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Evaluating the sustainability efforts of 5 leading denim brands

By Jackie Mallon


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Stonewash denim style made with organic cotton Credits: Nudie.com

Jeans are a mainstay of holiday shopping gift lists but denim has traditionally always been top of the list of the most polluting and wasteful fashion sectors. With over 1 billion pairs of jeans sold annually, in an intensely competitive market, it can be difficult to know where to start as a sustainably-minded shopper. FashionUnited chose five brands, both small and large, new and heritage, to examine how they rate in their treatment of people, product and planet.

Anya Modern Flare in organic cotton Credits: Ética.com


This LA based denim brand wears its sustainability credentials proudly. The brand name means ethical in Spanish, and the soft-to-the-touch jeans bear a label reading “ethically made, organic fabric, low-impact and non-toxic wash, ethical factories.” What that means is that its manufacturing occurs in WRAP certified factories and the brand says, “we proudly exceed Fair Labor standards, providing living wages, health benefits, advancement training, and ability-inclusive opportunities for our employees.” The water used by the vertical factory, located in Puebla, Mexico, is recycled and used for local farmland while the onsite 360-eco-garden grows food for the community. Using Clean Wash technology Ética’s processes use 90 percent less water and 70 percent less energy than industry standard and as a member of Jeanologia’s #MISSIONZERO community the brand is working towards eliminating water waste and pollution in the denim industry by 2025. Hardware used prioritizes recycled materials as do the hand tags while the brand’s packaging is biodegradable.

Curvy Way-High® Jean in organic cotton Credits: Everlane.com


Founded in 2017, the wallet- friendly jeanmaker that welcomes all body types says that 66% of its cotton use is certified organic via the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or Organic Content Standard (OCS). The brand monitors its global supply chain for harmful chemicals by using either bluesign®, GOTS, or GRS restricted-substance standards. As elastane and spandex remain problematic ingredients in our skinny jeans, Everlane is introducing into its line-up Roica® V550 yarn, the first stretch yarn worldwide that isn’t made with harmful chemicals. Their website states that the brand and its partner factories prioritize innovative water-saving techniques and exceed baseline standards for social accountability, wages, benefits, and health and safety.

Read more about Everlane here >>

Elevated Trouser Jean in retro blue Credits: Lee.com


This heritage denim giant founded in 1889 in Kansas diverts from landfill 95 percent of the waste from its own facilities through recycling, composting and reuse. Its signature denim collection, Indigood™ Denim, eliminates water from the denim dying process, while the brand’s participation in the MacArthur Foundation’s Jeans Redesign program demonstrates Lee’s commitment to circularity. Its implementation of virtual design technology has reduced the number of physical prototypes generated by 30 percent. Lee is also the first partner to team up with Italian fashion brand Diesel for their Diesel Loves program which aims to bring competitors together to share materials, manufacturing, and creative resources to empower change. The Diesel Loves Lee capsule collection will launch in March and all proceeds will go to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. All of the brand’s partners and suppliers are required to follow the Terms of Engagement and Global Compliance Principles.

Read more about Lee here >>

Steady Eddie style featuring brand's worn in wash Credits: Nudie.com


Since 2001 the Gothenburg, Sweden-born brand has not just been in the business of selling jeans but selling “forever jeans,” claiming “Our wear-and-tear philosophy is all about making sure your jeans live as long as you do, maybe even longer!” Backing up its anti-consumerist message, Nudie encourages customers to repair rather than replace, to air dry jeans rather than wash, and logged 65,386 pairs of jeans repaired in 2022. Made exclusively with organic cotton, every pair comes with a promise of free repairs at your local Nudie Jeans Repair Spot or with their Repair Partners, and if there aren’t any in your area, the brand offers a free of charge DIY repair kit. Extending garment life is the brand focus but the brand uses at least 70% recycled fibers in its Rebirth collection. Its membership in the Fair Wear Foundation is a key element in ensuring that everyone across their production chain works under fair conditions.

Isy Flared style Credits: Mudjeans.eu


MUD, whose motto is “Doing jeans differently” is the world’s first fully circular jeans brand, founded in the Netherlands by denim industry veteran of 30 years. Its jeans use 40 percent PCR denim (post-consumer recycled denim) which the brand says is the highest percentage out there, topped up with organic cotton. To eliminate pollution associated with denim treatments the company uses No Stone Stonewash and laser technology. The manufacturing produces 93 percent less water and 74 percent less CO2 than industry-standard jeans. Their pioneering Lease-a-Jeans model launched in 2013, and last May, Mud Jeans won the Willem 1 Plaque, the prize for Sustainable Entrepreneurship 2022 awarded by King Willem I, while in 2021, Mud Jeans was named Best For The World B Corp and lauded for its focus on the environment.

Read more about Mud Jeans here >>

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