About 24 kilometres from the centre of Dhaka, in the gritty industrial suburb of Savar Upazila, down a narrow path, a small sign reads ‘Latest Washing and Blasting Industries.’ It’s not much more than a large corrugated metal shack with room for three young men, who work shoulder-to-shoulder. In the centre of the shed is a waist-high mound of white sand from the nearby Jamuna River. The young men are armed with pneumatic guns that shoot the sand onto the denim jeans, their hands protected by heavy gloves. A few spurts on each side are all that’s necessary to give the denim that worn, softer look that the fashionistas crave.
There’s no ventilation, save for bullet-sized holes in the metal roof where rays of sunshine look like tangible cylinders from the fine dust and sand in the air. As the men work, there is a cacophony of noise and dust and it’s nearly impossible to breathe—with or without a flimsy cotton face mask that is supposed to provide protection to visitors.
The men who blast this river sand onto the denim jeans have even less protection: their faces are shrouded in