Guilt-Free, Good-Looking Jeans: 12 Sustainable Denim Brands

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Fashion icon Diana Vreeland once said: “Blue jeans are the most beautiful things since the gondola.” You don’t need to be a renowned magazine editor — or an expert in flat-bottomed boats, for that matter — to recognise the truth in this statement. Denim is timeless. It’s easy to style with any fashion essential and even easier to wear (especially the baggy kind). Dress it up or dress it down, denim comes with options, which is why, like Paris, jeans are always a good idea.

With statistics proving that denim can be one of the most environmentally damaging fabrics in our wardrobe, it’s important to make sure that the jeans we’re jumping into are as planet-friendly as possible. How do we do that, you ask? By buying from brands that put sustainability at the core of their production processes, including avoiding the use of hazardous chemicals and putting a stop to wastewater practices.

That might sound like a big ask in the age of fast, disposable fashion but there are plenty of companies implementing the technology and initiatives to create green denim. From indie labels like E.L.V Denim to industry titans like Levi’s, there’s a pair of Earth-friendly jeans to suit every shopper and every price point.

To discover the 12 best denim brands creating fashion-forward, eco-conscious jeans, click through the slideshow ahead…

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Reformation

Based: Los Angeles, California

Sustainability credentials: Cult label Reformation tracks its environmental footprint (how much carbon dioxide is emitted and how many gallons of water are used during production) and uses this to calculate the impact its products have on the environment. “This way we all get to see the total cost of fashion so you can make empowered choices, and we can keep creating better solutions when it comes to making clothes,” they explain. Reformation’s sustainable denim line, Ref Jeans, is made from deadstock fabric and does not use toxic dyes.

In 2022 the brand launched a line of fully circular denim, made with fabric scraps and waste. Working with innovative manufacturers Strom and Bossa, Reformation preps the denim scraps and combines them with FibreTrace Cotton and organic cotton, weaving them into denim that has a new life. Every pair in Reformation’s circular denim line is 100% recyclable – all part of the brand’s plan to achieve Climate Positivity by 2025,

Our favourite piece: On the hunt for the ideal straight-leg jeans? Liza is exactly what you’ve been looking for.

Reformation Liza Ultra High Rise Straight Jeans, $, available at Reformation

Nudie Jeans

Based: Gothenburg, Sweden

Sustainability credentials: Nudie Jeans’ motto is ‘Lagom’, which is Swedish for ‘just the right amount’. It sums up the label’s approach to environmentalism, wanting to make sure that their use of the world’s resources is balanced and fair. This means that since 2012, all Nudie jeans have been made using 100% organic cotton. The brand also offers free repairs, allowing customers to get more life out of their denim. Plus, customers can now recycle their old, worn-out jeans through Nudie Jeans’ Rebirth initiative, which turns secondhand materials into new products.

Our favourite piece: The Breezy Britt has captured our hearts with its high waist, tapered leg and relaxed fit. It’s available in four other colour washes, too.

Nudie Jeans Breezy Britt Simply Blue, $, available at Nudie JeansNudie Jeans

Everlane

Based: San Francisco, USA

Sustainability credentials: It took Everlane six years to produce denim. The reason: founder Michael Preysman wanted to find a “clean” and ethical factory to work with. In 2017 he did: a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified factory in Vietnam that relies on solar power, recycles 98% of its water and uses reverse osmosis to filter the remaining 2% into water “clean enough to drink”, according to Everlane. Any offcut waste from production is combined with cement to create bricks to build homes for local people in need. Beyond the factory doors, Everlane designs its denim to have the longest life possible. It’s slightly heavier than the industry norm, while jeans are classic cut so as not to go out of style and designed to snap back into place after each wear, thus requiring less washing.

Our favourite piece: The Curvy ’90s Cheeky Jean is a true classic: straight leg, high waist and cropped at the ankle. It’s designed specifically for hourglass figures and will hug your curves and highlight your bum.

Everlane The Curvy ’90s Cheeky Jean, $, available at EverlaneEverlane

Outland Denim

Based: Australia

Sustainability credentials: On a visit to Asia, Outland founder James Bartle came face to face with the harsh reality of human trafficking and set up Outland Denim to provide stable employment and economic opportunity to women who would otherwise be vulnerable to being trafficked. Not content to stop there, Bartle also wanted to create a highly sustainable brand. Outland creates products on demand to reduce material waste in its supply chain, has taken actions to reduce wastewater, energy use and carbon emissions, uses plant-based dyes and has eliminated nasty chemicals from its leather tanning processes. Ethical brand rating system Good On You rates Outland as ‘great’, noting its brilliant treatment of workers (the brand pays a living wage across the board) and that it traces suppliers throughout its supply chain to ensure ethical conduct.

Our favourite piece: Still looking for the perfect black jeans? Try Outland’s Abigail.

Outland Denim Abigail, $, available at Outland DenimOutland Denim

Lucy & Yak

Based: Brighton, UK

Sustainability credentials: Lucy & Yak’s denim jeans are created in a solar panel-powered, fair wage factory and the brand is also making moves towards true size inclusivity. Known for its enviable collection of dungarees, the Brighton brand now stocks a selection of organic denim and twill jeans, created using GOTS-certified organic cotton (meaning the material isn’t sprayed with chemicals that may harm the land or animals). Lucy & Yak’s coloured denim is also made using Oeko-Tex certified low-impact dyes, producing less harmful pollution during the denim dyeing process.

Our favourite piece: The perfect ’70s-style, wide-leg jeans? Say no more! Meet Delores.

Lucy & Yak Delores Wide Leg Jeans Mid Wash Blue, $, available at Lucy & Yak

Boyish

Based: Los Angeles, USA

Sustainability credentials: US-based Boyish has sustainability on lock. Creating its colours with natural, plant-based dyes, the brand also uses neutral enzymes and cold water to reduce waste and stop the spread of eco-harmful chemicals. Boyish also uses OCS 100 certified organic cotton, recycled and deadstock fabrics and Tencel™ Lyocell, and is a member of The Jeans Redesign project, which aims to create a circular economy, meaning all styles are recyclable.

Our favourite piece: The Jovi in this pale blue wash might be the perfect wide-leg jeans.

Boyish The Jovi, Rio Bravo, $, available at BoyishBoyish

E.L.V. Denim

Based: London, UK

Sustainability credentials: E.L.V. Denim describes itself as a “zero waste brand”: they take discarded denim and transform it into cutting edge, made-to-measure designs. Each pair is designed and manufactured in east London and made up of two halves of vintage jeans, making it entirely unique in colour and fit.

Our favourite piece: Add two-tone colours to your wardrobe with E.L.V.’s Contrast Straight Jeans.

E.L.V. Denim Black / Light Blue Contrast Straight Leg Jean, $, available at E.L.V. DenimE.L.V. Denim

Lee

Based: Los Angeles, USA

Sustainability credentials: Those wanting to shop with a familiar brand that cares about the environment should look no further than Lee Jeans. The brand’s Indigood™ denim line works to eliminate water from the denim dyeing process in order to produce a more sustainable garment. Alongside other company initiatives, Lee has saved over a billion litres of water during denim production over the last few years and plans to further its sustainability impact through its For A World That Works™ initiative.

Our favourite piece: If you’re rocking a curtain fringe right now, Lee’s Breese Jeans are all you need to complete your ’70s-inspired look.

Lee Jeans Breese In Black Rinse, $, available at Lee JeansLee Jeans

Levi’s

Based: San Francisco, USA

Sustainability credentials: You might think that Levi’s sustainability practices stop at its worldwide stock of vintage styles but the household name also creates new environmentally friendly jeans using a variety of planet-friendly fabrics. From Tencel™ Lyocell to Cottonised Hemp, the fabrics are designed to be kinder to forests, using less harmful chemicals in the production process. The company is conscious about its water usage too, launching Levi’s Water<Less in 2011, an initiative which has saved more than 3.5 billion litres of water during the finishing process to date.

Our favourite piece: For those still loving ’90s straight-leg jeans, Levi’s 501s can’t be beaten.

Levi’s 501® 90’s Jeans, $, available at Levi’sLevi’s

DL1961

Based: New York, USA

Sustainability credentials: DL1961’s denim begins life as a mixture of ethically sourced American cotton fibres and natural indigo dyes derived from plants. Clothes are then made in the brand’s factory, powered by solar energy and its in-house power generation plant, and any wastewater is recycled onsite. The brand claims to use less than 10 gallons of water per pair of jeans and to treat and recycle 98% of it. Environmental impact measurement (EIM) software by Jeanologia is used to monitor each piece of denim, track the brand’s water consumption and dye usage, and implement reductions where possible. In 2018 they also worked with FABSCRAP, a nonprofit organisation that upcycles commercial textiles, to donate nearly 5,000 pounds of excess fabric. By doing so, DL1961 saved almost 74,000 pounds of CO2 – the equivalent of planting 865 trees.

Our favourite piece: Petite? We just found your perfect jeans.

DL1961 Emilie Straight Ultra High Rise 31″ – Sanibel, $, available at DL1961DL1961

Desigual

Based: Barcelona, Spain

Sustainability credentials: In recent years, Desigual has been making a push towards a more sustainable future, implementing plans to create 50% of its collections using sustainable fibres this year. The sustainability plan also features larger goals, like becoming a carbon-neutral company by 2050, with a 25% reduction by 2025. When it comes to denim, however, the brand is already well on its way with a newly launched upcycled denim collection and jean styles made in conjunction with the Better Cotton initiative (BCI). Alongside these steps, Desigual has committed to using 100% more sustainable cotton by 2025, which includes using organic cotton, recycled cotton and cotton sourced through the BCI.

Our favourite piece: We’re planning ahead and have our eyes on the Upcycled Denim Biker Jacket for festival season.

Desigual Upcycled Denim Biker Jacket, $, available at DesigualDesigual

ABLE

Based: Nashville, USA

Sustainability credentials: After working in nonprofit organisations across the world and seeing the harsh truth of generational poverty, founder Barrett Ward set up ABLE to support and empower women and to strengthen their communities. The brand doesn’t just pay their workers (in Ethiopia, Mexico and Peru) fair living wages, they also publish their wages and believe in the power of transparency and accountability.

Our favourite piece: ABLE’s Ginnie Wide Leg is an everyday saviour, made to wear with a plain white tee and trainers for easy cool.

ABLE Ginnie Wide Leg Jean, $, available at ABLEWho: M.i.h Jeans

Where: London

Sustainability credentials: Introduced in 2018, M.i.h’s Paradise Capsule collection is described by the brand as its “most sustainable denim ever”. Not only does the brand use certified organic cotton and water-reducing washes to treat its fabric, it also works with ISKO, the only denim mill in the world to be awarded the EU Ecolabel and Nordic Swan Ecolabel environmental certifications.

Our favourite piece: If you love the casual, undone look, these slouchy Phoebe Jeans are for you.

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