do not rigorously enforce proper health and safety standards for sandblasting put unsuspecting workers at risk,” said David Love, SVP & Chief Supply Chain Officer, Levi Strauss & Co. “This is a serious industry concern. The best way we can help ensure no worker – in any garment factory – faces this risk is to move to end sandblasting. We hope Target’s decision will encourage other companies to follow.”
While a few other global apparel makers and retailers have followed suit, it will take a much broader industry commitment against this dangerous practice to ensure the safety and health of garment workers.
Patty Reber, director, raw materials development, of Target’s Product Design and Development Team, and Jey John, the lead fabric engineer for denim and wash, closely studied Levi’s findings on the technique and then expanded their research. They found that, even with strict safety standards and protective gear, sandblasting can be extremely harmful to workers.
“This journey has been about doing the right thing for the health and safety of our garment workers,” Reber said.
To take a step towards safety Target took a step back to the days before sandblasting technologies to discover alternative methods. One such method is hand sanding. Textile workers can simply distress denim by hand – with safer tools – resulting in the same broken-in look.
“The safety of factory workers should not be compromised for the sake of fashion,” said John. “We hope that Target serves as a meaningful example to the apparel industry, both in the United States and around the world.”
Sandblasting is just one example of how Target has maintained a strong sense of business ethics and holds itself – and its partners – accountable to the highest ethical standards. That’s why Target is partnering with the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and National Resource Defense Fund, among others, to find solutions that align with its commitments to sustainability and responsible sourcing chainwide.