Jeans have to be the most worn item in my wardrobe. They are super easy to wear, they go with practically everything, and they last for years.
With that in mind, it’s well worth investing in a pair of ethical jeans (when your current ones are no longer in commission, of course!) So, I thought it about time I wrote my guide to ethical denim – including how they’re made, what’s in my own collection, and the best brands to source your next pair of jeans from.
Can denim be ethical?
I think it’s worth looking into how denim is made before we talk ethical brands. If you’ve seen the documentary Riverblue, you’ll know that denim can be particularly harmful, using lots of chemicals and lots of resources.
So, to begin – how is ethical denim made? Denim is made from cotton, so you’ll find sustainable denim to be made from GOTS-certified organic cotton, or even better, a combination of recycled denim and organic.
(Currently, there is no 100% recycled denim jeans. This is due to the reduction in the quality of the fabric, but I hear a few brands are striving to achieve this soon.)
Next up, water-saving technologies may be used. The average pair of jeans takes thousands of gallons of water to process, so brands are finding ways to reduce this or use recycled water. This video gives a good insight into new technologies being used!
And of course, the garment workers making jeans must be paid fairly, and given the right protective gear. This is still so hard to verify, but I’ve compiled the brands I personally trust below.
As denim is such a hardy material, getting a rip or tear can be a big problem. Or at least, it used to be…
Ignoring the ripped jeans trend (which I just can’t get on board with, I’m sorry), rips and tears can be easily repaired – either by yourself, or with the brand you’ve purchased it from. Places like Nudie Jeans and Levi’s invite customers to bring their jeans back into store to be repaired, which extends their lifecycle.
As consumers, we can fix our denim in a few simple ways too. If you need to take your jeans up, follow my mum’s secret trick and use hemming web tape.
If you have a hole or tear, this video is the perfect tutorial for sewing them back together with a simple needle and thread.
And if you need a patch, try this handy denim repair kit*.
Certain denim brands invite their customers to send back their old jeans to be recycled with them – MUD Jeans shreds old jeans and uses the material to create new pairs, for example.
Finisterre announced a great project last month – their recycled denim collection, which takes denim recovered from landfill and turns them into jumpers and beanie hats.
My ethical jeans collection
I have three pairs of jeans to my name, and I think that’s all anyone really needs. Black, blue, and something for summer?
My black jeans. My hardest-working pair of jeans are my black cropped ones. They were a high street purchase, but they’re still going strong and they fit well, so they’re worth maintaining.
My deep blue jeans. My newest pair of jeans are these (gifted) classic blue jeans from People Tree*. Made in a straight-leg style with flattering waistline, and thick, good quality denim, I feel great wearing them.
My light blue jeans. My favourite pair has to be my MUD Jeans, which I bought after a bumping into the team in London last year. They’re super passionate about their recycling tech, and their range covers various styles and colours which they sell all year round. Mine are the Skinny Hazen ones in Sea Stone!
Ethical denim & jeans brands
Birdsong: A range of denim garments, made by women’s projects in England and abroad
E.L.V.: London-based fashion house making zero-waste jeans using vintage pairs
Everlane*: Classic jeans styles made in a handpicked ethical factory using 98% recycled water
Finisterre: Organic cotton jeans made in Portugal
G-Star RAW*: Champions of sustainable denim, their latest range has a whole host of new ways they’re being responsible
Hiut Denim Co.: Welsh denim company passionate about the environment, using domestic fibres and labour
Levi’s*: 40% of all Levi’s Jeans are made with recycled water, and they provide (paid-for) repairs on their jeans
Levi’s Pre-Loved & Vintage*: If you prefer second-hand, these are for you!
L.F. Markey*: Independent high fashion brand ethically creating denim pieces alongside whimsical cotton and linen garments
M.i.h.: London-based denim brand using independently certified eco denim mill
Monkee Genes: Low impact jeans made with organic and recycled materials
MUD Jeans*: Sustainable denim made from recycled jeans and organic cotton
Nudie Jeans: Unisex jeans offering repairs at their repair shops
One Denim*: Sustainable denim with transparency at a reduced price tag
People Tree*: 100% GOTS-certified organic cotton denim jeans, made in their ethical factory
This post includes affiliate links (denoted with *) and gifted products (denoted with 'gifted').