The Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Jeans and Ethical Denim
12 Jun

The Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Jeans and Ethical Denim

Finding the perfect pair of jeans can be an arduous journey⁠—from fit and cut to length, there are many boxes to be checked. But once the Goldilocks has been found, there is no going back. It will stay with you for many years, seasons, and stains. Needless to say, there’s nothing like a good pair of denim jeans. And what about finding sustainable jeans and ethical denim? Here’s why it’s worth the hunt.

The cotton-based fabric is one of the most used materials in the world. It is estimated that the value of the jeans market worldwide is approximately $110 billion USD. Sadly, denim can have a substantial environmental and human cost. Cotton is known to be a particularly thirsty crop⁠—by some estimates, it can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton. That’s enough to make just one t-shirt and one pair of jeans! On top of that, pesticides and synthetic chemical dyes can lead to extensive water pollution. It is estimated that 70% of Asia’s rivers and lakes are contaminated by the 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater produced by the textile industry which disproportionately affects local communities who rely on these rivers for drinking and bathing.

Although many brands continue to participate in this detrimental process, others are stepping up and innovating. There are ethical brands going above and beyond to create better, more sustainable denim options. So without further ado, here is our guide to sustainable jeans and ethical denim!

Sustainable Jeans

Kuyichi

Rated: Great
Woman in Kuyichi loose-style sustainable jeans

Nora Loose Tapered Faded Blue – Ships to Europe from the Netherlands

Launched in 2001, Kuyichi is the first organic denim brand. The brand uses a high-proportion of eco-friendly materials including organic cotton, which cuts carbon emissions by 60% compared to conventional cotton. In addition to being eco-friendly, the Dutch brand is a member of the Fair Wear Foundation, allowing the brand to support its suppliers in creating fair working conditions for all its employees. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the brand has been fairly outspoken in taking a stand against the fast-paced industry, pushing for an industry-wide fix on the ‘rat race’ that plagues it.

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Shop Kuyichi.

Outland Denim

Rated: Great
Vintage wash ethical jean by Outland Denim

Amy Wide-leg Jean – Ships internationally from Australia

Outland Denim makes premium denim jeans and offers ethical employment opportunities for women rescued from human trafficking in Cambodia. The Amy is one of the most sustainable vintage-wash jeans on the market. Made from the cleanest raw materials from across the globe, including 40% recycled cotton and 17% organic cotton, these eco jeans will look good and feel good too. And, the brand is a favorite of Meghan Markle!

See the rating.

Shop Outland Denim.

Nudie Jeans

Rated: Good
men's black ethical denim jeans by sustainable brand nudie jeans

Slim Fit Jeans – Ships internationally from Sweden

Nudie Jeans gives you the naked truth about denim! The brand’s use of eco-friendly materials such as 100% organic cotton limits the amount of chemicals, water, and wastewater used in production. These sustainable jeans are made in lightweight, super-stretch jet black denim, making them the perfect pair of black jeans for your wardrobe. Note the brand does use wool and leather without stating its sources.

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Shop Nudie Jeans.

Asket

Rated: Good
man wearing asket's raw sustainable jeans

The Raw Denim – Ships internationally from Sweden

Asket’s Raw Denim Jean has been engineered – from the first thread, to the last button – to shape after your body, fade with wear and mold according to your everyday life. Cut from a rigid 13oz Japanese heritage raw denim and sewn to perfection in Italy, there’s no garment that will age as well as this.

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Shop Asket.

E.L.V. Denim

Rated: Good
sustainable jeans by E.L.V. Denim

Mid Blue/Light Blue Contrast Straight Leg Jean – Ships internationally from the UK

E.L.V. Denim is a zero-waste vegan denim brand that takes stocks of old discarded denim and transforms it into modern and sophisticated jeans. These gorgeous contrast jeans can add a unique twist to your outfit. Aside from how great they look on you, they also boast a low carbon footprint as all products are produced in East London using local factories and ateliers.

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Shop E.L.V. Denim @ Rêve en Vert.

Shop E.L.V. Denim.

Armedangels

Rated: Great
Armedangels #detoxdenim black trouser

NESSAA Cropped Jean – Ships internationally from Germany

Armedangels is a German brand that has broken down the denim creation process to #detoxdenim. The brand curates its denim from 100% organic cotton, dyes with artificial indigo containing no toxic solvents, and lightens denim with modern laser and ozone washing technologies to keep volatile chlorine-based bleach salts out of the environment and factory workers’ lungs. This PETA approved vegan cropped jean is a staple that can be elevated or dressed down in any season.

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Shop Armedangels.

unspun

Rated: Good
woman wearing black sustainable jeans by unspun

Offline Jeans – Ships internationally from the US

unspun is creating a denim world that reduces global carbon emissions by 1% through a zero-inventory and low waste process.

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Shop unspun.

Kings of Indigo

Rated: Good
Man in Kings of Indigo dark wash ethical jean

John Eco Xavier Light – Ships internationally from the Netherlands

Kings of Indigo is a Dutch brand that positions itself as a pioneer in the ever-changing sustainable fashion world, constantly exploring how to reduce its impact on the planet and people. The brand’s five pillars of sustainability include planet friendly materials, water use, social responsibility, transport, and waste consciousness. Made from organic cotton, recycled cotton, and elastane, the John jeans are a low impact Peta-approved vegan jeans.

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Shop Kings of Indigo.

Outerknown

Rated: Good
Man in Outerknown black wash ethical jeans

Ambassador Slim Fit – Ships internationally from the US

For people and planet, Outerknown is an American brand that designs its men and women’s S.E.A. jeans with organic cotton. Each pair is sewn in a Fair Trade Certified™ facility and is responsibly crafted with a lifetime guarantee of free replacement or repair. Even better, when your S.E.A. jeans are ready to retire, send them back and Outerknown will up-cycle them! Although the brand responsibly sources its eco-friendly materials, it does use wool and exotic animal hair.

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Shop Outerknown.

Boyish

Rated: Good
Woman in dark wash ethical fringe trousers

The Charley | Midnight Cowboy – Ships internationally from the US

Love the & Other Stories vibe, but hate their fast fashion business model? Boyish has all the quality, fit, and authentic washes that you could want without the harmful practices. The Charley is the brand’s take on rigid, high-waisted, wide leg jeans. These black stone wash bad boys are made out of 70% organic cotton and 30% GRS certified recycled cotton, saving the beautiful people on this planet 563 days of drinking water. Yes, please!

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Shop Boyish @ Reve en Vert.

Shop Boyish.

Rudy Jude

Rated: Good
Rudy Jude ethical Molly Jeans

Toddler/Kid Molly Jean – Ships within the US

Matching outfits for the whole family? Absolutely. Naturally dyed, organic, and crafted in the US, Rudy Jude offers a sustainable alternative to the excessive waste produced by children’s clothing. It uses a high proportion of eco-friendly materials including organic cotton, and limits the amount of chemicals used in production. Although the brand primarily focuses on toddler and children’s wear, they also make adult wear so the whole family can look good.

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Shop Rudy Jude.

DL1961

Rated: Good
woman wearing dl1961 sustainable jeans

Emma Low Rise Skinny Inclusive – Ships internationally from the US

DL1961 creates premium and eco-friendly denim for women, men and kids. Designed in and inspired by NYC and specializing in high-performance fabrics, this brand has it all!

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Shop DL1961.

Jeanerica

Rated: Good
Woman in Jeanerica pink sand pant

PW008 Pyramid Fit Beige – Ships internationally from Sweden

Jeanerica is a Swedish brand that balances style and functionality in their contemporary denim commodities. Pyramid is a super high rise jean featuring a straight thigh and boot cut from the knee with a stone-wash for a vintage look. Classic lines with a modern flair, these eco-friendly jeans are made from 92% organic cotton and 6% recycled polyester, significantly reducing their carbon footprint.

See the rating.

Shop Jeanerica.

Ethical Denim

Shorts

Citizens of Humanity

Rated: Good
Woman in sustainable shorts by Citizens of Humanity brand

Kristen High Rise Short in Smoke – Ships internationally from the US

Citizens of Humanity is an LA based premium denim brand devoted to producing the highest quality denim without compromising people and the environment. The Kristen Short exudes this mission, as well as the brand’s elevated style and sophisticated ease. By renovating a classic warm weather staple, not only will the short look good on you, it will also keep the Earth looking good too with its reduced ecological footprint.

See the rating.

Shop Citizens of Humanity @ Farfetch.

Skirts

Nobody Denim

Rated: Good
Nobody Denim black and white pin stripe mini skirt in ethical denim

Franklin Denim Skirt – Ships internationally from Australia

Nobody Denim has a longstanding commitment to ethical manufacturing principles and offers a unique vision of responsible design. This update to the mini in a sophisticated fabrication can be a show-stopper when paired with the matching Franklin Jacket. 100% cotton and ethically made in Melbourne, Nobody Denim is making sure that ‘nobody’ has to sacrifice ethics for style.

See the rating.

Shop Nobody Denim @ Farfetch.

Jackets

MUD Jeans

Rated: Great
Ethical MUD Jeans denim jacket

Tyler Jacket in Heavy Stone – Ships internationally from the Netherlands

Jackets are also a great way to add sustainable denim to your wardrobe. This sophisticated basic by MUD Jeans is made from 40% post-consumer recycled cotton and 60% organic cotton. This unisex model can be worn everyday or as a signature item.

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Shop MUD Jeans.

Kowtow

Rated: Great
Woman in chic kowtow ethical denim jacket

Format Jacket – Ships internationally from New Zealand

Kowtow designs elegant and timeless womenswear, using organic, fair trade cotton, as well as non-toxic dyes. This straight-fit jacket is made from mid-weight 100% organic cotton and is finished with OEKO-TEX certified nickel-free tacks made in Germany. This staple piece doubles as a statement, elevating any outfit you pair it with.

See the rating.

Shop Kowtow @ Reve en Vert.

Shop Kowtow.

The R Collective

Rated: Great
Woman in up-cycled designer denim jacket by The R Collective

Fal Jacket – Ships internationally from Hong Kong

Designed in collaboration with designer Jesse Lee, this upcycled denim jacket transforms Levi’s aged inventory and irregular and leftover samples in a creative design effort to prolong denim’s lifespan. Made from three pairs of dark indigo 511 slim jeans, this oversized denim jacket boasts a fresh, vintage look.

See the rating.

Shop The R Collective.

Triarchy

Rated: Good
Triarchy vintage-style sustainable denim fringe jacket

Indigo Fringe Jacket – Ships internationally from the US

If you’ve been looking for a gorgeous vintage piece that embodies the free spirit of the 60’s and 70’s, look no further. Made by hand in their workshop in downtown LA, Triarchy’s Indigo Fringe Jacket is quite a showstopper. The brand’s Atelier Denim collection repurposes denim into new, sustainable luxury using hardware made of nickel-free recycled metal sheets, and labels made of recycled leather. Triarchy’s production system uses 85% recycled water by consistently reusing the ‘thick indigo laden sludge’ that unmonitored factories dump into water systems.

See the rating.

Shop Triarchy.

All-in-Ones

Lucy & Yak

Rated: Good
Girl in light wash ethical dungaree by Lucy & Yak

‘Atlas’ Organic Denim Dungarees – Ships internationally from the UK

Independent, handmade, and ethical, we love Lucy & Yak’s playful take on the denim dungaree. With a range for both men and women, this UK brand will brighten up your day.

See the rating.

Shop Lucy & Yak.

ReCreate

Rated: Great
woman in sustainable ivory denim dress by Recreate brand

Diverge Denim Dress in Natural – Ships internationally from New Zealand

ReCreate is a New Zealand based brand that truly embodies the spirit of transforming lives through fashion. By operating in partnership with New Zealand Registered Charitable Trust, ReCreate donates 100% of its profits towards empowering disadvantaged people and communities in Cambodia. Not only is ReCreate putting people first, it is also prioritizing the environment. Featuring a paneled body with wide flared sleeves, the Diverge Denim Dress is made from Luxe Organic Natural Denim from 100% BCI sourced organic cotton.

See the rating.

Shop ReCreate.

Accessories

BeeKeeper Parade

Rated: Great
Ethical denim backpack from Beekeeper Parade

The Blue Denim Royal BeeKeeper Backpack – Ships internationally from Australia

BeeKeeper Parade creates backpacks, iPad cases, and other fashion accessories out of discarded fabric waste including customer-sent old or unworn shirts. The brand works with a factory in Cambodia ensuring safe and fair working conditions and a living wage. BeeKeeper Parade also works to give back to the community. For every backpack sold, a Cambodian child is able to attend an English class for a year. Likewise, for every tablet case sold, a child’s family receives solar-powered energy.

See the rating. 

Shop BeeKeeper Parade. 

Et voilà! A whole assemblage of the latest and greatest in the ethical and sustainable denim industry that will hopefully inspire you to find your Goldilocks. Happy hunting!

Learn more about the impacts of denim in our material guide.

Editor's note

Feature image via MUD Jeans, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use our Directory to search more than 2,500 brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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