Levi Strauss & Co. and Hennes & Mauritz are trying to take the messy and potentially deadly process of sandblasting out of fashion.
The firms said they would not place any more orders for sandblasted goods and called on the rest of the apparel industry to follow their lead. Although Levi’s and H&M take steps to protect their workers from exposure to crystalline silica, a compound found in sand, they will stop using the technique to distress denim and other apparel by next year.
The self-imposed ban includes the use of aluminum oxide, aluminum silicate, silicon carbide, copper slag and garnet for abrasive blasting. Workers who use sandblasting equipment without proper protective gear are at risk of silicosis, a potentially deadly respiratory disease.
“We’ve found that there are factories counterfeiting our products and other people’s products that don’t follow [safety] standards,” said Michael Kobori, vice president for social and environmental sustainability at Levi’s. “We’re very concerned about those factories that may be producing counterfeit Levi’s.”
Kobori said sandblasted looks make up a small portion of Levi’s overall business and that the process would be replaced, in part, by hand sanding.
Although it is not the most widespread labor concern, health issues associated with sandblasting come up periodically, said Steven Jesseph, chief executive officer of Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production, an independent factory monitoring and certification group.
“To keep people from breathing it in, they’ve got to use pretty good respiration protection,” said Jesseph, noting that sandblasting is usually done away from the sewing facility and by a subcontractor.
Subcontractors have been a source of labor problems in the past, particularly when a brand is unaware that they are being used, And Karl Gunnar Fagerlin, production manager at H&M, acknowledged that it is difficult to monitor standards at all of the company’s contractors, even with an extensive audit program.
“Securing that these standards are being observed by all of our suppliers and their subcontractors has proven too difficult,” Fagerlin said. “In order to make certain that no worker producing denim garments for H&M risks his or her health, we have decided to quit purchasing and retailing sandblasted products.”