9 Sustainable Denim Brands Making Eco-Friendly Jeans in Healthier Ways
Cotton, what most of our jeans are made of, is an extremely thirsty and dirty crop, requiring tons of water and pesticides to grow. A single cotton T-shirt, for example, uses as much fresh water as needed to keep you alive for three years. Mind-blowing. Plus, the conventional way of dying denim is also extremely toxic to the workers and to the environments where the manufacturing wastes get dumped into.
So here's to denim done better.
These brands make jeans from relatively more eco-friendly materials such as organic cotton (which uses less water and zero synthetic pesticides compared to conventional cotton), surplus or deadstock fabric (unused fabric that would otherwise be tossed out), or up-cycled textiles (fabric re-constructed from trashed clothes). They also are more mindful of their manufacturing processes, minimizing the use of toxic dyes and chemicals while maximizing water and energy efficiency where possible.
Some may be further along this "sustainable fashion" path than others, and some may place a heavier emphasis on eco-friendly practices in their core missions. But here we hope to highlight the baby steps being taken so we'll see more going forward!
Re/Done makes jeans that were literally re-done.
The team collects vintage Levi's and re-constructs them into modern fits, thus on the one hand showcasing the durability of Levi's jeans and on the other, making flattering styles with pre-existing, otherwise trashed materials.
Because every piece is made with reclaimed textiles, yours will truly be one-of-a-kind.
Highlights: Up-cycled textiles; every piece one-of-a-kind. $$$
With bold and sometimes provocative campaigns, Reformation has successfully made its way into mainstream fashion, challenging the preconceived idea that eco-fashion is reserved only for a very particular type of person who is granola but not necessarily stylish.
Following the footsteps of other eco-minded brands, it recently launched its very own sustainable denim collection using surplus and repurposed materials.
Highlights: Surplus textiles; carbon-offset shipping within the US. $$
Over the past year, Everlane set out to create "the world's most sustainable denim." The result? A collection of high-rise, mid-rise, and boyfriend jeans made in a LEED-certified factory which uses 98% recycled water, majorly cutting down on its water usage and pollution index.
But does the collection live up to the title of "most sustainable denim"? With its cotton still coming from unspecified, potentially conventional sources, it may still have ways to go. But it's already taken a huge step forward, and that's most definitely worth celebrating and supporting.
Highlights: Made in a LEED-certified factory. $$
Where luxury fashion meets conscious fashion lies Stella McCartney, a designer brand that's long embraced using eco-friendly and leather-free materials in its collections when nobody else was doing it.
Naturally, you'd be able to find thoughtfully made jeans here. Just be careful of draining your wallet with the steep price tags.
Highlights: Organic cotton; leather-free. $$$$
5. AG Jeans
AG Jeans is a denim brand I've only recently learned is vertically integrated, meaning the company owns its own factory and can therefore oversee its entire production process from start to finish and better control and efficiently improve how things are done.
It has a huge range of styles - you never have to return to conventional brands.
Highlights: Vertically integrated; water and energy efficient; use of Tencel. $$$
As a brand dressing mindful yogis, travelers, and explorers of our planet, you can be sure Prana is taking sustainability very seriously. In its denim guide, you'll find six different styles all made with organic cotton.
If you're looking for classic, comfortable jeans made consciously in a wide range of earthy colors, look no further.
Highlights: Organic cotton; wide range of colors. $$
How can Patagonia not be on this list? Known as a pioneer in sustainable outdoors apparel, Patagonia has garnered a cult-like following of brand evangelists amongst eco-fashionistas and explorers of the great outdoors. With jeans being such a versatile and durable piece in one's wardrobe, you can be sure Patagonia's made some of its own.
Highlights: Use of organic cotton; water and energy efficient manufacturing. $$
Bella Dahl made its way into this list because of its unique dedication to clothes made with Tencel, a closed-loop fabric that's currently considered one of our most eco-friendly choices for apparel made with new fibers.
Its "Tencera" collection includes tops, bottoms, dresses, and jumpsuits all made in washes that mimic the look of conventional denim but with lighter and softer textures.
Highlights: Use of Tencel; made in LA. $$
9. Nudie Jeans
Made primarily with men in mind, Nudie Jeans is the go-to shop to find denim for your boys or boyfriend jeans for your own closet. Offering free repair services and store discounts when you turn in old jeans you no longer want, Nudie Jeans has really thought of the entire life-cycle of what they make, proving their expertise in the industry and thoughtfulness for the people and environment they serve.
Highlights: Organic cotton; full transparency reports; free repair services. $$$
Second hand denim
And of course, when shopping for sustainable fashion, buying used is always an ideal option. Although second hand shopping has been critiqued for it potentially and unintentionally feeding into the fast fashion cycle, the reality is the more we buy used, the more already-existing waste we're diverting from landfills; the less raw materials would be used; and the less second hand clothes would be shipped off into developing countries (where it has been and may continue to put local artisans out of business and end up trashing their landfills).
With that said, here are two online stores that sell tons of one-of-a-kind second hand denim:
If you're looking to support slow fashion in a sustainable way, check out this luxury consignment retailer. Here's the thing to note: Once designer fashion hits around 20 years old, it may even increase in value as it becomes qualified as being "vintage." This means shopping second hand luxury goods may not only benefit the planet, but also your wallet down the road. Just remember to take good care of what you acquire!
Known for bringing second hand shopping mainstream and making the frequently dreadful experience delightful, ThredUp takes in name brand clothes (from Zara to J. Crew to luxury brands), heavily checks them for signs of wear and tear or strange odors, re-polishes all of them as necessary, and puts them up for sale on its site.
I've personally bought and sold on ThredUp, and I love how smooth the whole experience is. Try it out for yourself!
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