In the fashion industry, sustainability can mean many things: responsible sourcing, recycled materials, water-conscious, ethical ethos. Practicing sustainability can take on many forms, and it can be a challenge to know where to begin when incorporating it into your everyday wardrobe. An easy place to start revamping your closet is by switching to sustainable denim. Whether it’s a high rise, kick flare, or a classic skinny, jeans are a mainstay item for any closet, which makes it an important place to start your sustainability mission.
When you think of sustainable jeans, brands that repurpose vintage denim like RE/DONE or CIE may first come to mind. But as technology improves and industry experts are educating themselves on eco-friendly practices, there are a handful of denim companies now using sustainable methods to produce new designs. A single pair of jeans can take 1,800 gallons of water to make, and dyes can include harsh pollutants that end up as runoff. But, employing innovative techniques have helped brands to cut their footprints. Ahead, discover six denim brands who have made sustainability their priority (while still creating great-fitting, stylish jeans), hear how the designers define the buzzword, and shop some pairs that will leave you with a clear conscious.
Based in New York, AndAgain is a denim brand that uses a combination of recycled, post-consumer denim and deadstock fabrics, and in turn reduces the amount of water used. “Sustainability for us is taking something that is already out in the world, prolonging its life, and giving it a new purpose and a new meaning,” Co-Founder Morgan Young tells TZR. As a result, Young says AndAgain saves on average of 3,000 gallons of water in its production process. And sustainability is at the center of all AndAgain designs, with its latest collection featuring patchwork pieces. “When creating a design, a lot [of it] is inspired by the material we are using because with all of the jeans that we receive, no pair is exactly like the next. It adds an element of uniqueness to every single piece. In a way, the materials that we use guide our design and decisions.”
Recently launched denim brand ética set out to create jeans that make less of an impact on the environment by using machines that take 99 percent less water and 62 percent less energy than the standard.
“In every step of our process, from development to production, we are choosing to do steps that equate to the least amount of waste usage possible,” says Chelsey Santry, co-founder of ética. “In order to have something that is sustainable, it needs to do less damage to the planet than using a traditional process of making a garment. I think that’s what is great about our product. We are still using premium quality denim, but in a way that creates less impact.”
Not only does the label create stylish, everyday denim pieces, but the stones collected through its water treatment plant are compressed into bricks and used for low-income housing in the regions of Mexico where the jeans are produced.
This straight and plus-size label is not only inclusive, but it uses a slew of sustainability methods, including using recycled denim, cotton, and plastic, and limiting their water, energy, and dye use.
“We're trying to incorporate sustainability at every touchpoint of our company. Over the past two years, sustainability for us has meant finding innovative ways to create high-performance denim,” Founder Sarah Ahmed tells TZR. “Now, we look at those things as baseline requirements. We have set our sights to becoming a zero waste company by 2021 and that requires us to radically change the way we look at everything in our supply chain and beyond.”
In fact, the soft, luxe quality in Warp+Weft’s denim comes from the super-absorbent eco-fiber Tencel. The label looks at sustainability holistically, and even partners with other similarly-minded organizations to donate excess inventory each season.
Short for All Year Round, AYR Co-Founders Maggie Winter, Jac Cameron, and Max Bonbrest founded the denim brand as an alternative to fast fashion in part of the slow fashion movement. “We partner with mills and factories invested in improving environmentally and ethically sustainable practices around the world. It's often a more expensive choice, but it is one we make as a company and one our customers make as consumers,” Winter tells TZR.
The New York-based label produces small batches of jeans to avoid making excess product. “The biggest impact we can make as a company is to reduce overdevelopment and overproduction. Excess product ends up in landfills,” Winter adds. The brand’s aesthetic of minimalistic denim made for every season is exactly how they plan to give back to the environment. “We look at the entire process end-to-end from a holistic point of view and work to reduce our impact wherever we can.”
Contrary to the name, this women’s denim label has ethical working conditions, uses water conservation techniques, and works with a mixture of organic and recycled cotton. Creative Director Jordan Nodarse comes from a denim and sustainability background: first launching Grlfrnd Denim for Revolve, then creating Reformation’s jeans line, and now founding Boyish Jeans. This sustainable label uses one third of the amount of water used to make a typical pair.
“Sustainability means efficiency — to be efficient with your manufacturer and design process,” Nodarse explains to TZR. “Our story is about recycling because there is so much waste out there, and we are very centered around the fact that jeans are made of cotton. The decomposition of the cotton creates methane gas, which is three times more toxic than the carbon dioxide that comes out of your car. [We] print with seaweed-based ink or recycled ink — something natural, not petroleum-based. We try and use purely sustainable products and we wanted to make the process achievable by others.”
Designed in Copenhagen, Blanche uses certified organic cotton and recycled fabrics from old production. “[Sustainability] is really more a way of life and a must to incorporate into your life. Before starting the brand we made a Corporate Social Responsibility plan; we set obstacles and goals from the get-go knowing it wasn’t a choice, but a must,” Co-Founder and Commercial Director Melissa Bech says to TZR. “We have proven that sustainability can also be fashionable and on-trend. At the end of the day, the product needs to be modern and something a woman feels powerful in.”
Bech says sustainability was the mindset in founding the eco-conscious, Danish brand, by producing locally and recycling their own materials from past seasons. “Now we are very close to getting the Nordic Ecolabel,” Bech adds.