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Denim is everything, but less—gender-less, season-less, and truly time-less. From fringed shorts to baggy vintage wash jeans, we’ve curated this year’s top conscious denim brands by region just for you.
A brief history on denim
During the 20th century, “jean” was the term for a wide range of cotton or denim informal trousers. The most recognisable, classic jeans as we’ve come to know them were made from indigo-dyed denim with pockets and sturdy riveting suitable for workwear. These “jeans” were patented in 1873 by Jacob Davis, a tailor, and Levi Strauss, owner of a wholesale fabric house in San Francisco.
Over the course of the century, design improvements were made: Strauss added a double arch of orange stitching for further reinforcement and to identify them as Levi’s; belt loops appeared in 1922; zippers replaced the button fly on some styles in 1954. But when Strauss and Davis’ patent ended in 1890, other manufacturers were free to reproduce the style. OshKosh B’Gosh entered the market in 1895, Blue Bell (later Wrangler) in 1904, and Lee Mercantile in 1911.
By mid-century, these western-inspired working pants were replaced and popularised by youth counter-culture. Specifically, hippies and anti-war protestors wore jeans in the 1960s and early 1970s as a way to show support for the working class; while feminists and women’s lib organisers chose blue jeans as a way to demonstrate gender equity. The “equitable spirit” of denim continued into the late 20th century, with jeans becoming a symbol of fast fashion, accessible to all economic and gender classes.
Can denim ever be equitable?
Today, denim is made from from the same twill-weave cotton fabric. Cotton fibres are harvested and spun into yarn, then the yarns are dyed. Jeans continue to be indigo-dyed, and are then woven either on a shuttle loom or a projectile loom, creating a sturdier or more delicate result respectively.
Unfortunately, denim production can have serious social and environmental consequences. From high water usage, sludge-ridden rivers, and serious labour concerns, denim costs can be pretty hefty. However, this is not the way it has to be. There are denim brands, both big and small, that are committed to people and the planet. First up from North America, we’re highlighting unspun (US)—a brand seriously committed to producing denim of the highest quality. Further down, from Oceania, check out some baggy, affordable must-haves from Afends (AU). Finally, for our readers who prefer menswear, ASKET (Sweden) makes some sweet styles for everyday wear that are good for the planet too.