Haven’t you heard? Green is the new blue! For sustainable ethical jeans that is.
Problem is, traditional denim is dirty, but blue jeans are a wardrobe staple. That’s why we think it’s time to fight to clean the jean.
Which is exactly what these ethical jeans companies are doing. We’re so impressed with these brands and how well they align with our sustainable and ethical fashion criteria. Making eco friendly jeans is no easy feat, as we discuss in depth below the brand list.
So while we hate to pick favorites for the most ethical jeans brands with a slight leg up, we love Outerknown, Warp + Weft, Reformation and Boyish. They use the eco friendliest of denim fabrics and most sustainable production methods. Most of these also encourage circular fashion by offering clothing recycling programs.
If you’re a regular visitor, you’ll know that we always encourage you to only buy new if you have to. Where you can, opt for thrifting first. If you do buy a new pair of jeans that is made of synthetic material (typically elastane or spandex for jeans), we suggest using a Guppy Friend wash bag to prevent micro plastics washing into the ocean. You can find one at Reformation or REI.
“Sustainability is the destination, Outerknown is the journey.” As the brainchild of eleven-time World Surf League champion Kelly Slater and designer John Moore, most of their ethical mens and women’s clothing is outdoor-oriented.
Their jeans, however, are a happy mix of casual chic and outdoor capable… as well as part of their best-of-the-best S.E.A. (Social and Environmental Accountability) garments. Men’s various blue and black jeans come with the choice of either slim, straight, or Selvedge. Ladies high rise skinny ethical jeans even come with a couple of extra earthy color choices.
Outerknown’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: Outerknown’s Selvedge jeans are made of 100% organic cotton. A small handful of their men’s styles are a stretch blend of 98% organic cotton and 2% Spandex.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Outerknown uses Bluesign® and Fair Trade certified factories and Fair Labor Association compliant suppliers. The denim specifically comes from the Candiani mill in Milan, Italy, and is otherwise washed and sewn in Vietnam’s Saitex (which they point out is the leading sustainable denim factory on the planet).
In addition to their living wages, they pay a premium, which goes into a fund that the employees collectively decide how to use.
- Green business practices: One major green point is that these fair trade jeans are made in small batches and on vintage hand-operated looms. No machines necessary.
S.E.A. JEANS are also guaranteed for life so Outerknown will replace or repair them for free forever… that’s how much they believe in the durability of their product. If they do fully wear out, Outerknown offers a take-back program that recycles old jeans “so they can live on as something useful, like housing insulation.”
- Inclusivity: Men’s sustainable jeans are available in 28”-38” waist and either 30”, 32”, or 34” inseams. Women’s jeans come in 24”-32” waist sizes.
2. WARP + WEFT
About Warp + Weft
Warp + Weft is a fairly new eco friendly denim company, forging a name for themselves in a sea of other brands that have been in the biz for decades. How? By offering a huge selection of designs for men, women, and kids alike. At under $100 a pair, they offer affordable ethical jeans, too.
CEO Zahra Ahmed (whose sister runs DL 1961) boils the brand’s ethos down to three words: “Inclusivity, Sustainability, Affordability.”
Warp + Weft’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: Aside from their rigid denim classic jeans (which are 98% cotton and 2% elastane), most are made of an eco friendly stretch denim blend of cotton, modal, lyocell, and elasterell (a type of polyester). As of 2020, 20% of these fabrics were recycled, either recycled denim, plastic, or cotton.
Warp + Weft does not exclusively use organic cotton at this time (they’re working towards it). For now, they source all cotton from fields that are regularly visited by The Better Cotton Initiative, teaching them about more sustainable cotton farming practices.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Aside from a small team of ten based in New York, all Warp + Weft jeans are created in Pakistan, including the farms, mills, and factories. They wrote to us, “Our company is fully compliant with the International Social and Environmental & Quality Standards, and we’re committed to ethical practices, expressed through fair wages, reasonable hours, and positive working conditions.”
- Green business practices: By using vertically integrated dyeing and washing processes, Warp + Weft recycle 98% of the water used to create their jeans, which has helped save more than half a billion gallons so far.
- Inclusivity: With “75 sizes and body types represented”, they’re hands down the most inclusive and body-positive brand on this list. Women’s sizes range from 00 all the way to 24. Men’s regular sizes range from 28”-42” waist and 28”-34” inseam, though they offer extended “big and tall” sizes in 44”-48” waists and 30-36” inseams.
If you’re looking for sustainable jeans for a curvy figure we’d recommend giving them a shot.
- Community and charitable giving: Once you add an item to your cart, you have the option to donate $3 towards (or give more on this page) clean water and well projects in Malawi. Warp + Weft matches every donation made.
Recently, they launched the second giving initiative No Kid Hungry, which provides food for low income kids that normally rely on school lunches but have been going without. Again, they match all donations dollar for dollar.
San Francisco’s Everlane has been making waves in the fashion industry since their start in 2010. By now, the’re recognized as one of the biggest names in ethical fashion for their “radical transparency”. They’ve certainly found a usual place in many of our fashion articles.
We especially love Everlane for their selection. Their women’s and men’s denim choices are both as big as they are blue (and white and black, too!). Choose from straight, skinny, flare, and bootcut in either regular or crop ankle lengths. They even have denim jackets and shorts if you’re into the 80s denim-on-denim vibe.
Everlane’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: Everlane makes jeans out of high stretch Japanese denim that’s a blend of 98% cotton and 2% elastane. While not all of Everlane’s denim is organic cotton quite yet, Japanese denim is widely considered one of denim’s most sustainable forms. They hope to have all cotton certified organic by 2023.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Transparency and ethical manufacturing is what this Global Fashion Agenda (GFS) Associate Member is all about. In every product description, you’ll find exactly where that garment is manufactured, as well as a link to see more about the factory. They also have a full world factory map for your viewing.
The denim, specifically, is made in Saitex in Bien Hoa, Vietnam. This factory (as with all others) must uphold Everlane’s code of conduct and is audited yearly.
- Green business practices: Saitex is a LEED-certified factory which they claim to be the world’s cleanest denim factory. It recycles and treats 98% of its water (so it’s “clean enough to drink”), air dries the jeans, is powered with onsite solar energy, and repurposes byproducts into homes. All in all, a pair of Everlane jeans only uses about 0.4 liters of water.
Aside from auditing for fair labor standards, Everlane uses Think Green Initiative (TGI) audits for all their suppliers and factories, looking specifically for things like energy use, carbon emissions, water use, and recycling programs.
They also have 100% landfill free distribution, use eco friendly building materials in their stores, purchase renewable energy certificates for all power used in stores and offices, don’t use single use plastic at store events, and kit all new employees with reusable utensils, a MiiR water bottle, and Stasher bags on their first day.
They’re aiming to eliminate virgin plastic from production by 2021 with their ReNew recycled synthetic line.
- Inclusivity: Yet another great thing about Everlane: so much inclusivity! Women’s sizes run in 23”-35” waists and men’s 28”-40” waists and 30”-34” inseams. They specifically have speciality cuts of sustainable jeans for a curvy figure.
Their website includes a diverse range of models and an option to see each style modeled in either sizes 2, 6, or 10 to fully represent all body types and see how it might look on yours.
4. PEOPLE TREE
About People Tree
They’ve been making green clothing since 1991 (way before Rana Plaza), and were the first fashion brand to receive an official Fair Trade certification by the World Fair Trade Organisation.
One of its newest forays is the daunting task of making sustainable denim. Their SS20 Denim comes in a small handful of styles including those with tapered, straight, slim, and wide legs, as well as skirts and dungarees. Each one is classy and versatile, with just enough retro edge… “think Jane Birkin but also a little ’90s.”
People Tree’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Several PT jeans are 100% GOTS organic cotton dyed with low impact dyes and finished with nickel free buttons. A few styles also contain a 2% blend of elastane. Each one states the EIM (Environmental Impact Measure), too, so you can shop for the most ethical option.
- Supply chain & labor practices: PT has some killer eco-credentials and transparency. Aside from being Fair Trade certified across 90% of their manufacturing partners (located mostly in Nepal and Bangladesh) every single one of their fabrics is Fairtrade International (FLO) and Soil Association certified.
- Green business practices: In general PT, uses closed-loop, machine-limited manufacturing methods. To dye and launder their jeans, they collaborate with Jeanologia to use low water and chemical processing, which, combined with their use of organic cotton means their jeans use 90% less water than conventional denim.
- Inclusivity: Available sizes are 8-16 UK, or 2-14 US. They’ll fit most, but not all.
- Community & charitable giving: PT gives back through their now separate charitable entity, the People Tree Foundation. In addition to donating money to grassroots environmental causes (like Bombolulu, a Kenyan organization dedicated to people with physical disabilities) this foundation champions ethical fashion as a system.
They do this by promoting Fair Trade manufacturing and raising awareness as to why sustainable and ethical fashion is so necessary.
Reformation is one of our faves, with tons of women’s fashion items and a whole kit-and-kaboodle of eco cred to their name. Their denim collection is technically a product of a sister offshoot, RefJeans, which they launched in 2017.
These “smart ass jeans” for women are not only super sustainable and affordable, but varied in styles and washes. While the high waist ethical skinny jeans are so popular you might have to get on a waitlist, our personal favorite is the Cynthia High Relaxed
Reformation’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: We like the Cynthia because it’s the most sustainable blend of theirs, made of 43% Tencel Lyocell, 40% recycled cotton, and 17% organic cotton. Other styles of theirs are made of mostly organic cotton with a touch of polyester and elastane.
As of early 2020, 56% of Ref’s dyeing partners were either Bluesign® or OEKO-TEX 100 certified against using all sorts of harmful chemicals. Those that aren’t are still tested for these restricted substances. RefJeans relies on a biodegradable natural enzyme for washing and dyeing their jeans.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Reformation owns 32 of their own factories in downtown Los Angeles, and 65% of their garments (including all denim) are made in one of these. If you’re an LA local, they invite you to schedule a tour in person, and if not, meet the employees virtually.
Their small percentage of other factories in Morocco, Turkey, and China uphold the Global Social Compliance Programme’s (GSCP) Code of Conduct, as are all suppliers. They even rate each of their suppliers as highlighted in their Sustainable Partners Guidebook.
- Green business practices: Reformation has a lot of sustainability initiatives, such as assessing the impact of each garment, using wind powered and Green Business certified office buildings (right down to the eco-friendly office supplies), shipping in bio-based packaging, and selling climate credits. Heck, they’ll even give you $100 of store credit if you switch to a wind energy provider!
Thanks in part to their habit of buying carbon offsets for almost everything (even the energy your computer uses to browse their website), they’ve been carbon and water neutral since 2015 and are finally getting Climate Neutral certified this year.
One last thing: In 2019, Reformation signed onto the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment, setting the goal to recirculate 500,000 garments by 2025. Less than a year later and they’re already over halfway there!
- Inclusivity: RefJeans are normally available in 23”-31” waists (0-12) but certain styles are part of their sustainable plus size jeans collection known as the Extended Size Collection (sizes 14-24). While mostly very slim, Reformation includes a diverse range of models in their imagery.
- Community & charitable giving: Reformation donates to rotating organizations. For instance, when RefJeans first launched, they donated 1,000 gallons of credits to the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to support clean water projects for every pair purchased. Acts like this have helped them achieve 100% water neutrality since 2015.
They also plant trees for each staff member’s birthday, host company wide volunteer days, and give all employers a day off each month to volunteer.
In scouting out the best ethical dresses, we came across the adorable denim Kennedy Dress. But that was just the tip of the indigo iceberg when it comes to Boyish. Their huge selection of sustainable jeans for women are for all the tomboys and totally-80s chics out there who like their jeans designed with a little dichotomy… i.e. relaxed and distressed!
This L.A. ethical denim brand was started by Jordan Nodarse, who promises, “The only impact we’ll leave on the planet is good jeans.”
Boyish’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Material: Boyish’s PETA approved sustainable vegan jeans are made using just four fabrics: Organic 100 Content Standard certified organic cotton, GRS recycled cotton, FSC certified Tencel™ lyocell (the most sustainable lyocell supplier), and Tencel™ Refibra (lyocell blended with recycled cotton). All are 100% biodegradable and compostable.
They’re also PETA-approved vegan, with no leather patches, and use recycled metal hardware and recycled tags.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Aside from their Tencel, which comes from Austrian producer Lenzing, Boyish’s entire supply chain is located in Turkey (within about 30 miles). The organic cotton comes from Izmir, is milled in Adana, and sewn in Istanbul. All of their mills and factories are GOTS and ISO 9001 certified.
They also believe “people make our jeans, not workers” which is why they maintain ethical standards through a strict Code of Conduct, annual factory and fabric mill visits, and Intertek third-party audits. They’ve also joined the Lowest Wage Challenge by publishing the wages of their lowest paid employees.
- Green business practices: By choosing chemical-free, low water and energy-intensive processes, one pair of Boyish jeans uses 33% of the water of traditional denim (which of course gets recycled). These include a reduced number of dyeing “dips”, cold water vapor nanobubble washing, laser machine finishing, Ozone Wash bleaching, and faux stone washing (preventing unsustainable pumice mining).
Sci-fi sounding manufacturing aside, Boyish is involved with SO. MANY. sustainability initiatives, like the ZDHC Program, Roadmap to Zero, The Jeans Redesign project from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and Re:Newcell fabric recycling. They also recycle all their own fabric cuttings (either into products or other industrial use) and use recycled paper hangtags and biodegradable polybags
For these reasons coupled with purchased offsets to support hydropower projects through Carbon Fund, they’ve been climate neutral since startup and certified as of 2019. Read more in their 2019 Sustainability Report.
- Inclusivity: One downside is their slight lack of inclusivity, both in brand image and sizing in 22”-32” waist jeans.
- Community & charitable giving: A member of 1% for the Planet, Boyish opts to give their 1% to the California Coast Keeper Alliance, Solar Sister, Friends of the LA River, Keep a Breast, and Fair Trade USA. They also volunteer through Cool to Care.
7. AMOUR VERT
About Amour Vert
Amour Vert (French for “green love”) is one of our go-to sustainable fashion brands. Their selection of women’s clothing is impressive so naturally they feature in a number of our sustainable fashion brand guides.
For jeans, see their AGOLDE x Amour Vert denim line, it includes a good selection (color us shocked) of skinny, straight, and even bellbottom legged jeans. After all, the ‘60s were all about peace and green love, man.
Amour Vert’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: Amour Vert uses primarily organic and/or recycled cotton for their jeans, but some are made of Lyocell, organic cotton, and recycled elastane. Either way, their fabrics get our sustainable seal of approval.
- Supply chain & labor practices: 97% of all their products are manufactured (denim included) in one of six San Francisco based factories. In the name of transparency, they publish tons of factory details, such as the number and gender ratio of employees.
- Green business practices: All AGOLDE x Amour Vert denim is made through vertically integrated facilities that use bleach-free ozone wash technology to give your blues that vintage fade. Ozone technology also uses 80-90% recycled water.
Laser finishing creates a precise and consistent finished look across styles, so jeans don’t need to go through the washer a hundred times to achieve the intended look.
- Inclusivity: Amour Vert’s marketing images on their website include a diverse range of models. Their 24”-32” waist sizes aren’t the most size inclusive on the larger end.
- Community & charitable giving: Amour Vert’s giving program is called Tees = Trees, where, as the name implies, they plant a tree for every t-shirt purchased through American Forests. They’ve planted nearly 300,000 trees so far! While your blues jeans purchase won’t apply here, if you are looking for an eco friendly t shirt keep them in mind for a little extra conscious consumerism.
Thought may have begun as a simple London pop-up store in 2002 (then called Braintree Clothing), but now they’re one of the leaders in the sustainable fashion movement, encouraging other brands to go green and consumers to make fashion circular.
Of their creations, they say: “wear me, love me, mend me, pass me on”.
Thought’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: With a blend of 98% certified organic Cotton and either 2% spandex or elastane, Thought achieves a high degree of sustainability while still allowing some mobility.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Thought does not hold any Fair Trade or other social accountability certifications. Considering their factories are all located in China, this would normally be of some concern, but they do publish their supplier code of conduct and animal welfare policies online. We’re still waiting to get more info on this.
However, our eco anxiety is somewhat reduced by the fact that they founded Common Objective, an ethical fashion impact incentive, meaning they’ve agreed to hold their supply chain to fair trade equivalent standards.
- Green business practices: While China is notorious for human rights abuse, Thought ultimately manufactures there because they source most materials within the country. It ends up drastically cutting back on transportation emissions by keeping the supply chain as centralized as possible.
- Inclusivity: Thought use a diverse range of models and for most ranges, have sizes from 6-18 UK and 2-14 US.
9. DL 1961
About DL 1961
It’s time to stop keeping traditional denim problems on the DL. Enter: DL 1961. This New York-based family-owned brand has been making quality jeans for decades. Now they’re female run by Sarah Ahmed (whose sister runs the brand Warp+Weft, which you read about earlier).
Whether you’re looking for sustainable jeans for men, women, or kids, DL 1961 has a ton of classic choices in most shapes and cuts, from baggy to butt-hugging. You can even go full denim on denim (Bon Jovi anyone?) with their jean jackets, jumpsuits, and button downs.
DL 1961’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: Most are 100% cotton, all of which is either certified GOTS or OCS organic, or GRS or RCS recycled. For performance enhanced designs, however, they blend in Lenzing™ Modal, Tencel, or Refibra Lyocell, along with some occasional polyester and Lycra for stretch.
They eliminate harmful chemicals and bleach by using Jeanologia Ozone water-free zero-discharge washing and laser finishing. They’re also one of just 12 mills on the planet to use Dystar 40% VAT, a pre-reduced indigo blend with no harmful byproducts.
- Supply chain & labor practices: DL 1961 is “committed to ethical practices, fair wages, reasonable hours, and positive working conditions for all our people”. All farms and factories (located in Pakistan, where ⅓ of the world’s denim is made) are fully compliant with International Social and Environmental & Quality Standards. Employees work in fair and safe, chemical free environments.
- Green business practices: A pair of DL jeans requires 10 gallons of water and they recycle and treat that in-house. In 2019, that amounted to 892,518,940 gallons of water saved compared to traditional denim manufacturing (as determined by Jeanologia’s Environmental Impact Measurement software).
Their factory is considered an energy efficient “green building” which uses a combination of solar panels and an onsite self-power generated heat recovery system.
- Inclusivity: Men ‘s sizes are available from 28”-42” waists and 30”, 32”, and 34” inseams. Women’s are even more inclusive 23”-34” waist options, plus eco friendly maternity jeans that provide midsection stretch.
And for a quirkier diversity inclusion they also have a range of denim for pets 🙂
- Community and charitable giving: DL1961 donate excess textile scrap to non-profit, FABSCRAP, so it can go back into something good and reduce landfill waste. Killing two birds with one stone wash!
Outdoor clothing company prAna should be an immediate go-to if you’re looking for functionality at no cost to comfort or sustainability. Case in point: see their plush recycled fleece sweaters together with jeans you can even rock climb in. Just don’t forget your eco friendly climbing rope and vegan climbing shoes!
Their ladies jeans come in straight, skinny, tight, relaxed, cuffed, cropped, and colored variations, (try say that 5 times fast!) though the men’s selection sure isn’t something to scoff at either.
prAna’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: Any cotton present in prAna Jeans is 100% organic. However, this organic cotton is blended with Sorona® Polyester and Lycra ® Elastane, which gives them their active edge. It’s not perfectly sustainable but since over 80% of each pair is organic cotton, they’re getting close.
- Supply chain & labor practices: prAna may have a multinational supply chain and a huge range of products, but they’re aiming to make it as transparent as possible by joining as members of the supply chain traceability entity, Textile Exchange.
Many (though not all) of their garments are made in Fair Trade certified factories, and the number of these increases year on year. Their website has handy “Fair Trade” and “country of origin” filters so you can be sure you’re shopping as ethically as possible.
- Green business practices: prAna is a full-on Bluesign® partner (as opposed to brands that merely carry a handful of Bluesign® approved products), so we know these jeans contain the bare minimum of toxic chemicals thanks to mandatory Bluesign®-conducted factory and fabric mill audits.
- Inclusivity: prAna’s jeans come in the usual 0-14 women’s sizes and 28”-40” waist sizes for men, with 30”-34” inseams. One thing we really appreciate is their use of larger models, especially for their jeans. That’s right.. an outdoor brand showing the outdoors are for everyone.
- Community & charitable giving: prAna gives back through Outdoor Outreach, which gives disenfranchised urban youth outdoor adventure opportunities and educates them in outdoor leadership. They also fund individual projects organized by their sponsored athletes and ambassadors, like youth girls surf camps.
World famous outdoor and climbing company Patagonia is the picture of ethical fashion, which is why they’ve made appearances on many of our ethical fashion guides, from sweaters to menswear and much more. Plus we’ve worn their stuff for years and can personally vouch for its comfort, quality, and durability.
Their sustainable Fair Trade jeans are available for men, women, and kiddos. In particular, the Performance, Twill, and Steel Forge reinforced knee work pants are some of the best ethical mens jeans for sheer durability.
Patagonia’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: Patagonia jeans are primarily made from organic USA-grown cotton. Depending on the style, it’s blended with either recycled polyester or Dyneema® (which is a virgin synthetic but is some fifteen times stronger than steel meaning these sustainable workwear jeans can handle tough jobs and last way longer).
They use natural phthalate-free indigo dyes and “an innovative process that minimizes the use of energy and water and reduces carbon dioxide emissions compared to conventional dyeing processes”.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Each year Fashion Revolution puts out a Fashion Transparency Index ranking various brands on their transparency. And every year Patagonia ranks at the top. Witness the transparency in action with their The Footprint Chronicles. Each product page also tells you what factory made the garment and where.
For sourcing, Patagonia chooses certified sources (like those by the FSC, Responsible Down Standard, and Responsible Wool Standard). They also manufacture in Fair Trade certified factories which they audit on a regular basis.
- Green business practices: Patagonia’s green business initiatives are so numerous that we can’t get into too much detail here but we’ll do our best. Not only are they working toward creating a regenerative farming certification, but they recycle all machinery from their factories, have quite a few Bluesign® approved garments, and prioritize sustainable fabrics across the brand. 100% of their cotton is organic and 72% of garments utilize recycled fabrics.
Patagonia’s Worn Wear is our favorite of their green initiatives. It serves as both their clothing buyback program and used clothing resale program, which is a two-fold step toward circular fashion. They also keep improving on many of the same classic designs rather than out dating their own garments and encouraging constant consumption.
- Inclusivity: Men’s pants come in a full range of 28”-40” waists with Short, Regular, and Long Inseams; women’s in 24”- 32” waist. Great inclusivity among their models, too!
- Community & charitable giving: You know all those brands that are members of 1% for the Planet? Well, Patagonia founded it. Naturally, they participate as well by giving either 1% of sales or 10% of pre-tax profits (whichever is more) to a number of grassroots environmental groups and eco-positive political initiatives.
You can even use their Patagonia Action Works tool to look up environmental groups in your local area so you can get involved, too.
Don’t forget to check out some of their publications about corporate responsibility, too, like The Responsible Company and CEO Yvon Chouinard’s memoir Let My People Go Surfing (which is not only inspiring and informative, but a really good read!).
It’s no surprise they were actually the world’s first organic denim brand, founded in 2001 by the NGO Solidaridad. In the last two decades, they’ve perfected their straight, skinny, bootcut, tapered, and slim eco friendly jeans for all genders.
Kuyichi’s Ethical and Sustainability Practices
- Materials: Kuyichi jeans are almost entirely GOTS organic cotton or blended with Post-Consumer Recycled Denim. They also contain just 1% elastane and have washable and recycled Jacron paper brand patches rather than leather ones.
They process this denim with chemical-free ozone bleaching, natural indigo dyeing, and stone-washing free laser washing techniques (which increases fabric strength by 50% and workplace efficiency by 500%).
- Supply chain & labor practices: Kuyichi’s pledge to transparency is the perfect example of what the fashion industry should strive for. You can not only view a list of all factories (each one’s employee count and certifications) across Turkey, Pakistan and Italy, but a fully searchable list of suppliers.
All these suppliers (and even sub-suppliers and distributors) are required to submit themselves to the Open Apparel Registry transparency initiative.
Their two main factories are Dinateks A.S. and Pakistan’s SOORTY, both of which are BSCI certified and have either a SA8000, ISO9001, or GOTS certification. They have an additional Code of Conduct in place which upholds ILO and Fair Wear Foundation standards.
In the name of fair wages for all, they never run sales, because the value of “products’ doesn’t change over time and they should always have a fair price for the consumer, the retailers, and the people who make our clothes.”
- Green business practices: Kuyichi has a static collection of non-seasonal designs. Each is designed to be timeless and last for years, at which point you can return them to one of their Blueloop recycling partners. Through that, along with their Global Fashion Agenda commitment to increase percentages of recycled cotton, they’re aiming to be even more circular.
They publish their yearly impact in a Sustainability Report.
- Inclusivity: Blue jeans are meant to be comfortable and confidence inspiring, no matter your size, so Kuyuchi has a size combo for pretty much everyone. Their waist sizes increase by single inches for a precise fit, from 28” to 26” for men and 24”-34” for women. Inseams come in 30”-36”.
WHY CHOOSE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY JEANS?
First off: are jeans eco friendly? Traditionally no (hence this list). Why?
Well, globally we consume about 1.2 billion pairs of jeans per year. Every single one of those requires 3,781 liters of water to produce. That’s a lot of swimming pools. In the UK, women’s jeans are considered to have the highest water footprint of all clothing.
Then there’s the chemical factor, first at the cotton farming stage. Most jeans are made with traditionally farmed cotton (i.e. not organically farmed). Traditional cotton is hugely land and water consumptive and also accounts for 16% of the world’s use of insecticides. Those chemicals not only leach into the environment and deplete the soil of its natural nutrients, but can cause severe health defects on farmers and animals.
As for the manufacturing stage, the cotton fibers must first be bleached white then dipped repeatedly in indigo dye in order to achieve a lasting, dark coloration. This of course leads to huge amounts of chemical runoff and wasted water.
After that, comes finishing. The process a sewn garment must undergo to achieve that vintage and worn-in look we so love about blue jeans. There are many different techniques used here and few of them are eco friendly. The most common are stone washing and sandblasting.
Stonewashing means literally washing the jeans with pumice stones to make them look worn. The problem is, pumice stone mining is responsible for a huge percent of carbon emissions. The dust generated by the process can also lead to respiratory health effects on the miners.
Similarly, sandblasting puts factory workers and their lung health at risk because it generates dust while the workers are literally blasting the jeans with abrasive sand using high pressure hoses.
And in the end, out of those billion plus jeans, less than 1% gets recycled.
HOW WE CHOSE THESE SUSTAINABLE ETHICAL JEANS
As we do with all our fashion guides, we put a lot of time and energy into researching the nitty gritty details of what we wear. And to help us with that scrutinizing process, we created a guide to sustainable and ethical fashion that outlines the problems with the fashion industry and the sorts of things to look for that remedy it. Here’s a summary of our criteria:
- Materials: This is arguably the most important factor because it accounts for the majority of a garment’s overall impact (from farming to garment end of life). Most sustainable jeans are made completely (or darn near completely) out of organic cotton, which uses 88% less water, and 62% less energy (along with no chemicals) than traditional cotton. We look for cotton that is certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or overseen by the Better Cotton Initiative.
Another option is recycled cotton, preferably that which is certified by the Global Recycle Standard (GRS) as having a minimum percentage recycled content.
Lyocell, a cellulosic fiber made from the pulp of eucalyptus, is also becoming more popular to blend with cotton to give it a stretchier quality.
Since stretch denim is a desirable quality in jeans these days, many brands are still using small amounts of synthetics (either recycled or virgin). This isn’t as great as being fully compostable and natural, but it’s not altogether bad. Eco friendly stretch jeans are possible, so long as the synthetic content remains under 4%, it can still be recycled.
Under the materials class, we also look for sustainable natural dye jeans, or those that use vegetable dyes and natural indigo to achieve the blue (or whatever) coloration. Look for dyes that are certified by OEKO-Tex 100 or REACH to assure they don’t contain any toxic chemical content.
- Supply chain & labor practices: Ethically produced jeans come from brands that ensure everyone that is part of making the jeans (from raw material farmers to distributors) is paid fairly and works under safe, ethical conditions. First things first, we look for transparency. Hard to tell if everyone is being treated fairly if we don’t know who or where our clothes are being made. So we ask #WhoMadeMyClothes?
If companies are sufficiently transparent, we then look for proof of fair wages, employee support, and working conditions. In this regard, we can discern ethical denim manufacturing by looking for third party audits and certifications, to ward against greenwashing:
- Fair trade: Can apply either to individual factories, or ideally, the company as a whole (which means all entities are certified for fair trade practices). What are those exactly? Basically it encompasses, fair pay, proper training, reasonable work hours, safe work environments, equal opportunity employment, non-discrimination, and protection from harassment, abuse, and child/forced labor.
- B-Corp: Generally, this is considered the gold standard certification, one that is pretty hard to achieve. Obtaining it requires a yearly audit of all supply chain entities (farms, factories, fabric mills, etc) and scores them on 80 “impact areas”. The final scores are available on the B-Corp website so brands can’t dodge the results.
- Other: Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP), Fair Wear Foundation, Business for Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI), and Social Accountability International (SA8000)
- Green business practices: There are so many ways companies are working to reduce their environmental footprint, and that’s where this category comes in. It’s a catch all for green initiatives like garment recycling programs, rental services, efforts to reduce and reuse textile waste, carbon offsetting, using renewable energy, having closed-loop fiber processing, and shipping plastic free.
For denim, this is where we consider the finishing techniques, too, such brands that use chemical-free Ozone washing instead of bleaching, or those that use laser finishing rather than stonewashing.
- Inclusivity: Blue jeans are a wardrobe staple. They are the epitome of comfort and practicality. Which means jeans should hopefully fit well, no matter how big, small, curvy, or shapeless you are. We always prioritize brands that have a wide range of sizes, as well as promote body positivity by cultivating a supportive and well-rounded brand image.
We also look for brands that promote diversity by including models that don’t all look the same but come from a variety of ethnicities so as to be more representative of the global population.
- Community & charitable giving: It’s great to see brands out for more than just profit, but actually want to make the world a better place. Here we look at those who donate time, money, or support to various causes by simply raising awareness.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON ETHICAL, ECO FRIENDLY DENIM
We hope you’re inspired to support one of the many sustainable jeans brands on this list. What was once one of the worst fashion offenders (and no we’re not talking double-denim) can now be your ethical alternative.
Just remember, the most sustainable jeans are those you already own (or a second hand pair). Though, if you do need to upgrade, make sure to dispose of your old pair properly. There are now many great denim recycling programs and several of the brands here will recycle your old pair for you.
As always, we love your input, so let us know what you think of the list and if there are any brands we may have missed. And if you found it helpful, consider sharing this article with your friends and family. After all, who doesn’t love a good pair of good old fashion sustainable jeans?