12 Sep

The Ultimate Guide to Sustainable Jeans and Ethical Denim

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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.

North America

ÉTICA

Rated: Good

Mid Rise Slim in Beach Break – Ships internationally from the US

ÉTICA is a premium US luxury brand that features innovative design and cutting-edge technology. Form-fitting but never tight, the Scarlet fits slim through the hip with a bit of room through the leg. Find most items in sizes 24 to 32.

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Shop ÉTICA @ Wearwell.

Shop ÉTICA @ Veneka.

Shop ÉTICA.

Minimalist

Rated: Good
person in white Japanese denim jumpsuit by Minimalist

Traci Japanese Denim Jumpsuit – Ships internationally from the US

Minimalist is a curated collection of women’s ready-to-wear pieces designed to be recycled at their end of life. It seeks to be part of the solution to make fashion sustainable, using certified eco-friendly materials and ensuring fair wage and work conditions in the local New York City factories it supports. With an easy fit, adjustable drawstrings and roomy pockets, get yourself in this modern Japanese denim jumpsuit made with organic cotton and sustainable trims. Find it in sizes XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop Minimalist.

Shop Minimalist @ Cerqular.

Rudy Jude

Rated: Good
Rudy Jude ethical Molly Jeans

Kids Utility Jeans – Ships internationally from the US

Matching outfits for the whole family? Absolutely. Naturally dyed, organic, and crafted in the US, Rudy Jude offers a nice 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 like these adorable jeans, they also make adultwear so the whole family can look good. Find the whole collection in sizes 2y to 8y.

See the rating.

Shop Rudy Jude.

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 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 upcycle them. The Ambassador jeans are a great slim cut. You can find the full range in sizes 28-38 (inseam 30-34).

See the rating.

Shop Outerknown.

unspun

Rated: Great
A pair of more conscious men's denim by unspun.

Offline Jeans – Ships internationally from the US

Offers

Two people wearing unbleached organic cotton jeans by unspun.

unspun – The Natural Edit

Meet "The Natural Edit": a 100% made-to-fit collection, made in Italy, and crafted from non-stretch, raw organic cotton that's less water and chemical-intensive than general denim. Exclusive $40 off natural jeans with code GOOD40NATURAL. (Ends: 12 SEP)

Checkout code: GOOD40NATURAL
Shop now

unspun is an American brand, creating a denim world that reduces global carbon emissions by 1% through a zero-inventory and low waste process. We’re loving these masc cut loose fit jeans. unspun’s product sizing is totally customisable to ensure you always find the perfect fit.

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Shop unspun.

VENIM

Rated: Good
two images of shorter washed black jacket with black foil by Venim

Shorter Washed Black Jacket with Foil – Ships internationally from the US

US-based VENIM is a denim brand that is making timeless pieces for the next generation of consumers. The founders’ partnership is rooted in a shared passion for impeccable craftsmanship, ethical manufacturing, and unapologetically individualistic designs, like this striking Midnight Oil Foil jacket. Find it in sizes 1-3 (XS-2XL).

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Shop VENIM.

Altar

Rated: Good

Cassie Unisex Coverall in Denim Chambray – Ships internationally from the US

Altar is a US-based boutique that specialises in alternative and custom fashion, apothecary, and gifts. The brand celebrates independent manufacturers and artists from across North America, with a focus on the stories that are woven into their work. Its clothing brand, Altar Houseline, is proudly made in America using deadstock materials and serves size gradations from size S-6XL. These fun unisex denim coveralls can be styled on anyone.

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Shop Altar.

Triarchy

Rated: Great
A pair of long white wide leg denim jeans by Triarchy.

High Rise Wide Leg – Ships internationally from the US

Anyone here miss the ’70s a little? Triarchy does too which is why they created the Fonda. The Fonda is a style of jean that every women needs in her closet. The brand’s off-white is the ultimate in denim purity with no dyes, washes, chemicals, or toxins. Triarchy’s production system uses 85% recycled water by consistently reusing the “thick indigo laden sludge” that unmonitored factories dump into water systems. You can find the full range in 24-32.

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Shop Triarchy.

Whimsy + Row

Rated: Good
woman wearing whimsy and row denim jacket and jeans

Jordan Jacket – Ships internationally from the US

Whimsy + Row is an eco-conscious lifestyle brand born out of a love for quality goods and sustainable practices. Since 2014, its mission has been to provide ease and elegance for the modern, sustainable woman. By limiting each garment to short runs, Whimsy + Row utilises deadstock fabric, reduces packaging waste, and takes care of precious water resources. How gorgeous is their Jordan Jacket? Find most products in XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Whimsy + Row.

Shop Whimsy + Row @ Earthkind.

Yes And

Rated: Good

Emma Denim Shorts – Ships internationally from the US

Yes And aims to banish the stigma that sustainable fashion has to sacrifice style, quality, fit, colour, comfort, or price. With this US-based brand you can actually have it all, and more: it is certified organic, low-impact dyed, and ethically made, including these paperbag waist Emma denim shorts. You can find most items in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Yes And.

Levi’s (Pre-Owned)

Rated: It's A Start

Pre-Owned Denim – Ships internationally

Levi's is committed to producing quality, hard-wearing products, and it continues to make strides with regards to environmentally sustainable production methods. This includes its Waste<Less range, made from 20 percent post-consumer waste.

See the rating.

Shop Levi's Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

Oceania

Outland Denim

Rated: Great
A pair of ethical light wash denim by Outland Denim.

Diana-Authentic Jeans – Ships internationally from Australia

Outland Denim makes premium denim jeans and offers ethical employment opportunities for women rescued from human trafficking in Cambodia. The Diana 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. Find most of the brand’s range in US sizes 24-34.

See the rating.

Shop Outland Denim.

Afends

Rated: Good

Hemp Denim Baggy Jeans – Ships internationally from Australia

Offers

Black and white shot of the BROCCOLI Magazine and Afends fashion collaboration.

Afends – Broccoli Collab

The collab everyone has been waiting for: Afends x Broccoli Magazine. Cut from hemp and organic cotton. Step into a new dimension with this super limited capsule. Exclusive 15% off with code GOODBROCCOLI. (Ends: 30 SEP)

Checkout code: GOODBROCCOLI
Shop now
Two people outdoors wearing recycled Afends collection clothes.

Afends – Recycled Collection

Explore Afends' Recycled Collection, created with recycled and organic cotton. From pants to tees and sweats, featuring a slew of new prints. Exclusive 20% off with code RECYCLED20. (Ends: 30 SEP)

Checkout code: RECYCLED20
Shop now

Afends is a Byron Bay based fashion brand leading the way in organic hemp fashion. Combining hemp and cotton, the Bella is a classic in baggy hemp denim jeans. This silhouette features a high-rise waist, baggy fit, wide-cut leg, and subtle ankle splits. You can find the full range in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Afends.

Kowtow

Rated: Good
An ethical, mid-length skirt by Kowtow.

Denim Triangle Skirt – Ships internationally from New Zealand

Kowtow designs elegant and timeless womenswear, using organic, fair trade cotton, as well as non-toxic dyes. This a-line panelled skirt features contrast topstitch detailing, made from mid-weight organic cotton denim. This staple piece doubles as a statement, elevating any outfit you pair it with. Find most products in sizes 2XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Kowtow.

Elk

Rated: Good

Karrie Jumpsuit – Ships internationally from Australia

A pioneer of independent Australian design, Elk was founded in Melbourne in 2004. Elk creates bi-annual collections that are informed by a design ethos where simplicity and sustainability meet innovation, as seen in the flattering Karrie denim jumpsuit. Find most items in AU sizes 6-18.

See the rating.

Shop Elk.

Nobody Denim

Rated: Good
A woman in a pair of light wash straight denim by Nobody Denim.

Bessette Jean Forever – Ships internationally from Australia

Nobody Denim has a longstanding commitment to ethical manufacturing principles and offers a unique vision of responsible design. It traces its supply chain, ensures a living wage for workers, and is accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia. The Bessette jeans are timeless and versatile. Find most of the jeans in sizes 23-32.

See the rating.

Shop Nobody Denim.

Shop Nobody Denim @ Farfetch.

The UK

Lucy & Yak

Rated: Good

Delores Wide-Leg Jeans – Ships internationally from the UK

Independent, handmade, and ethical, we love Lucy & Yak’s playful take on classic garments. With unisex designs for everyone, including these wide leg jeans with huge pockets, this UK brand will brighten up your day. Find pieces inclusively sized in UK 4-32.

See the rating.

Shop Lucy & Yak.

Seventy + Mochi

Rated: Good

Agnes Blouse – Ships internationally from the UK

Seventy + Mochi is a  UK-based, conscious and kind denim brand making seasonless, long-lasting denim using recycled materials, kinder production methods, and fashion out of waste. We love this unique bell sleeve denim top made from organic and recycled cotton. Find sizes XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop Seventy + Mochi.

People Tree

Rated: Great
Two women in the Catrina Denim Skirt by People Tree.

Catrina Denim Skirt – Ships internationally from the UK

Offers

Someone wearing a red organic shirt by People Tree.

People Tree EU – Organic Clothing

Celebrate Organic September with People Tree. Choose toxin-free clothing than protects biodiversity, saves water, and is safe for farmers and workers. 15% off organic clothing with code ORGANIC. (Available in Europe only) (Ends: 28 SEP)

Checkout code: ORGANIC
Shop now

Sustainable fashion pioneer and leader People Tree is a seriously ethical brand and one of our favourites. The brand uses eco-friendly materials and addresses labour risks by adopting the Fairtrade International – Small Producers Organisations Code of Conduct. The Catrina mini denim skirt is a classic warm weather wardrobe essential. Find most products in UK sizes 6-18.

See the rating.

Shop People Tree UK.

Shop People Tree EU.

Shop People Tree @ Wearwell.

E.L.V. Denim

Rated: Good

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

E.L.V. Denim transforms old discarded denim into modern, sophisticated, and even made-to-measure jean jackets, pants, and accessories. The result is unique and striking designs like these two-tone jeans. Find most jeans in UK sizes 24-36.

See the rating.

Shop E.L.V. Denim @ Rêve en Vert.

Shop E.L.V. Denim.

Fanfare

Rated: Good
person sitting in pose in high waisted stripe wool jeans by Fanfare

High Waisted Stripe Wool Jeans – Ships internationally from the UK

Fanfare is a UK-based sustainable brand that creates modern, contemporary women’s and unisex clothing with a purpose that aims to bring change to the fashion industry. These handcrafted upcycled jeans feature a one-of-a-kind striped wool, how cool is that? Find most items in UK sizes 6-18.

See the rating.

Shop Fanfare.

Shop Fanfare @ Earthkind.

Europe

MUD Jeans

Rated: Great

Relax Rose Jeans – Ships internationally from the Netherlands

Dutch denim brand MUD Jeans is all about sustainability. Inspired by that perfect vintage pair of denim, the Relax Rose has a fitted waist and a straight leg. Pair with a white t-shirt for an effortless look or dress up with a pair of heels and a blazer, success guaranteed. MUD Jeans uses a combination of GOTS certified organic cotton and post-consumer recycled cotton. MUD Jeans are available in a range of sizes, usually from W25 L30-W33 L32 for women and W28 L34-W36 L34 for men.

See the rating.

Shop MUD Jeans.

Shop MUD Jeans @ Labell-D.

Kuyichi

Rated: Great
Sustainable men's jeans by Kuyichi

Jim Tapered Broken Blue Orange Selvedge – Ships internationally from the Netherlands

Established in 2001, Kuyichi is the first organic denim brand. With top-scoring labour and environmental ratings, the brand designs ethical and durable, yet trendy and modern pieces that never go out of style. The Jim Tapered is no different, featuring a washed look and a tapered fit. Sizes XS-L are available, as well as 28-38 for jeans.

See the rating.

Shop Kuyichi.

Shop Kuyichi @ Staiy.

Nudie Jeans

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

Slim Fit Jeans – Ships internationally from Sweden

Nudie Jeans designs 100% organic cotton denim and is transparent about its production. The brand also offers a free repair service, resells second hand products, and even recycles worn out items. Made in Italy, these black slim fit jeans are perfect for everyday wear and tear. Find the perfect fit with the Virtual Size Guide on the product pages.

See the rating.

Shop Nudie Jeans.

Shop Nudie Jeans @ Farfetch.

Shop Nudie Jeans Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

ASKET

Rated: Good
man wearing asket's raw sustainable jeans

The Raw Denim – Ships internationally from Sweden

ASKET has been creating timeless wardrobe essentials since 2015 with revolutionary sizing and fair pricing. Cut from a rigid 13oz Japanese heritage raw denim, made from 100% certified organic cotton, and sewn to perfection in Italy, there’s no garment that will age as well as this one. ASKET disregards seasonal collections, cuts out all the middlemen, and only sells directly to you—putting its entire focus on building a single permanent collection. Find the range in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop ASKET.

1 People

Rated: Good
person in white shirt and sky blue relaxed mom jeans by 1 People

California LAX Jeans in Sky – Ships internationally from Denmark

1 People is a Danish-designed lifestyle and luxury brand. It blends Scandinavian colour palettes and minimalist design to create effortlessly elegant collections for the conscious-minded. Upcycled from leftover fabric, the California jeans are the signature everyday denim pants that are kinder to the Earth and are certainly comfortable on you. Find the collection in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop 1 People.

Shop 1 People @ Cerqular.

Shop 1 People @ Urbankissed.

Armedangels

Rated: Great

Mom Fit High Waist Made of Organic Cotton – Ships internationally from Germany

Affordable, ethical, and on-trend. Germany’s Armedangels gets a top score overall from us. The brand covers all the basics for women, men, and kids. Armedangels’ quality and long-lasting pieces are made from eco-friendly and certified materials, like Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton. The brand also adopted the Fair Wear Foundation Code of Conduct to protect its workers abroad. For those who feel most alive in a high waist and narrow leg, the cropped Mom Fit style says “it’s the ’90s.” Its products are available in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Armedangels.

Shop Armedangels @ Veneka.

Shop Armedangels @ Earthkind.

Kings of Indigo

Rated: Good
A woman wearing a sustainable denim jacket

OTA Ecru Jacket – Ships internationally from the Netherlands

Kings of Indigo makes quality denims, tops, and accessories inspired by American classics with a Japanese eye for detail. The brand uses GOTS organic cotton as well as recycled cotton and wool, and avoids all chemicals from the REACH chemical list. Made from 100% pure, organic cotton the OTA jacket is a short, workwear-inspired boxy jacket. Find sizes XS-L.

See the rating.

Shop Kings of Indigo.

ISTO.

Rated: Good

Everyday Denim – Ships internationally from Portugal

Portuguese brand ISTO.’s mandate is simple: create clothes to transcend the seasons and work as staple items in your wardrobe all year round, like these off-white everyday jeans. It has one single collection and pursues quality over quantity to try and make its items permanently available. It uses organic and natural materials, and is incredibly transparent in showing you the true cost of your clothes when you go to purchase a piece for your wardrobe. The range is available in XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop ISTO..

Infantium Victoria

Rated: Great

Hemp Denim Jacket – Ships internationally from Germany

Infantium Victoria offers beautiful vegan luxury for all ages, including this premium hemp denim jacket with a hood for kids and teens. This German brand scores highly across the board. Its products are certified by Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), and it sells previously owned products to minimise textile waste.

See the rating.

Shop Infantium Victoria.

Shop Infantium Victoria @ LVR Sustainable.

G-Star Raw (Pre-Owned)

Rated: It's A Start
G-Star RAW Midi Skirt in Charcoal Gray

Pre-Owned G Star Raw Denim – Ships internationally

G-Star Raw has been setting some good worker empowerment initiatives in its supply chain in the past few years. It’s a member of the Better Cotton Initiative and it has a Code of Conduct that covers all of the ILO Four Fundamental Freedoms principles!

See the rating.

Shop G-Star Raw Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

That’s all folks! We hope this guide made your shopping choices a bit easier (and more fun).

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. We love to recommend some of the best sustainable brands, rated “Good” or “Great”. We also encourage shopping pre-owned as another great way to reduce the impact of our fashion choices. Use our directory to search thousands of rated brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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