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Chemicals in your clothing

We recently disassembled an old denim jacket to restyle it for a client. As we unraveled threads and meticulously brushed out the cotton fibres, we stumbled upon a mysterious white powder concealed within the folds and seams. In that moment, we felt like investigators on a tv drug squad, though the idea of putting it anywhere near our tongues was out of the question. The mystery remained: what could it be?
Powder found in Seams
It looked like pumice stone but was obviously an irritant because it made me itch. Google would happily tell us we were sure. So began our so we typed into the search bar: White powder in denim folds. That was obviously not the right search because too much detergent was the answer. The nearest was a Reddit question Strange, white powder found in seam of old navy denim? Found in the up-cycled fashion subsection. After being distracted by the entertaining answers because it can be good for a chuckle, we carried on our search.
After finding a small rock in the waistband... SEARCH: pumice in denim seams. Now Google came up with something. This snippet is what caught our interest...
'The use of pumice stones in denim washing is a quite old-fashioned practice
It was invented during the '70-'80 to to transform a raw denim jean in a vintage one, giving it a worn and used look. It continued... But the use of pumice stones has several drawbacks, particularly in terms of logistic costs and environmental pollution.'

Pumice extraction continues until depletion, at which point it is discarded into rivers once deemed obsolete.

Okay... but what about that Itchy Feeling the Powder gave?
Continuing our search, we found a university paper written by some textile engineers in Bangladesh. To cut it short..
1. The pumice can cause too much wear and tear on the fabric and the machines
2.The pumice alone doesn't act quickly enough for mass denim production so they add an enzyme to it. This process gives a nice gentle worn look and softens the fabric.

What is the Enzyme we Wondered?

Now, pumice is left out of the mix. It is not as plentiful as it was and it adds to the production cost. So the enzyme stays and does the work of breaking down those cotton fibres to give that nice worn look that time itself achieves. It is called Bio-stonewashing. We are an impatient lot and so if things can be speeded up it goes with how we are tuned.  Anyway.... fed up with reading research papers we popped over to YouTube and checked out enzymes. To speed things up.. in summary, we found out that this enzyme is cellulase. This breaks down which doesn't sound like such a bad chemical. It is part of the polysaccharides family of sugars. So what is all the fuss about enzymes in your laundry detergent if is is a plant based chemical?

 blended photo of denim jeans and indigo dye being pumped into rivers

It's all about Saving the Water 

It is, according to our research, at the moment enzyme washing is considered to be a better alternative to pumice as it uses less water is used and as mentioned previously, not so damaging to the all important machinery. Remember though, we are talking about mass production here.


Friends shopping for vintage clothing
When Chlorine becomes a Problem
Natural indigo dyes are fine. When the dye is synthesised, then ends up in rivers, which it definitely does, then it is not so fine. It is all about the water, keeping it clean and not treating it like it falls out of the sky or something! Actually it isn't falling enough in the right areas, that is why it needs to be conserved.
So let us think twice about buying a new pair of jeans. Maybe, just maybe, we could consider nipping out to a nearby used clothing shop and grab a bargain that someone else wants you to have. Go on, make a day of it and take a friend.


Long Live our clothes!


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