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Ever since Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss joined forces to create the first pair of jeans at the end of the 19th century, fashion has no longer been the same. Denim has become an inseparable part of our life—and our closets—transcending trends, seasons, and social status. Despite its cool looks and comfort, though, denim has also made a name of itself for being one of the most eco-unfriendly fabrics to manufacture.
Since cotton is the primary fiber used in denim production—an “ingredient” that needs large quantities of water and fertilizers (read: chemicals) to grow—it is estimated that just one pair of jeans requires anywhere between 500 to 1,800 gallons of water to produce, according to multiple outlets. Add to that all the additional dyeing and chemical treatments that give your favorite pair of jeans that classic indigo color, and you have a recipe for (environmental) disaster.
Fortunately, though, more and more brands commit to implementing sustainable practices into their production cycles—whether that’s reducing water consumption or recycling old pairs of jeans into new ones— and as a result, offer a product that’s not just high quality and looks cool but it also doesn’t impact the environment in such a detrimental way.
Amy Powney, the designer behind the British sustainable label Mother of Pearl, that offers denim as part of its No Frills collection, says it’s not just about using organic cotton and “ticking a box.”
“It’s about retraining the way you do everything. We have a holistic, 360-degree approach and look at our impact at every stage, from the fabrics to the people making the clothes, and we’re thinking about what happens when a customer doesn’t want them anymore,” she said.
Powney just launched the #FashionOurFuture initiative that aims to “strike the balance between our love for fashion and protecting the planet at the same time” and to encourage consumers to adopt environmentally-friendly shopping habits.
Here, we rounded up some of the best companies to buy your next pair of sustainable jeans from.
Re/Done’s founders, Sean Barron and Jamie Mazur, describe the brand they created in 2014 not as a “denim company” but as a movement—“ a movement to restore individuality to the luxury fashion space, a movement to keep heritage brands relevant, and a movement to create sustainable fashion.” So how do they do that?
Re/Done uses vintage pairs of Levi’s jeans, completely deconstructs them by hand in their Los Angeles studio and creates a new pair that’s completely unique.
So by repurposing old denim, using water-conserving production methods, no harsh chemicals, and recycled packaging, the company that also just launched its first sneaker collection, has managed to stay at the forefront of sustainability and cool design for the past six years.
We Love: RE/DONE 90s High-Rise Slim Leg Jeans
To buy: $265, matchesfashion.com
McCartney needs no introduction. She is one of the pioneers of sustainable fashion having founded her eponymous brand in 2001 as a “vegetarian label.”
McCartney is constantly pushing the limits of what a truly sustainable fashion company can look like by using new alternative materials for her apparel and accessories. She recently announced that she has teamed up with Candiani, a family-owned sustainable denim mill in Milan, to work on the world’s first bio-degradable stretch denim made from plant-based yarns that will make its debut in her fall 2020 collection.
We love: Stella McCartney the Skinny Boyfriend Jeans
To buy: $490, stellamccartney.com
James Bartle founded Outland Denim as a way to help vulnerable women who have experienced exploitation or abuse get their lives back. Pretty quickly, he realized that in order to really make an impact in people’s lives sustainable production had to go hand in hand with the company’s social mission.
Nowadays, Outland Denim has replaced some of the most harmful denim manufacturing practices with greener alternatives by significantly reducing the use of chemicals, water, and energy in its production.
And in terms of style, well, let’s just say that if Outland Denim is good enough for Meghan Markle, it’s good enough for us. The Duchess of Sussex was spotted in a pair of high waist jeans while she was touring Australia with her husband.
We love: Outland Denim Harriet Skinny Jeans
To buy: $195, outlanddenim.com
“When we started Nudie Jeans in 2001, we decided that environmental awareness and human rights would permeate everything we did,” wrote the company’s founder Maria Erixon in a book about the history of the Swedish denim label.
And since 2012, all Nudie jeans are made from 100 percent organic cotton. The label specializes in “dry denim jeans” for men that haven’t been treated or washed which of course reduces the label’s use of harsh chemicals.
The company also offers free repairs to its customers and has a reuse and recycle program that focuses on repairing and recycling old pairs of Nudie Jeans.
We love: Nudie Jeans Lean Dean Dry Deep Selvage
To buy: $280, nudiejeans.com
Founded by “the godfather of denim” Adriano Goldschmied in 2005 and relaunched in 2016 by British-born designer Karen Phelps, the LA-based denim label has attracted some celebrity attention (Kate Moss is a fan) not only for its cool and timeless silhouettes but also for the attention to details and impeccable quality of its products. Every pair is constructed in the label’s LA studio and is only available in small batches so overproducing—a major environmental pollution factor— is not an issue.
We love: Goldsign Nineties Classic High-Rise Jeans
To buy: $295, net-a-porter.com