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Looking for denim jeans that won’t harm the environment? Here’s 6 brands we’ve invested in

Photography By @afends, @nudiejeans, Bogomil Mihaylov
Published 22.11.21

No matter the decade, no matter the occasion, denim jeans are in.

We’ve obsessed over Jane Birkin’s super flares, James Dean’s straight legs and Jennifer Aniston’s late-90s boyfriend cut, but finding the perfect pair of jeans is a personal process and not one to be copied. Plus, there’s more to consider than just the perfect shape.

Our appetite to dress in denim results in over two billion pairs of jeans being produced worldwide each year. That level of production comes with a substantial environmental and human cost. Being a cotton-based fabric, denim is a particularly thirsty material. It takes on average 10,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of cotton. On top of that, pesticides and synthetic chemical dyes contribute to extensive water pollution and health risks. So, are there sustainable alternatives? 

Yes – the good news is you don’t have to sacrifice your number one wardrobe staple. It’s just a matter of shopping more thoughtfully. 

First up, you’ll want to consider style and fit. Will your latest pair last the test of time? To make your purchase worth the resources it took to produce, make sure you can see yourself wearing it over 30 times 

Next, check what materials were used. The most common fabric used in responsibly made denim is organic, Fairtrade or recycled cotton. Suss the product’s tag and keep your eyes peeled for synthetics mixed in.  

Also consider what other fabrics are being blended with it. Alternatives can be hemp, which requires less water, and new fibres like Lenzing’s Tencel (made from tree pulp, or cotton scraps plus wood fibre). A quick google of the fabrics on the tag can help you understand any names you don’t recognise. 

Finally, don’t forget about colour. Many brands use harmful chemicals during denim’s dyeing process. Azo dyes, for example, can sometimes release carcinogenic amines that risk workers’ health and safety and create large amounts of water pollution. Look for companies using natural dyes or dyes that have been certified by GOTS or Oeko-Tex. 

Of course, second-hand is always best. Not only are you saving a pair of jeans making their way to landfill, you’re avoiding 13 kilos of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere during the manufacturing process of a new pair.  

But if you’re looking for a new sustainable jeans brand to tick the boxes above, here’s a sure-fire list that will stand the test of time.  

E.L.V Denim

E.L.V. DENIM

Meet “the only British denim brand using 100 per cent upcycled denim”. Spotted on fashion faves Mika Schneider, Susie Lau and Camille Charriere, E.L.V. DENIM knows how to make an impact (and at the same time reduce it).

Its business model operates on an ideal of zero waste, taking discarded unwanted denim that would otherwise end up in landfill and reworking it to give it a second life. The entire collection is manufactured in east London, taking only seven litres of water to create a pair compared to 7,000 litres for your average new pair. Every step has been meticulously thought out – even the discarded fabrics get special treatment, travelling from the laundrette back to the studio via an electric vehicle.

@parcodenim

PAR.CO DENIM

Made in Italy, Par.co produces – cuts, sews and assembles – its jeans through small artisans and local companies all within 35km from its operational headquarters in Bergamo. Working hard to reduce its production chain, Par.co is making a strong effort to reach zero waste production. Made with GOTS-certified organic cotton and recycled fabrics, its new collection is filled with olive and rust hues. Classic black and blue are in the mix too, with all patches and labels printed using recycled graphite (it’s the first label in the world to be printed using g_ink).

NEUW

NEUW

Neuw has been a Melbourne fashion staple for years. But recently this familiar favourite made the bold choice to re-evaluate its production processes ahead of the launch of its new sustainable collection ZERO.

“We have seen a shift in the industry from consumers, who are now more interested in the process behind the product before they purchase,” Pär Lundqvist, creative director, co-founder and designer for Neuw, tells RIISE.

Traditionally, distressed denim is created by bleaching, acid washing and spraying with potassium permanganate. But now Neuw has replaced these environmentally harmful processes with hand stitching, hand brushing and hand grinding prior to the washing phase to create a distressed aesthetic without the use of harmful chemicals (genius). Even the water used in the manufacturing process is reused, renewed and recycled (it’s discharged back into the grid as contaminated sewage). And to top it all off, it is keeping denim out of landfill by offering free repairs at its Service Denim stores.

@afends

AFENDS

This Byron Bay–based label is revolutionising hemp denim. Although not exactly a household name, the all-natural blend of hemp and organic cotton is highly durable and perfect for everyday wear. It’s also considerably kinder to the earth than conventional denim. Plus, like linen, with every wash and wear hemp becomes softer.

Proving its commitment to the growing hemp revolution, Afends has plans to build its own hemp processing facility. The ultimate goal is to one day be able to create products from seed to skin.

@outlanddenim

OUTLAND DENIM

Australian brand Outland Denim is on a mission to create a company that looks out for the planet and its people. The garments are ethically produced by survivors of human trafficking, providing individuals with employment opportunities and financial freedom.

“We need a solution that gives people jobs, gives them meaning, gives them purpose, gives them employment. The result of that employment and the products that they produce has to benefit the planet,” James Bartle, CEO of Outland Denim, explains to RIISE.

That planetary benefit is seen through Outland Denim’s commitment to using organic cotton and zero chemicals across the supply chain. Of course, its denim is also super comfortable and flattering, and the most recent collaboration with Byron Bay label Spell is a 70s dream.

@nudiejeans

NUDIE JEANS CO.

The original purveyor of Scandinavian style, Swedish brand Nudie Jeans has quietly set an industry benchmark for sustainable denim over the last two decades. Since 2012, all Nudie Jeans denim has been made with 100 per cent organic cotton (now GOTS certified) and the company is fully transparent with its production process. Its jeans are designed to be cherished and not thrown away; Nudie Jeans offers free repairs in store – in 2020 it repaired 45,900 pairs of jeans. Plus, it sells preloved jeans and recycles old pairs into new garments.

Always wanting to be outliers and lead the industry, Nudie Jeans cultivated the dry denim craze. Basically, it lets you break your pair in yourself for individuality rather than washing them at a laundry facility; and what’s more eco than never washing your jeans?

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