Sustainable is a word we can’t escape. It’s a booming trend in fashion, including recycling garments into new ones and using textiles that are compostable. Fashion must lead the charge in sustainable efforts, first of all, because it created a giant mess. The industry churns out 80 billion garments per year and employs every sixth person on the planet. Unfortunately, fashion fell into many bad practices in pursuit of a stronger bottom line. Simply said, fashion pollutes our environment and exploits its garment workers so that we can have cheap, fast fashion.
Another reason fashion must lead the sustainable charge is the amount of waste it produces. Newsflash: we don’t need 80 billion garments per year. Mountains of fashion end up in landfills or incinerators. Americans throw away 14 million tons of clothing every year. Sadly, most textiles take over 200 years to decompose!
The more I learned about the ills within the fashion industry, I knew I had to make changes to my buying habits. In Episode 31 of my podcast, “My Better Quality Pledge,” I promised to purchase better quality garments for my wardrobe this year and going forward.
I have many sustainable companies to share with you in future posts. I’m starting with denim for a few reasons. Women own on average 7 pairs of jeans (I own 15). Worldwide, we purchase 1.2 billion pairs of jeans each year. It takes 396 gallons of water to produce ONE pair of jeans. Multiply those gallons by 1.2 billion pairs. That is a lot of water. Additionally, over 90% of jeans are dyed with synthetic indigo. What is synthetic indigo? It contains chemicals such as cyanide, formaldehyde and sometimes aniline, all of which are harmful to human health and aquatic life. While reading the book Fashionopolis, I learned the rivers near overseas denim mills run blue, affecting the health of residents and workers, not to mention the creatures in those waters.
Vogue recently wrote an article featuring 16 sustainable denim collections to know about. My list only repeats two of the brands in Vogue’s article, so be sure to check their list here.
My list is by NO MEANS a comprehensive list of sustainable denim makers. The more I dig, the more I find. That’s a great problem. If you love jeans, and you want to do a good thing for the planet, these are brands to support.
Everlane’s tagline is “Modern basics; Radical transparency.” Their denim factory partner in Vietnam recycles 98% of their water using reverse osmosis filtration. They keep byproducts out of the environment by mixing them with concrete to make building materials. Wow! Everlane makes a variety of denim styles for women from flare to curvy to straight and skinny. Their 90’s “Cheeky” jeans linked here are a best seller (this pair is 100% cotton). I like this bone colored pair that has some stretch. This style has an 11″ inseam and a straight, cropped fit. See all the Cheeky styles here.
Levi’s wants us to buy better and wear longer. As the creator of denim, Levi’s is on the front lines of new denim technology to create quality denim that’s thoughtful with the earth’s resources. With Levi’s® SecondHand, they invite us to join them in a more sustainable future. According to their website, if everyone bought one used item this year, instead of buying new, it would save 449 million pounds of waste. Levi’s 501s remain a favorite style worldwide. In fact, May 20 is 501 day! I am linking a cropped style in a lighter wash here. Bonus, they are nicely marked down.
Boyish is a carbon-neutral women’s brand. They are committed to leaving as little impact on the earth as possible. Boyish uses sustainable fabrics and employs a cruelty-free, environmentally friendly process. On their website, they say, “The only impact Boyish leaves on the planet is good jeans.” I am linking the Tommy Straight jean in white. It has a raw hem and non-stretch denim (this takes getting used to). Here’s one with stretch.
Nudie Jeans’ vision is to become the most sustainable denim company. They only work with organic cotton, and they pay living wages to employees throughout the manufacturing chain. This includes spinning, dyeing, knitting, printing and laundry. Nudie also repairs and collects jeans. The Breezy Britt Light Desert jeans is a high rise with a slight taper. This style comes in a variety of lengths. Tall girls rejoice!
Madewell’s tagline is simple: “We make great jeans.” Madewell uses a fair-trade certified factory in Vietnam. Beyond denim, Madewell creates things we wear with denim, like effortless tees, keep-forever bags, cool jewelry and fun shoes. They produce a Do Well Report annually to keep consumers informed on new initiatives and products. This report also focuses on how they are improving their sustainability practices across its operations. More than half of their styles are sustainable in some way and the label identifies these styles. Find the “Do Well” section of their site here.
I own two pairs of Madewell’s “perfect vintage jeans,” one medium blue and one soft white, which I’m linking here. They have an 11” rise and a 28” inseam. I’m also linking their curvy vintage jeans here, which comes in standard, petite and tall lengths. Madewell will take your old jeans (any brand) in store, and they will give you $20 credit toward a new pair of full-priced jeans! Learn more about that program here.
Agolde makes sustainable and comfortable denim. They use advanced methods like laser technology, ozone machines and high-efficiency wash methods. One of their best sellers is the “Criss Cross Upsized” jeans, a 90’s-inspired style. It features an overlap fly, a 10-3/4″ rise and a 30″ inseam. Beware, it is a non-stretch denim. However, it is a relaxed style. I like their Lana Crop Mid Rise Vintage Straight Jeans here (they are also non-stretch yet relaxed). See more styles on their website.
Blue Delta Jeans’ motto is “one size fits one” because they make their jeans specific to your measurements. Their jeans are grown and milled in the U.S., as well as handmade in the U.S. Blue Delta makes raw denim jeans that are dry clean only. This means it is a specialty care item for your dry cleaner. Luckily, they advise cleaning your jeans only once or twice a year. Their styles vary including boot, straight, skinny, flare and cigarette. While not cheap at $450 per pair, Blue Delta makes a nice addition for denim connoisseurs. Visit their website to learn more.
Hiut Denim is based in the U.K. Their motto is “We make jeans. That’s it. Do one thing well.” Hiut is focused on making the best jeans, not the most jeans. Their jeans are made in Wales by men and women who have crafted jeans most of their lives. Hiut only uses the best denim from the best mills in the world. Prices run from 175 pounds to 225 pounds. Find their women’s styles here.
Sean Barron and Jamie Mazur founded RE/DONE while bonding over heritage classics. They longed for perfectly tailored, vintage Levi’s. Thus, RE/DONE launched in 2014 with the simple idea of taking the old and making it new again. This pivoted the fashion industry toward a more responsible future. RE/DONE’s first run of 300 pairs instantly sold out. A waiting list with thousands of people sparked demand for more. RE/DONE is now available through a variety of retailers and on their own website. I like their soft black High-Rise Stovepipe Comfort Stretch available from Saks Fifth Avenue. See all their styles on their website.
J. Crew has a “Re-Imagined” initiative. From the people who create their products to the impact they have on the planet, J. Crew is committed to doing better at every step of the way. Their 2025 goal through this initiative is that 100% of their key fibers will be sustainably sourced, including all of their cotton. Shop their “Re-Imagined” styles here.
The J. Crew Responsible Sourcing Program clearly communicates their expectations to their suppliers, and it monitors and improves working conditions at the facilities that manufacture J. Crew products. The jeans I am wearing are from the J. Crew Point Sur collection, which is no longer available. Artist Kathy Sparkman painted them. The design was inspired by a striped pair of jeans I owned in the mid-80s. I like this classic vintage jean in faded indigo from J. Crew Factory.
MUD Jeans is a sustainable and fair trade certified denim brand based in The Netherlands. They tout themselves as the world’s first circular denim brand. Every pair of MUD Jeans contain up to 40% post-consumer recycled denim, the highest percentage out there. They have a nifty video on their website about recycling their denim. See it here. Their process uses 92% less water than average jeans, and no pesticides are used.
Outland Denim is an Australian denim company that landed on the world’s radar after Megan Markle wore a pair in her 2018 royal tour of Australia. They employ victims of sex trafficking, and so far 750 people have benefited from stable employment with Outland Denim in Cambodia. Outland uses up to 86% less water, 57% less energy, and 83% less chemicals in their wash and finishing facilities. They source the finest raw materials from suppliers who share in their mission and excel in social and environmental responsibility. See their women’s jeans here. I am partial to the Lucy.
Who Makes Your Favorite?
As I said above, this list simply scratches the surface. Please share your favorite sustainable denim brands in the comments. If you’d like help navigating the many options online or in the stores, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to help you. Happy shopping! Let me know what you buy!