I Found the Most Sustainable Denim Brands in the Game


(Image credit: Ética)

A while back, I began working on a story about how our shopping habits contribute to our carbon footprints and how it has become critical for consumers to adopt smarter shopping habits and prioritize purchasing sustainable brands. Even now, there is still a large misconception around sustainability, specifically with denim. The most controversial thing about denim is not the fact that low-rise jeans are becoming a thing again (surprisingly) but that denim production is one of the biggest contributors to the fashion industry's carbon footprint and overall environmental impact. Considering how a pair of jeans is produced might never cross the mind of the average consumer, but it should. 

With that in mind, we reached out to six sustainable denim brands leading the charge in changing the way denim is produced. But first, here are some facts about how denim production impacts the environment.

Some facts about denim production:


(Image credit: Who What Wear)

Typically, large amounts of nonrenewable resources are extracted to produce fabric of any kind. In fact, making two pounds of fabric generates an average of 50 pounds of greenhouse gases. But carbon created from the overproduction of clothing isn't the only way the fashion industry is impacting the environment. Denim itself is a large culprit in this, as a typical pair of jeans uses the same amount of water that one person drinks in 13 years—approximately 8000 liters, or 2114 gallons, of water—according to E.L.V. Denim's founder. Not only does the traditional denim production process use copious amounts of water, but the dyeing and treatment of denim are also problematic. Currently, it is estimated that 20% of industrial water pollution globally comes from textile production. 


(Image credit: Ética)

But it's not just the amount of water and nonrenewable resources that make textile production so wasteful. On average, $100 billion is lost annually due to deadstock fabrics (fabric leftover in the production process) and nonrecyclable materials. While more companies have recently been using these deadstock fabrics to create face masks for the COVID-19 crisis, this is only a partial solution to the larger problem and does not acknowledge the toll of producing a pair of jeans. Although it is widely acknowledged that many fast-fashion companies notoriously violate workers' rights, underpay labor, and exacerbate communities' financial autonomy by using toxins that impact their health and water supply long-term, consumers' shopping habits are slow to change, thus perpetuating the cycle.

So the question is, How do we break this cycle and begin to repair the damage done? Ahead, you'll find six sustainable denim brands that are doing just that. Through their production processes and labor practices, these brands are leading the way to change denim's toll on the environment and humans for the better.

DL1961, Warp + Weft


(Image credit: DL1961)

About: In many ways, the sister denim brands DL1961 and Warp + Weft have everything on lock. Not only do the brands champion sustainability, but they're also female owned, size-inclusive, and affordable—need we say more? Ahead, we spoke with CEO Sarah Ahmed about how both of these denim brands have woven in sustainable practices since their inception.

 E.L.V. Denim


(Image credit: E.L.V. Denim )

About: Operating from a no-waste model, this London-based sustainable denim brand uses discarded, unwanted deadstock denim and denim destined for landfills and gives it a second life through its collections. Ahead, we spoke with Anna Foster, the brand's founder and creative director, about how we can change denim's impact by changing how we produce denim itself.

Outland Denim 


(Image credit: Outland Denim)

About: Sustainability is at the forefront of Outland Denim's mission, but the brand's founding was inspired by helping women who are at risk of or have experienced sex trafficking. The brand works to empower women and upholds a supply chain that does not exploit the environment or its workers. Ahead, we spoke with Outland's CEO, James Bartle, about why making sustainable denim incorporates every part of the production process.



(Image credit: Ética)

About: Not only does Los Angeles–based denim brand Ética champion sourcing ethical fabrics and eco-friendly packaging, but the brand also regularly contributes to 1% for the Planet and One Tree Planted to help combat climate change. Ahead, we spoke with Sage Matthews, the brand's design and creative director, about how it's up to denim brands to continue to champion sustainability one step at a time.



(Image credit: Courtesy of Levi's)

About: Changing the way denim is produced shouldn't only be up to the new brands. Household names should also adopt sustainable practices, and Levi's has been one of those brands to do so. Ahead, we spoke with Liz Lipton-McCombie, the brand's director of global sustainability, about what measures the company has taken to make its iconic denim eco-friendly.

Next: The Beginner's Guide to Cutting Your Closet's Carbon Footprint

This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.

Jasmine Fox-Suliaman

Jasmine Fox-Suliaman is a fashion editor living in New York City. What began as a hobby (blogging on Tumblr) transformed into a career dedicated to storytelling through various forms of digital media. She started her career at the print publication 303 Magazine, where she wrote stories, helped produce photo shoots, and planned Denver Fashion Week. After moving to Los Angeles, she worked as MyDomaine's social media editor until she was promoted to work across all of Clique's publications (MyDomaine, Byrdie, and Who What Wear) as the community manager. Over the past few years, Jasmine has worked on Who What Wear's editorial team, using her extensive background to champion rising BIPOC designers, weigh in on viral trends, and profile stars such as Janet Mock and Victoria Monét. She is especially interested in exploring how art, fashion, and pop culture intersect online and IRL.