Target announced today that they would stop selling sandblasted denim, due to the health risks imposed to the workers who do the sandblasting.
Target is not the only one giving up on the sandblasted jeans. Levi Strauss & Co, Versace, and Armani, have banned the distribution of sandblasted jeans from their companies as well.
Jeans are sandblasted to give them that ‘distressed’ look and feel. They look like well worn, comfortable, jeans. But the problem is that when the jeans are (literally) sandblasted, those doing the sandblasting suffer. The workers, generally in third world countries, end up breathing in small particles of the sand, called silica dust, which can result in the incurable lung disease Silicosis. Silicosis causes inflammation and scarring in the lungs, which leads to coughing, shortness of breath, cyanosis, and in acute cases, death.
Target said that by late 2012 they will no longer carry any sandblasted denim products in their stores.
There are other ways to ‘distress’ jeans, including sanding by hand, which is considered to be much safer. However, it is more labor intensive than sandblasting, so the cost of distressed items may rise as a result of more and more companies banning the practice from their collections.
Of course, Target’s decision comes in the wake of Apple’s recent experience dealing with bad PR due to worker’s rights issues. We may see more changes in the treatment of overseas workers as the awareness of this issue grows.