Travellin' blue jeans

As you pull on your jeans, have you ever thought about the journey they have taken? Fran Abrams and Margaret Mackintosh trace the 40,000 mile story from cotton fields to high street

Walk into any mall, along any one of the pedestrianised streets where "Middle Britain" does its shopping, and you will find a pair of jeans. Just ordinary jeans, sitting on a pile in one of those ubiquitous jeaneries that sell all the big-name brands. In one such shop, under a sign saying they can be bought for a sale price of pound;19.95, sits a pair of blue stonewashed denim five-pocket jeans bearing the label: Lee Cooper LC10s. Nothing fancy but the raw materials that make the jeans have come to the end of a 40,000-mile trip.

The Jeans were made in Tunisia, Italy, Germany, France, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Turkey, Japan, Korea, Namibia, Benin, Australia and Hungary and arrived in a shop in Ipswich in an anonymous glass-and-marble mall off The Buttermarket - from a van that came up the A12 from Lee Cooper's North London warehouse. Before reaching the mall they came through the Channel Tunnel by lorry from a warehouse in Amiens, France, and before that, by boat and train from Tunis in Tunisia. They were transported there from from Ras Jebel - a dusty, slightly faceless town in Tunisia where three factories make Lee Cooper clothes.

The Lee Cooper LC10s came from a factory where all the jeans are made for export. In a shed-like room 500 women work furiously. Each has a small part to play in the jean production - whether making zips, pockets, side-seams or hems. Every few seconds, each pulls a garment from a trolley by her side, throws it on to her sewing machine, roars down the seam or zip, pulls it off and throws it back. There are eight lines of more than 60 people, each producing 2,000 garments a day.

On average there are more than three tasks per worker, per minute. Work hours are from 7.15am until noon and 1pm until 5.45pm with an hour for lunch and a maximum of two 15-minute breaks. Trained machinists earn about pound;110 a month, or 58p per hour, around 11 pence more than the legal minimum wage. If they meet their targets they can make another pound;15 a month. Although the factory cost of these jeans is only pound;5 and the cost of transport to France just 10 pence, their standard shop price is around pound;29.95. In France they cost between pound;30 to pound;50.

The hard, dark-blue denim has been brought by land and sea from Italdenim in Milan, where it is spun and milled and dyed using synthetic indigo made in Frankfurt, Germany. At Ras Jebel it is cut, sewn and made into a soft, wearable fabric in industrial washers, using pumice from a volcano in Turkey. The pumice (replaced by an enzyme treatment in modern European factories) is reduced to a powder and discarded. Italdenim buys the cotton from a number of sources, including Benin, in West Africa. Cotton for the pockets has been grown in Pakistan or Korea. There is also cotton coating on some of the polyester threads that hold the jeans together.

The firm Coats Viyella makes the threads to different thicknesses and strengths for different parts of the job. They are made in Lisnaskea, Northern Ireland, as well as Hungary and Turkey. They are dyed in Spain and wound on to spools in Tunis before being sent to Ras Jebel.

The polyester fibre that gives the thread its strength is bought in from Japan, where it is manufactured from petroleum products, as is the polyester tape for zips, which is made in France by a Japanese company. The brass wire that makes up the teeth of the zip comes from Japan.

The brass in the buttons and rivets comes from a German-based firm that uses Australian and Namibian zinc and copper. And, whoever buys these jeans, they will undoubtedly put the denim to a mileage test. FA

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