Buying Time – the Trend for Distressed/Sandblasted Jeans

Some time ago I posted about the human health implications of sandblasted jeans. It’s one of the most talked about topics in the ethical fashion sphere at the moment, thanks to the hard work of the Clean Clothes Campaign in making consumers aware of the problem of workers contracting silicosis through the practice.

Some companies were quick to ban the process once the Clean Clothes Campaign got involved – Gucci, H&M and Levis for example. Others have been far more resistant. Armani is the latest company to announce their ban this month and campaigners are now focused on Dolce & Gabbana, who even after being bombarded with 38,000 signatures, refuses to ban the process. Dolce & Gabanna have even been deleting concerned consumer messages from their Facebook wall.

So the battle rumbles on. The topic came up in my literature review readings this week, not of the health concerns related to sandblasting, but of the wider craze for purchasing these effectively ‘damaged’ and aged items. It was discussed in a book chapter by renowned consumption academic Daniel Miller, titled ‘Buying Time’. In effect, he was saying that you can buy time by buying a commodity off the shelf and that by purchasing distressed jeans a consumer is ‘buying time’. To distress the jeans themselves would involve wearing them for years on end, conditioning them with manual labour; this is the time that they are buying back when they purchase distressed jeans.

Miller states how extraordinary it is that in this modern age of mass consumption and with such a wide market, approaching half of the world chooses to wear one and the same garment at any given time. The act of wearing jeans in can be a very personal process, the jeans become ‘yours’, and in comparison to buying distressed jeans which someone else has aged it seems odd that this practice is so popular. Many older customers would be set against wearing distressed jeans much for this reason, and because they are not smart enough.

When buying distressed jeans, Miller ponders, are we buying time or buying personalisation? And how is this personalisation born through such a commercial, industrial and anonymous process as represented by industrial distressing?

Reference: Miller, D., 2009. Buying Time. In: Shove, E., Trentmann, F. and Wilk, R., Time, Consumption and Everyday Life. Oxford: Berg

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