When it comes to the carbon footprint of denim, the statistics are shocking: it takes 7,500 liters of water to make the average pair of jeans and denim accounts for 5% of landfill waste. With those numbers in mind, there’s been a surge of sustainable denim labels that are attempting to reduce their impact on the environment, especially since shoppers want to know more about the companies they’re supporting. Mindfully adding to your closet is the new norm — instead of simply over consuming and still finding yourself with nothing you want to wear.
While it can be argued that there's no such thing as truly sustainable denim and greenwashing, the practice of glossing over products to make them sound more Earth-friendly, is indeed rampant, you can shop with good environmental intentions. Designers are incorporating everything from deadstock fabrics to coffee beans, and sourcing denim that uses less water and energy. And should you think their creations are uncreative or unstylish, these innovative techniques also lead to interesting silhouettes and cool pieces that are equally as eye-catching as traditional denim. Read on to learn more about six eco-friendly jean brands to know right now.
We at TZR only include products that have been independently selected by our editors. We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
You can trust that when a stylist decides to delve into the world of sustainable jeans, that you'll get a line that’s not just cool but also beloved by editors and a favorite among celebrities. That’s exactly what E.L.V. Denim offers. The 4 year old label, which stands for “East London Vintage Denim,” is the brainchild of founder Anna Foster. Having been a stylist and creative director since her early twenties, most currently serving as the fashion director at large for the Australian style publication RUSSH in addition to running her own brand, Foster wanted to make styles that were flattering, gentle on the environment, while still looking worthy of a magazine photo. With fans like Chrissy Teigen, Phoebe Dynevor, and Liu Wen, as well as being recognized by the British Fashion Council’s Trust Fund in 2021, E.L.V. 's signature contrast denim is poised to be the next big thing.
“I see what fabrics are available and then I create the pieces. Not only are our jeans good for the environment, but the rigid denim is perfect for keeping its shape, and the two-tone colorways are super-flattering,” says Foster of her process, which begins with the painstaking task of handpicking denim from warehouses across the United Kingdom. Then they’re laundered in London by a small, local business in Clapton before going to Blackhorse Lane Atelier, where each pair gets cut and resewn into E.L.V. 's signature silhouettes. Production is limited to a five-mile radius in East London, which helps to minimize the brand’s carbon footprint as well as provide fair wages for the community at large.
Retailers seem to love the brand’s unique designs with the likes of Net-a-Porter, Selfridges, and Shopbop all carrying the brand. The reason for its resounding success? “No one can have the same jeans as you, it’s impossible,” Foster says with pride. To wit, her favorite pair is the pink overdyed bleach boyfriend jeans. “They’re exclusively for Net-a-Porter and each pair was created by hand so that the pattern is unique,” she explains. “We made them with love.” Trippy and surreal, these pieces are guaranteed to be like nothing else in your closet.
Remember Suno? Back in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Erin Beatty and Max Osterweis were at the forefront of socially responsible luxury fashion. After shuttering in 2016, Beatty took a short break before re-emerging with Rentrayage in 2019. This time she decided to go a different route, using secondhand and vintage fabrics and garments as the basis of her collection. While the brand isn’t exclusively denim (you’ll also find creative spins on dresses and blouses on the site), Beatty’s take on sustainable jeans is unlike anything you’ll find on the market. “We upcycle vintage denim and we love working with [the fabric] as they have a magical amount of wear and tear that isn't achievable in classic denim construction,” she says. To that end, you’ll see extra touches like lace trim, exaggerated ruffles, and even floral corsetry details. You’ll never find just plain jeans here and that’s the point: everything feels special and luxurious.
Unlike the other brands featured here, Rentrayage is still in its early stages, at least when it comes to jeans. But that’s a deliberate move on Beatty’s part. “Eventually we would love to build out our denim offering. It's such a staple of a modern wardrobe and truly critical to getting dressed,” she says. “But we need to evolve production in a way that is truly clean and has a lesser impact on our planet.” After all, what’s more sustainable than creating the bare minimum, with the best intentions in mind?
When you think of low impact denim, a cup of coffee doesn’t exactly come to mind. But Still Here, a New York-based label founded in 2019 by husband and wife, Sonia and Maurice Mosseri, found that cotton waste could be reused to grow coffee beans. The company is opening up their first brick-and-mortar shop in New York City this month. Naturally it includes a café, creating a space where not only can you buy their jeans but also a latte that owes its existence to your new pants. “It’s our attempt to tell the story of what’s possible when we collectively focus on minimizing waste,” says Sonia. “We want to offer our customers the opportunity to take part in a closed-loop production process with us.”
Despite utilizing materials that are gentle on the environment, the duo doesn’t think of Still Here as a sustainable brand. “[True] sustainability in denim is somewhat impossible, but we are trying our best to do better. We work with only 100% cotton, either via deadstock, recycled, upcycled, or BCI Certified materials,” she says. For those who want the most eco-friendly item possible, their bone wash is your best bet, as it's made with “dirty cotton” or cotton that has mixed with soil causing it to discolor and is commonly rejected by most mills. Should you prefer more classic styles, they also offer those as well. “Still Here's core silhouettes aim to be the end-all-be-all of denim. If you have these fits, you don't need more jeans — that's part of the reason we don't release many new fits each season like other brands,” Sonia explains.
That said, the brand is probably best known for their signature style that features painted stripes up the back — just the thing for fans of a little flash. “In the eighties my mother would hand-paint clothing and sell them to boutiques in lower Manhattan,” explains Sonia. “I grew up with these heirloom pieces and they subconsciously influenced me to first bring my paintbrush to my vintage jean collection. I love being able to revisit this embellishment detail each season and we have a bunch of customers who collect our latest painted styles.” Their latest update? A nod to mid-century modern interiors, which feels especially prescient considering their boutique launch.
Starting a denim brand right before the pandemic started in 2020 sounds like a recipe for disaster, but for Daniela Valentina Rodriguez and Andre Ramirez-Cedeño, the founders of Neems, it was a challenge they conquered successfully. Originally called Lasso, the duo rebranded this month with their new name, a play on Nimes, the French town where it’s thought to be the birthplace of denim. “I felt the new name symbolizes the birth of an innovative way of doing denim: custom and sustainably-made,” says Rodriguez.
Based in Los Angeles, Neems lets you choose everything from the cut to the wash to even how deep you want the pocket to be. Prefer a non-stretch straight leg in a light wash or a stretchy skinny in a dark wash? They have all of that in their menu of options and then they’ll send over a video on how to measure yourself, so you know the jeans will fit perfectly to your body. Three weeks later, they arrive at your door.
“Our customer cares about how their jeans fit just as much as how they were made. We use deadstock denim, have our zero waste ethos, and provide an honest, livable wage to the workers in our facility,” explains Rodriguez. To ensure that their product is as sustainable as possible, their fabrics are sourced from mills that have different certifications ranging from OEKO-TEX100 (certified to not be harmful) to organic certifications such as Cotton LEADS and GOTS, as well as GRS, which confirms they use recycled materials.
For siblings Adam, Ania, and Mark Taubenfligel, the founders of Triarchy, growing their denim line meant knowing when to step back. They started in 2011 selling conventional jeans, but realized how harmful their industry was as they tried to scale the business. In 2016, they took a year off, rethinking their entire approach to make the product more sustainable and ethical. Now their fabric is sourced from a mix of organic cotton, deadstock, and Tencel, and their production process is transparent in every item you buy from them. “We enlisted a third party auditor, Green Story, to assess all of our practices and publish the metrics independent of us. You’ll see a unique QR code inside each garment which the customer can scan and see equivalencies of water used, chemicals avoided, energy saved, and so on,” explains Adam, who serves as the brand’s creative director. He also adds, “Also on that label is a code from Retraced, an organization that shows the supply chain along with the certificates attached for each stage of the manufacturing process.”
With the likes of Nordstrom, Revolve, Shopbop, and more picking up the brand as well as capsule collections with model Josephine Skriver, you’ve probably seen a pair of Triarchy jeans on your stylish friend without ever realizing it. But what really sets the line apart from other designers on this list is their sustainable stretch denim. “We use natural rubber in place of plastic and they can biodegrade in 1-2 years instead of the industry average of 200 years,” explains Adam. So if you need a little give in your pants, you can shop here with less guilt.
If you’ve been noticing a rise of sustainable brands coming out of Australia, it’s not your imagination. An increased awareness of climate change (the country has been experiencing increasingly catastrophic bushfires) have inspired designers to consider how to lessen their ecological impact as they build out their brands. On the denim side you might be familiar with Nudie Jeans but another one to know from Australia is Outland. Founded by James Bartle in 2011, it mainly flew under the radar for its classic designs until Megan Markle wore a pair of their skinnies back in 2018. “Our customers share a love of humanity, and a frustration at how 'fashion' has been done conventionally. They want to support and wear pieces that reflect their personal values while doing some good in the world,” says Bartle. No surprise that this style, thanks to Markle and its ethical messaging, has since become one of Outland’s top sellers.
With factories in Cambodia, Outland’s mission is to provide fair employment and education for women in areas where the risks of human trafficking is high. “The primary reason our business exists is to fight modern slavery and exploitation of people. We’ve partnered with NGOs and established our own in-house manufacturing arm in order to facilitate safe work for people who may not receive the opportunity otherwise. Our unique employment model offers education, training, health care and career progression,” explains Bartle. In addition to paying livable wages, Outland meets the a certified B corporation requirements of low-impact methods of production ranging from organic cotton, to gentle dyes, and reduced water usage.
While Markle’s favorite skinny jeans remain a hit, the label has also ventured into looser silhouettes like their Amy or Ellie styles, both of which have lower slung waistbands and wide legs. Outland is also experimenting more with alternative dyes, including their Peachy Keen line, which uses a technique involving clay to give pieces a soft blush hue.