With the world’s love affair with denim seemingly unwavering, we take a look at the denim brands making this traditionally polluting wardrobe staple more sustainable:
Most closets will have some form of denim hanging in them – from the jeans you wear every day, to jackets, skirts and shirts – but as the Stacey Dooley Investigates: Fashion’s Dirty Secrets documentary highlighted, denim can be incredibly damaging for the environment, with up to 3,700 litres of water used in the life cycle of a single pair of jeans.
“Denim is an incredibly interesting material; it is ubiquitous, versatile, and durable,” explains Charlotte Turner, Eco-Age senior account manager. “But it also has a significant impact on the environment, from the water and chemicals it takes to produce the cotton and other raw materials needed to create it (often including elastane and polyester), to the energy and other inputs (and outputs) from treating, distressing, and finishing the materials and garments.”
Thankfully, an increasing number of brands are innovating in this space to find ways to reduce the environmental impacts of this material, from organic and non-cotton options, recycled fibres, low water treatments, and raw fabrics that don’t require any finishing at all.
Here are some of our favourite ethical denim brands:
MUD Jeans is truly innovating the sustainable denim market, considering everything from production to packaging, the environment, people and animal welfare. Founded on circular economy principles, MUD Jeans creates new jeans from old jeans to move beyond fashion’s linear model of take, make and waste to close the loop. All jeans are made of 100% recycled denim and ECOCERT organic cotton, currently consisting of up to 40% post-consumer recycled denim (but the goal is to ultimately get to 100%).
Environment, people and animals are all carefully considered, with painted instead of leather patches (making the jeans vegan), cradle-to-cradle (C2C) indigo dye, while 95% of water in the factory is recycled through reverse osmosis. All orders are sent out with RePack, so once your new jeans have arrived you can drop your RePack packaging in any post box, anywhere in the world, free of charge, and it will be returned to MUD Jeans – and as a thank you you will receive a 10% discount code.
In a further move to protect the Earth’s resources, MUD Jeans also offers jeans leasing – after 12 months you can swap for a new pair (sending your used jeans back to MUD where they will be lovingly recycled) or keep for longer. You can even send in your old denim jeans from your wardrobe (minimum 96% cotton) from any other brand to be recycled into new cool denim to receive €10 off your purchase or a month free lease.
Blackhorse Lane Ateliers
Blackhorse Lane Ateliers makes and sells ready-to-wear selvedge & organic raw denim jeans from their atelier in Walthamstow, with a focus on sustainability, community and quality. Since opening its doors in April 2016, Blackhorse Lane Ateliers has focused on growing the maker community in Walthamstow, employing local machinists and craftspersons and offering shared ownership to each employee. To minimise environmental impact, denim garments are made using organic cotton, denim woven in Europe, and they also offer a lifetime repair policy to discourage fast fashion.
Kings of Indigo
Kings of Indigo (KOI) makes quality denim inspired by American classics and Japanese heritage. The materials used for their denim are mainly hemp from China, organic cotton and recycled wool from India, and selvedge from Japan. In the name of transparency, the brand has listed all of the mills they work with around the world on their website.
KOI has been a member of the Fair Wear Foundation since 2012 to ensure fair working conditions and a fair wage is paid to workers. Their signature fish bone bar tack reinforces the jeans, placed in the spot where most force is put on to prevent the jeans from tearing. It is symbolically designed to resemble a fish bone (fin fact: the abbreviation of the brand KOI comes from the founder’s tattoo of a Koi fish, who are intelligent creatures able to swim against the stream).
On Black Friday this year the brand started the Blue Friday initiative, partnering with Made Blue to provide safe drinking water to people in need.
Modelled by Duchess Meghan Markle during the recent royal tour, Australian B-Corp Outland Denim supports female survivors of human trafficking in Cambodia, employing seamstresses (each of whom the brand claims to know by name) at risk of falling into poverty and providing training and empowering the women to create a better life for themselves.
The brand is committed to sourcing the most ethically and environmentally sound raw materials from organic cotton to recycled packaging, and go great lengths to verify the integrity of their supply chain and prioritising transparency – read more about their supply chain on their website.
Since 2012, all Nudie Jeans have been made from 100% organic cotton. The Swedish denim brand strives to make products in the most fair and ethical way, working only with suppliers that share its values and collaborating with Fair Wear Foundation to ensure safe and ethical working conditions across the whole line of production (full details of its supply chain is provided on its website). They also offer free repairs for life.