By most estimates, it takes over 1,000 gallons (3,785 liters) of water to grow the cotton for a pair of jeans and another 1,000 to dye and finish them. Harmful chemicals and byproducts are endemic to the manufacturing of most jeans and garment workers are notoriously underpaid.
The bad news is no single company is going to solve all of these problems. But each one of the companies below is taking aim at some of the challenges inherent in the production of a new pair of jeans.
Check out these eco-friendly and/or ethical jean companies that are doing their part to make fashion a little friendlier to the planet and the people living on it.
And then when you get yourself a pair, you can always hold off on washing them until it’s really, really necessary and make those jeans ever so much eco-friendlier.
What they make: Outdoor clothing, accessories, and gear for women, men, and kids.
Why they’re good: Their jeans are Fair Trade Certified, made from organic cotton, and use Archroma dying technology that uses 84% less water, 30% less energy, and emits 25% less CO2 than conventional dyeing. Patagonia as a whole is a founding member of both 1% for the Planet and the Fair Labor Association, and they give grants to grassroots environmental groups.
Warp + Weft
What they make: Jeans, jackets, and underwear for women and men, plus jeans for kids.
Why they’re good: Warp + Weft owns the mill and factory where their jeans are made, where they ensure fair wages, reasonable hours, and positive working conditions. The cotton is sourced from the US, each pair of jeans only requires 10 gallons of water to produce, they use safer ozone technology, and recycle the water they use.
What they make: Sturdy basics for men and women, including jeans, hoodies, and tees.
Why they’re good: They aim to bring manufacturing back to the US and all of their products are woven, knit, cut, and sewn in the ‘States. They design and build their stuff to last longer so you ultimately buy less.
What they make: A huge array of clothes and accessories for men and women, including denim for both.
Why they’re good: The factory where there jeans are made has been called the world’s cleanest denim factory. Vietnam-based, LEED-certified Saitex recycles 98% of the water they use, cuts their CO2 emissions by 80% through the use of solar power and air-drying their jeans, and sends the by-product of denim manufacturing to a factory where it’s used in bricks for affordable housing.
What they make: Jeans for guys. Jeans for women coming late 2019/early 2020.
Why they’re good: They buy carbon credits to offset the carbon footprint of the jeans they make. They participate in 1% for the Planet, donating 1% of their annual gross sales to environmental non-profits. The jeans are ethically/fairly produced in downtown Los Angeles. And they will take back your old jeans (and give you a $15 credit), either donating them or turning them into insulation.
Get some for men Get some for women (coming late 2019)
Paper and Rock Eco Jeans
What they make: Stain-resistant, hidden-pocket, stretch jeans for women and men.
Why they’re good: Currently being funded on Kickstarter, the jeans will be made from organic cotton blended with polyester made from recycled ocean plastic waste.
What they make: Unisex tees, jackets, and jeans.
Why they’re good: Ginew is Native-owned and inspired by tribal style and stories. All of their garments are made in the US from American-made materials.
What they make: Accessories, tees, sweaters, dresses, and jackets for women. Tees and sweatshirts for men. AGOLDE x Amour Vert jeans for women.
Why they’re good: Their AGOLDE jeans for women are made in Los Angeles from organic and recycled cotton. Ozone and laser finishing requires 1/10 of the water. Ninety-seven percent of their other products are made in San Francisco in factories that Amour Vert visits to ensure fair wages and good working conditions. They also use sustainable fabrics and for every tee sold, they plant a tree through a partnership with American Forest.
Wellen Organic Jeans
What they make: Jeans for men
Why they’re good: Their jeans are made from organic cotton in a sustainability-focused factory in Indonesia that promises fair, safe, and healthy working conditions. Most excess water and scraps are recycled.
What they make: Everything.
Why they’re good: Well, they’re trying to be. It’s naive to believe that a handful of small companies can move the entirety of the garment industry to sustainability. Some of the big players have to get on the eco/ethical train too.
Levi’s created Water<Less, a combination of water-saving techniques and currently 67% of Levi’s products are made using the program, with a goal of 80% by 2020. Their Screened Chemistry initiative strives to eliminate potentially hazardous chemicals from their products. And the Better Cotton Initiative trains farmers to use fewer resources, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers when growing cotton. More than 20% of Levi’s cotton is Better Cotton with a goal of 100% by 2020.