If there’s one fashion fabric that’s a worldwide wardrobe staple, it’s denim. No matter the form you own the fabric in—whether jeans and a tee is your everyday uniform, or even if you’ve traded your denim in for loungewear during the pandemic—no-one can deny the iconic global status of this blue woven material.
But here’s something you may not know: the production of denim has a big environmental impact. Whether your denim is raw or washed, it takes a massive amount of resources and chemicals—including pesticides, dyes, land, labour and water—to go from cotton crops to your favourite flared cut. Did you know it takes a whopping 20,000 litres of water to produce just 1kg of cotton? And denim is made from a lot of cotton.
The good news is that over the last few years, innovations have come about to help make denim production more sustainable and less resource-intensive. What’s more, there’s now a number of international and emerging designers that consciously make their denim in a greener way. Read on for the best in sustainable denim brands, so the next time you’re looking to replace your old jeans or denim jacket, you can support a label that prioritises our planet.
Levi’s has long been a household name, but did you know they also have commendable sustainability efforts? Considering Levi’s jeans are known to last for years—decades even—their vintage pairs are well sought out for too. Their Repair. Reimagine. Recycle. initiative builds on this by taking in old pieces to mend, as well as repurpose. The brand also innovates through their WATER<LESS program, where they pioneered 20 manufacturing techniques that reduce the water usage in making jeans. For example, they are able to save 96% of water in the finishing process and reduce their water usage from high-stress areas by 50%.
- Loose Sleeve Trucker Jacket, $139.90
- Slit Front Denim Skirt, $79.90
DL1961 is a family-owned brand that creates premium denim with sustainability at its core. While the conventional pair of inorganic cotton jeans takes about 1800 gallons of water to produce, theirs take less than 10. They do so by turning old denim and post-consumer waste into yarn with high-performance stretch. Then, the team constructs and hand-finishes the jeans using waterless laser and Ozone technologies. Furthermore, the brand treats and recycles 98% of the water they use. They also allocate a portion of their sales to supply necessities to New York City-area shelters and charities. The brand carries plus-sized, tall, petite, and maternity ranges.
- Dayna Short in Medina, $205
3. Nudie Jeans
Swedish brand Nudie Jeans makes organic, sustainable denim characterised by timeless designs and seasonless garments. The brand also promises a lifetime of free repairs at Repair Shops and with Repair Partners all around the globe. Customers can bring their jeans in to be repaired, resold second-hand, and even donated! The brand puts its money where its mouth is when it comes to sustainability, and has mapped their entire supply chain’s water data and CO2 emissions. They have also invested in carbon offsetting to cover the business’s full emissions.
- Breezy Britt in Desert Nights, $199 USD
- Hanna Skirt in Black Trace Denim, $135 USD
- Karin Dungarees in Blue Touch, $230 USD
4. E.L.V Denim
E.L.V. Denim is a zero-waste, sustainable denim brand from the UK, taking in jeans destined for landfill and turning them into unique and modern pieces. They source jeans from vintage warehouses around the United Kingdom. Then, they work with talented designers who tear the pieces apart and piece them together to create one-of-a-kind designs. The brand then donates leftover scraps to artists and local schools to be used for artworks and textile classes.
- Oversized Stone Wash Contrast Jacket, $325 GBP
- The Unique Classic Denim Jumpsuit, $595 GBP
5. Boyish Jeans
Boyish Jeans is a Los Angeles-based brand centred on vintage silhouettes with a modern and feminine update. The brand has achieved carbon neutrality by keeping their supply chain and manufacturing centred in a small region, making sure every detail (down to their recycled buttons!) are carefully accounted for, and using innovative technology when making their clothes.
- Joe Dress in The General, $138 USD
- Leon Shorts in Like Crazy, $108 USD
- Tommy Jeans in City Slickers, $168 USD
6. Outland Denim
Australian brand Outland Denim was originally founded to provide training and employment for women who have experienced sex trafficking. They support their staff with training, opportunity, living wages, and education, and have since accepted employees from varying backgrounds of vulnerability. Their workers are then given the opportunity to progress their careers. Additionally, they are transparent about every part of their supply chain, from the organic cotton and energy supplier they use, down to their button and brand patch suppliers.
- Charlotte Belted Long Line Dress, $309.90 AUD
- Annie High-Rise Relaxed Short, $159.90 AUD
- Athina Mid-Rise Boyfriend Jean, $229 AUD
7. Mud Jeans
MUD Jeans is committed to a circular fashion economy. The brand pioneered the “Lease a Jeans” program, where customers sign up for a 12-month membership and can choose to either swap, keep, or recycle their jeans. They also collect pre-loved denim, no matter the brand. Their jeans currently contain 40% post-consumer recycled cotton, and aim to one day introduce jeans made from 100% post-consumer recycled cotton. By adopting innovative methods, they are able to avoid 70% of carbon emissions in production compared to the standard denim label. The remaining 30% is then offset.
- Wyde Sara Cropped in Stone Breeze, $119 EURO
- Sophie Rocks Skirt in Terra, $89 EURO
- Jodi Jacket in Undyed, $119 EURO
Australian brand Afends uses hemp to create more sustainable denim options. Hemp takes as little as 90 days to cultivate and requires significantly less water than cotton. It also produces significantly more fibre per acre and consumes four times as much CO2 as trees do. Thus, the brand firmly believes that hemp is the best material for its sustainability and economical potential. Furthermore, hemp has a texture similar to linen, making it breathable, durable, and it softens with each wash. Afends’s headquarters and warehouse are also powered by solar energy.
- Stevie Panelled Skirt, $125
- Mimi Panelled Playsuit, $165
unspun builds custom sustainable denim jeans on demand. They use technology to digitally design and fit jeans automatically around a 3D avatar. Thus, this completely eliminates the need for inventory and dramatically reduces the waste created while creating a customer experience that prioritises emotional experience overconsumption. Customers will have to choose their jean style, fabric, thread colour, rise height, and hem length. Then, they take a body scan to get an avatar to design around. Their jeans currently use 24% less CO2 but that percentage will soon grow to 53%. They are achieving that by working on a weaving machine that will negate cutting waste.
RE/DONE, a celebrity favourite, is on a mission to restore individuality to the luxury fashion space. The brand takes in old jeans and makes them new again. Since launch, they have diverted over 145,000 garments from landfills and reconstructed them into new, unique, tailored pieces with a commitment to mindful production, sustainability, and circular fashion. The brand also promises free repairs for life, and customers will only have to pay for shipping. Additionally, they recently launched the RE/SELL platform, where customers can sell their pre-loved RE/DONE jeans.