Photo by  Probal Rashid  of the Turag River, Bangladesh

Photo by Probal Rashid of the Turag River, Bangladesh

Blue Jeans and Acidic Rivers

The textile industry is one of the largest consumers of water in the world, using 3.2% of all water available to the human race every year.

- RiverBlue

“A goddess” is how the Ganges river in India can be described by its many worshippers. Is this body of water still considered pure and beautiful, however, when she’s completely filled with toxic chemicals? Once able to flow effortlessly with pristine grace, it is now polluted beyond comprehension—there’s still love for this sacred river, yet no respect. This is true not only here, but in other parts of the world as the film RiverBlue points out. The 1.2 billion dollar fashion industry is part to blame, as it’s the second largest polluter after oil.

RiverBlue is a captivating documentary that reveals the lethal ingredients served in a poisonous cocktail created by the global fashion industry. Mark Angelo, a river conservationist and producer, travels to China, India, and Bangladesh seeking answers and solutions towards this form of environmental destruction. During his visits to these countries, he exposes a dirty secretive business.  

To get a taste of what was discovered is quite shocking. Wastewater was examined and found to contain acidic dyes, chrome sulfate, and even metals like cadmium (just to name a few contaminants) that cause serious health problems like cancer. Some areas are considered “cancer villages” because of how much pollution enters the immune system of those who live in them. Uninhabitable places where children and adults have lost sensory abilities. In leather tanneries, 18 year olds would walk through “pools of chromium” attending their work duties in sandals completely vulnerable to these chemicals. And as you can imagine, this toxin would then be dumped into a nearby river. Big corporations would rather ignore these facts, but thankfully, there are activists who fight for justice. Additionally, ocean life is directly affected as well. For example, the sex of a fish can be altered because of hazardous chemicals known as brominated flame retardants. The scariest part of this concoction is that it’s a man made chemical, a man made industry, and a man made mess.


The film illustrates a study conducted by the pioneer denim brand Levis by tracing a pair of the iconic 501 jeans and the final results to create one pair of 501 jeans show that it takes: 920 gallons of water, 400 megajoules of energy and 32 kilograms of carbon dioxide expelled. Water is a powerful element that allows us to live. 1% of this “blue” element is available to us, but are we truly respecting that amount? When it comes to the fashion industry, the answer is no. There is still time to reverse our mistakes, and if you watch the film, there’s definitely hope. We have to act now, with no doubts in mind, to preserve the beauty of our rivers and all bodies of water because unquestionably, they give us life. We must be mindful as well that we are not the only species sharing this precious water.

Visual by  Fashion Revolution

Steps to Follow


  • Read up on articles

  • Watch documentaries like RiverBlue or The True Cost

  • Research and take a class or volunteer within your community


  • Start a conversation with your friends and family

  • Post on social media 

  • Tell neighbors or classmates and dedicate 1 hour to picking up garbage from beaches or green spaces


  • Go thrifting and give pre-loved items a second chance

  • Buy from ethical brands and designers

  • Allow your clothes to air dry and reduce curb emissions 

Visual by  The Slow Factory


We highly recommend this documentary for fashion lovers and simply for anyone who wants the best for humanity and the planet. An intriguing watch and thought provoking. Here is the trailer if interested!

Learn More

Links to some good reads by The Slow Factory, Global Fashion Agenda and Riposte Magazine.

Photos by Probal Rashid