Getting the right pair of jeans is not always easy but we’ve got a great list of sustainable and ethical jeans brands that may just simplify your search.
Jeans are a staple piece in many a wardrobe and for good reason. The modern blue jeans we’ve come to know and love were invented and patented by Levi Strauss (yes, that Levi) and Jacob Davis in 1873.
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What is the history of jeans?
Adopted by miners and day laborers for their copper rivet reinforced pockets, jeans eventually made their way through to cowboys, soldiers, Hollywood hunks, and finally to consumers looking for casual leisurewear for the weekends and holidays. (Vogue, 2019)
The only problem is that they can be very resource and chemical-intensive to make. So when reaching for a new pair it’s super important to consider where they come from and how they are made.
For that I’ve created this guide to help you make the best choice when looking for your new favorite pair; featuring brands you can trust to provide mindfully crafted products.
Like many of the favorites in our wardrobes, jeans can also contribute to the well-documented environmental degradation associated with the garment industry at large.
How jeans impact the environment
China’s Xintang province alone produces one in every three pairs of jeans sold globally, and their ecosystems and rivers have paid the price. As of 2013, Xintang’s rivers were left running blue as a result of the unethical wastewater dumping practices employed by jean and other garment manufacturers in the region.
Largely the bi-product of the staggering amount of toxic chemicals and water used in the dyeing and finishing processes, the wastewater generated is often returned to the ecosystems and communities untreated. As a result, rivers are not only left blue and smelly, but contain unsafe levels of heavy metals like cadmium, mercury, lead, and copper. (NRDC, 2019)
The irresponsible practices used by these manufacturers wind up harming the communities where they operate; which rely on the very same waterways for drinking and bathing. Unfortunately, factory workers and residents alike report a high incidence of cancers, gastric, skin, and related health issues. (EcoWatch, 2018).
Other practices like sandblasting (which involves literally blasting jeans with sand at high pressure to create a distressed look) have been linked to harmful and incurable lung diseases among factory workers. (Justice Denim, 2021)
The conventional cotton used to make our beloved jeans also involves lots of chemicals and resources when produced unsustainably. This brings with it pollution and health concerns due to the high amount of pesticides and insecticides required to grow cotton. Not to mention the 1,500 gallons of water used to make just one pair of jeans. (One Earth, 2020).
For these reasons, it is important to shop for sustainable jeans where materials, labor, sourcing, and corporate responsibility reflect the ethical practices we all deserve.
If you want to learn more about how to reduce your impact when shopping check out this article on the slow fashion movement.
How to shop for sustainable and ethical jeans
As clothing brands have outsourced their production to regions with cheaper labor and low regulation, westerners have benefited from cheaper clothing in abundance, notably in the form of fast fashion.
This has come at a great cost to these regions. When it comes to Asia, an estimated 70% of its rivers and lakes are poisoned by the 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater generated by the textile manufacturing industry.
So when opting for your next pair of jeans lookout for the following criteria to avoid contributing to these unsustainable and unethical production systems, while casting your vote for a more sustainable and ethical fashion.
There are 3 main elements to consider: materials, ethical sourcing, and corporate responsibility.
1. Materials and fabrics
When it comes to materials and fabrics we are talking about the textiles, dyes, buttons, and other material elements used to make your jeans.
For textiles, buttons, and things of the sort you want to look out for jeans made of naturally sourced materials like cotton or hemp; produced using minimally toxic and sustainable farming practices. Jeans made of recycled materials are also a great alternative so be sure to look out for that as well.
To help you verify your choices keep an eye out for the following third-party certifications:
In terms of dyes, you want to ensure that the dyeing and finishing processes used to color and/or distress your jeans are minimally toxic while reducing resource consumption. Brands that do so will often tell you about it so have a look around their website if they do not mention it in their product description.
2. Ethical Sourcing
This is very important to ensure that your jeans are not made using unethical labor and manufacturing practices across their supply chain. For this, Fairtrade and SA8000 certifications are a good sign that the factories used to make your garments treat their workers fairly.
Companies that are transparent about where their clothing is manufactured and can trace their product every step of the way are also a good sign when looking out for safe and ethical working conditions, fair wages, and sustainable practices.
3. Corporate responsibility
Does the company offer a recycling program for your jeans once they are used? Do they support the communities in which they operate beyond what is traditionally expected? Are your items shipped in sustainable, zero-waste-friendly packaging?
Here you want to look out for brands that are demonstrating their commitment to environmental and social responsibility and are actively working to compensate for the impact they are having on the planet.
Our favorite Ethical Sustainable Jeans
Thrifting is ultimately the most sustainable option so do consider shopping second-hand using my best thrift shopping tips, and these online thrift stores. And, if you need to get rid of your old jeans check out this article on how to give your old jeans a second life.
1. Nudie Jeans
Nudie Jeans is a Swedish brand born in part out of the pursuit of doing the opposite. Thanks to their passion for dry denim, we now get to enjoy their line of raw untreated all-organic denim jeans available for both men and women.
Nudie Jeans Natural or organic fabrics & materials
Their jeans are made with 100% organic cotton.
Nudie Jeans Ethical sourcing
Nudie jeans only work with organic, fair trade, or recycled cotton; and strive to take responsibility for their sourcing practices from raw material to the product's end of life.
All of the cotton used for their products is certified in accordance with Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS), the Organic Content Standard 100 (OCS 100), or the USDA Organic certification.
In terms of labor and manufacturing processes, Nudie works to provide living wages throughout its supply chain and prides itself on quality products made in ethical conditions. To that end, they are members of the Fair Wear Foundation, a third-party non-profit organization that works in partnership with brands, factories, and NGOs to verify and improve conditions at the level of suppliers. They also offer a look into where all of their products come from.
Nudie Jeans Corporate responsibility
Designed to be timeless and seasonless, Nudie Jeans also strives to include more recycled fibers in their collection and to develop new sustainable fabrics and fibers in order to decrease their environmental impact.
In line with their circular approach to operations, Nudie Jeans also offers several options to either mend or recycle your pair of Nudie Jeans; making them an excellent option if you are looking for a quality pair of sustainable ethical jeans that you can really make your own for as long as possible.
Outerknown is a men’s and women’s apparel brand founded by pro-surfer Kelly Slater. With sustainability as a founding principle and at very its core, Outerknown is a great option if you are looking for sustainable jeans for men and for women as well.
Outerknown's fabrics & materials
Their jeans are made using different blends, primarily featuring organic cotton, recycled cotton, or recycled polyester, and in some cases a tiny bit of spandex.
Outerknown's Ethical sourcing
90% of the fabrics sourced for their products are either organic, recycled, or regenerated. Through Fair Trade USA, they also invest in the livelihoods of over the 5000 workers who help to bring their products to market.
They also offer a look into their manufacturing community and are accredited by the Fair Labor Association (FLA) which holds brands to the highest international labor standards.
Outerknown's Corporate responsibility
To keep their S.E.A Jeans out of landfills, Outerknown will repair, replace, or recycle them for you which is good for all of us. With a clear commitment to sustainability, they are also constantly innovating and advocating for greater sustainability.
A great sustainable men's fashion option, they are featured in our Canadian ethical shopping guide to swimwear and as one of our favorite sustainable clothing brands all around so be sure to check that out as well.
Founded by siblings Mark, Adam, and Anna Tauenfligel, Triarchy is a denim brand committed to providing responsibly made denim using sustainable and ethical manufacturing practices. Having gone offline to figure out just how to do their part in improving the notoriously dirty denim industry, Triarchy now offers a great selection of sustainable jeans for women.
Triarchy’s fabrics & materials
Their jeans are made of 100% organic cotton and all buttons and labels are made from recycled materials.
Triarchy’s Ethical sourcing
Triarchy’s products hold GOTS certifications and SA8000 certifications. As such they ensure that all of their jeans and denim jackets are manufactured responsibly; providing living wages, supporting human and animal rights, and using responsibly made fabrics and the most advanced sustainable laundering technology they can find.
Triarchy also discloses all of its sustainability data through a third-party auditor called Green Story; as well as their supply chain via Retraced.
Triarchy’s Corporate responsibility
Triarchy offsets the carbon emissions associated with the production of your garment making each garment carbon neutral. In an effort to give back, Triarchy also allocates a portion of its profits to an organization called Isla Urbana which builds and installs rainwater catchment systems for people without access to fresh water in and around Mexico City.
Also featured on our list of eco friendly tees and plus-size ethical brands, prAna prides itself on offering high-quality apparel for both men and women. Made using an Earth-conscious design approach, their selection of sustainable denim may be just what you are looking for. Be sure to use the size filter to quickly find your way to their selection of sustainable plus-size jeans.
PrAna’s fabrics & materials
PrAna’s denim is made primarily of organic cotton. Some are blended with nylon Cordura and elastane or spandex.
PrAna’s Ethical sourcing
PrAna sources Fair Trade Certified products from certified factories to ensure humane and fair working conditions. In their efforts to promote ethical sourcing practices they’ve partnered with Fair Trade USA and have successfully converted 11 factories to Fair Trade Certified and generated premiums that have benefited over 26,000 workers worldwide; with the goal of making 100% of their products in Fair Trade Certified Factories by 2028.
PrAna’s Corporate responsibility
With a commitment to outfitting your adventures with respect for the planet and its people, prAna has successfully diverted 44k+ pounds of garment waste from the landfill thanks to a partnership with The Renewal Workshop.
PrAna is also committed to making diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) a central part of their company through initiatives like the Venture Out Project which leads outdoor journeys for the LGBTQ+ community.
They’ve recently launched their Responsible Packaging Movement in support of reducing and eliminating single-use plastics. And since 2010, they’ve successfully eliminated over 20 million plastic bags from their operations, with plans of providing plastic-free packaging starting Fall 2021. Don’t forget to use the sustainability filter to find their fair trade jeans in a jiffy. They are also a great option if you’re looking for sustainable jeans for men.
Also one of our favorites for eco friendly backpacks, and an all-around best in ethical fashion brands this well-reputed retailer in ethical and sustainable gear also offers a great selection of fair trade sweaters, and sustainable fair trade jeans for men.
Patagonia's fabrics & materials
Their men’s jeans are made of a moisture-wicking/weather-resistant organic cotton/polyester fabric blend.
Patagonia's Ethical sourcing
Patagonia’s men’s denim is Fair Trade Certified sewn. They also ensure that their products are made under fair labor practices and safe working conditions with environmental responsibility at every step of the manufacturing process.
Patagonia's Corporate responsibility
Patagonia guarantees everything they make. This means that your pair of fair trade jeans can always be returned for repairs, replaced, or refunded if you are not satisfied.
In 2020, they successfully met 100% of their US energy needs using only renewable energy sources. Well-known for their efforts to promote sustainability and provide ethical and durable products, they are also 1% For The Planet members and do a lot to promote sustainability within and beyond their operations.
6. People Tree
Founded by award-winning social entrepreneur Safia Minney, People Tree prides itself on providing products made to the highest ethical and environmental standards at every step of the supply chain. With that, they offer a wide selection of jeans for women in numerous styles. They are also among our favorite brands for organic bras and organic underwear so be sure to check that out if you are on the market for some great sustainable undergarments.
People Tree's fabrics & materials
Most of their jeans are of 100% organic cotton, with some containing a bit of elastane.
People Tree's Ethical sourcing
People Tree offers a look at all of their makers. A Guaranteed Status member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WTFO), the brand is committed to Fair Trade practices. They are also a licensee of the Fairtrade certification which means that every one of their products to carry the fair trade mark is fair trade from start to finish.
SARP, their denim supplier has also transformed its laundry processes in partnership with Jeanologia in order to reduce the water and energy consumption associated with the manufacturing of their denim.
People Tree's Corporate responsibility
A pioneer in Fairtrade fashion, People Tree is an active member of many Fair Trade, social justice, and environmental networks. They’ve also started The People Tree Foundation, an independent charity that seeks to bring benefits to farmers and artisans through training, technical support, and environmental initiatives, as well as advocacy.
Able is an ethical fashion brand dedicated to ending poverty by employing and empowering women. To that end, the brand invests in, trains, and educates women to enable them to earn a living for themselves, break the cycle of poverty, and thrive. With a passion for quality in every aspect of their operations, they now offer hand-woven scarves, leather bags, shoes, and jewelry; including a great selection of jeans and other denim.
Able's fabrics & materials
Their jeans are made of different blends of cotton, polyester, and elastane. Their non-stretch denim is dyed using a liquid indigo dye which requires less water during the laundry process.
Able's Ethical sourcing
As part of its commitment to ending the cycle of poverty and empowering women, Able ensures that 100% of its workers receive a living wage.
The fabric used for their denim is chosen from mills that are developing a variety of sustainable denim. All of the components for their denim (aside from the labels) are sourced from the Western Hemisphere in order to reduce their carbon footprint.
Their supplier in Monty Mexico recycles all of the water used in the manufacturing process in order to reduce their impact on the environment. They also use other eco-friendly alternatives to reduce water consumption and avoid harsh chemicals where possible.
Able's Corporate responsibility
Able makes it a point to source all of their denim initiatives via the Western Hemisphere in order to reduce their carbon footprint during the shipping process. They are also striving to make all of their packaging recyclable by this year and utilize many practices that reduce their environmental impact and promote the well-being of their workers.
You will also find them among our favorite affordable ethical brands and our favorite sustainable sneaker options.
Founded by long-time friends Hicham and Ethan alongside a small group of passionate creatives, Frank and Oak are proudly designed in Canada. With a commitment to functionality, transparency, sustainability, and good living their selection include a line of denim in a variety of fits, colors, washes, and details for both men and women.
Frank and Oak's fabrics & materials
Dyed using natural dyes, Frank and Oak’s Circular denim™ is made from organic cotton without any rivets so that they can be easily recycled.
Frank and Oak's Ethical sourcing
Frank and Oak disclose where all of its factories are located and ensure that they meet both external certifications and requirements, as well as their own list of requirements around sustainability.
In partnership with Hydro-Less Laundry, Frank and Oak are able to bring you denim that uses 79% less energy, up to 50% fewer chemicals, and up to 95% less water than standard methods.
Frank and Oak's Corporate responsibility
Frank and Oak’s Circular denim™ is made using a model that keeps resources in use for as long as possible before they are recycled for a different purpose to reduce resource consumption and minimize waste. In the same vein, they also collect worn-out jeans, redirecting them to a fabric recycler who re-spin them into new materials.
In addition, Frank and Oak use only shipping boxes made from 100% post-consumer recycled cardboard and their recyclable poly bag mailers are made from 50% recycled materials.
Teaming up with Earth Day Canada Frank and Oak also offsets the carbon emissions created by their eCommerce packaging and shipping through a tree-planting program.
9. Warp + Weft
Warp + Weft is a family-owned denim company creating high-quality denim that’s affordable and eco-friendly. Their selection includes styles and options for men, women, and children. They also make a great option for anyone looking for affordable ethical jeans or for sustainable plus-size jeans with sizes ranging up to size 24 for women.
Warp + Weft’s fabrics & materials
Warp + Weft’s denim is made of a blend of cotton, Lycra, and Tencel.
They skip the environmentally costly bleaching processes and opt for cutting-edge technology that is less harmful and makes them fully compliant with International Social and Environmental & Quality Standards.
They also only use the highest quality European dyes like the Liquid Indigo dye by DyStar Germany which is GOTS and OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified.
Warp + Weft’s Ethical sourcing
Committed to ethical labor practices for all, Warp + Weft, overseas their entire manufacturing operations. As such, their high-quality denim is created at their own eco-friendly mill, and all of the cotton, Lycra, and Tencel used in their products is sourced in the United States.
Warp + Weft’s Corporate responsibility
Where one pair of traditional jeans requires 1,500 gallons of water, Warp + Weft’s processes require less than 10 gallons. They also make sure to treat and recycle 98% of all the water used in their operations.
Thanks to other technologies like solar panels, an in-house power plant, and a heat recovery system, Warp + Weft also improves their factory’s efficiency thereby reducing their environmental footprint.
10. Yoga Jeans
Yoga Jeans is a premium denim brand that strives to make jeans for the modern unstoppable woman with limitless ambition and self-expression. Committed to an ethical and sustainable approach to living, Yoga jeans’ wide selection of made to move with-you jeans may be just what you are looking for.
Yoga's Jeans fabrics & materials
Most of their denim is BCI certified, Cotton Leads, organic, recycled, Repreve, and/or Eco T-400. To create the very sought-after distressed looks in their denim, Yoga Jean opts for laser technology instead of harmful processes like sandblasting, hand sanding, or PP spray; as well as Ozone washing.
Yoga Jeans Ethical sourcing
In terms of sourcing, Yoga jeans ensure that their suppliers are carefully screened for quality, traceability, sustainability, and social responsibility. They also make it a point to source their denim from the factories in which they will be sown in order to reduce their carbon footprint.
Yoga Jeans Corporate responsibility
Yoga Jeans is committed to improving its practices with the goal of reducing its carbon footprint, reducing waste, and working towards a circular economy.
One of their goals in the coming year is to make all of their denim from recycled and sustainable components.
They also offer upcycled denim collections to do their part in reducing the millions of tons of waste generated by the fashion industry every year.
So if you are looking for a comfy pair of Canadian sustainable jeans, definitely consider going with Yoga jeans.
Also featured as one of our favorite brands for fair trade pajamas, Everlane is an American company striving to bring you quality and ethically produced garments as transparently as possible. Going as far as offering a cost breakdown of some of their items and revealing their profit margins, Everlane also offers a selection of denim apparel for both men and women.
Everlane's fabrics & materials
Their denim jeans are made of different blends of cotton, organic cotton (some of which are GOTS certified), polyester, or elastane.
Everlane's Ethical sourcing
All of their jeans are made at Saitex, a LEED-certified denim factory that recycles 98% of their water, is powered using renewable energy produced onsite, and reuses byproducts in its operations to create affordable homes.
Everlane's Corporate responsibility
Everlane is moving toward using all certified organic cotton by 2023. Their partner distribution center, Geodis is 100% zero waste to landfill using recycling, reuse, and waste-to-energy programs. Their garments are also designed to last and they have committed to eliminating all virgin plastic from their supply chain by 2021.
Some final words on sustainable and ethical jeans
Thankfully there are lots of great options if you’re looking for some sustainable ethical jeans to add to your collection. I hope this list of some of my favorite brands will help you find just what you are looking for no matter your budget, size, or other preferences. Be aware, that there is a lot of greenwashing with eco jeans.
I’ve also got some great tips on recycling your old clothing, what to do with your clothing donations, what to do with your old jeans, how to sell your used clothes online, and how to curate your very own second-hand wardrobe.
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