In an old brick warehouse in a Chinese boomtown, workers have thousands of jeans to scrub before dawn.
The machines they use — to create the vintage look — send into the air lung-clogging blue dust. For each pair of jeans they scrub, workers earn one euro cent. In an adjacent part of town, their boss sits among fellow factory owners in a street restaurant, ready for another toast: “To the millionaires of Zhongshan!”
Today, most people do not wear jeans for hard physical work, but they still want to affect an air of ruggedness. This wear-and-tear process is outsourced to countries such as China, where cheap wages and lax environmental control allowed the rapid growth of a labour-intensive industry drenched in toxic chemicals.