After months spent in joggers and baggy jumpers during lockdowns, and with pubs and restaurants reopening, many people will now be revisiting their jeans.
If you find your old ones don’t fit so well, or you’re looking to buy a new style, it’s worth considering the environmental and social impact of denim before you choose where to get them from.
According to Greenpeace, it takes an incredible 7,000 litres of water to create just one pair of jeans (this is as much as one person drinks over 13 years!). Much of this water waste contains harmful chemicals, pesticides and coloured dyes that cause permanent destruction to ecosystems and local communities when it goes back into waterways.
While there is a long way to go to denim being 100 per cent environmentally-friendly, the good news is that there are an increasing number of eco-conscious labels on offer.
Here are our top five jeans brands that prove you don’t have to sacrifice style for sustainable credentials.
Nudie Jeans has sustainability in its DNA. It uses a high proportion of eco-friendly materials in its products, including GOTS-certified cotton (which limits the amount of chemicals and water used in making its denim products), and reuses most offcuts to minimise waste.
The forward-thinking brand offers free repairs for life and encourages people to buy one pair of jeans and wear them as much as possible before even washing it, let alone throwing them away. When you don’t want your jeans any longer, Nudie Jeans will take them back and use them for repairing materials or for reselling.
Water<Less is an initiative by denim giant Levi’s in which less water is used to produce each pair of jeans. This might include simply using a thimble of water and a bit of ozone gas to pre-wash jeans for sale instead of detergent.
Rather than using fabric softener to give jeans a soft feel, Levi’s will tumble them with bottle caps and golf balls, taking the water out of the wash altogether. The iconic brand says the end result remains the same: the jeans you love, made by using less water. In 2019, 69 per cent of Levi’s jeans were made using its Water<Less process.
Lee Jeans has introduced IndigoodTM to reduce the impact of dying jeans. Replacing water with foam dye, the process cuts water use by 100 per cent and energy use by 60 per cent.
The renowned American brand recently teamed up with H&M to offer a sustainable, and affordable, denim collection. Every piece is made from recycled and/or organic cotton, and the denim is made ‘without the use of environmentally harmful chemicals in an energy-saving, water-efficient manufacturing process.’
Where polyester is used, it is also made from recycled materials, right down to the sewing thread. All metal trims are non-plated and non-toxic and the back patch is non-leather made from FSC certified cork and jacron paper.
Pioneering brand MUD Jeans works on a circular economy, encouraging customers to return worn jeans so they can be upcycled and sold as vintage pairs. Every pair of MUD Jeans is recycled into new ones, leaving no waste.
Each pair returned is shredded, cut into pieces and blended with Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton to create new denim yarn; a process that uses 92 per cent less water than an average jeans. MUD also offers a free repairs service and a lease programme where you can rent a pair of jeans on subscription (£6.82 per month for 12 months).
With a zero-waste ethos, E.L.V. DENIM (East London Vintage) takes unwanted jeans destined for landfill and gives them a second life. The discarded denim, collected from vintage factories, is reworked into contemporary styles from straight leg jeans to Seventies flares.
Every item in the collection is made locally in east London to keep the carbon footprint to a minimum and to support local communities. While the average new pair of jeans uses 7,000 litres of water, E.L.V. DENIM jeans use just seven.
This huge designer brand may seem like a surprise entry here, but Tommy Hilfiger recently joined forces with Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a non-profit that promotes a circular economy within the fashion industry. It has since unveiled its first circular denim collection based on traceability and recyclability.
The seven-piece collection, made from 100 per cent organic cotton, includes jeans and jackets with a focus on where the materials have come from. They were created using Ellen MacArthur’s jeans redesign guidelines, an initiative encouraging brands towards a circular economy and making clothing that is durable, recyclable and from quality materials.