You probably have a favourite pair of jeans that you can wear day or night and live in for a few days (or weeks) at a time. But did you know that denim is one of the more environmentally damaging items we can buy?
Denim is made from cotton, which needs a lot of land, harmful fertilizers and requires huge amounts of water to produce. This has led to over-farmed land, dried up lakes and soil erosion, which affects the health of the entire planet. According to E.L.V. Denim founder Anna Foster, one pair of jeans uses the same amount of water that one person drinks in 13 years, approximately 8000 liters of water.
“We live in a world where there are more jeans than people, and most sit unwanted in warehouses, or even worse landfill,” she told British Vogue.
Here's how to get your guilt-free denim fix: Shop vintage, upcycle and buy from brands with sustainable production practices. And as Levi's has shared, "wash less, wash cold and line dry," as he consumer care stage (washing and drying) accounts for 23% of the total water used and 40% of the climate impact over the lifetime of a pair of jeans.
Circular, zero-impact and vegan are the goals of this Dutch brand. Since 2013, they've had a lease a jeans programme: Rent a pair of jeans for a monthly fee, repairs are provided for free. When the jeans are worn out, or if you feel like a change after 12 months, you can send in your jeans and switch to a new pair. Jeans that are returned or worn-out jeans so they can be shredded, cut into pieces and blended with Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton to create new denim yarn. This cuts down on water and chemical usage.
Our favourite piece: The utilitarian trend is going strong, but we're not sure about how much longer it'll be cool to wear cargo pants if you're not going hiking. So leasing the Ocean Cargo (S$229) jeans will be cool, and it's unisex, so you can even share it with your partner.
A female-owned and size-inclusive brand, all the denim is made in the vertically inegrated family-owned factory , meaning every step—spinning the yarn, weaving the fabric, finishing the garment—happens all in the same facility. So that there's less carbon footprint. The jeans made with with biodegradable fibres and natural Indio dyes derived from plants are high-performance and ultra comfortable.
Our favourite piece: The Nick Slim (S$285) is an upgrade from a skinny jean. The streamlined leg is lean through the thigh and tapered towards the ankle, and the Pariah wash is versatile for night and day.
Worn by Megan Markle, Outland Denim uses organic cotton and employs women who are at risk or have experienced sex trafficking. The Australian brand operates their very own wash-and-finishing facility, garments are finished using laser, removing the need for water-intensive washing and heavy chemical use by up to 95%.
Our favourite piece: The Amy jean (S$220) is great if you want a more relaxed tomboyish look, and the denim is very soft, very wearable feel due to the blend of organic cotton, recycled cotton, and lyocell. Printed on the pocket lining of vintage-washed jeans you’ll find a ‘Thank you’ message, written by one of the women who made your jeans, as a reminder of the true positive change you have had simply by purchasing and wearing them.
The affordable jeans are made in Saitex, the world’s cleanest denim factory in Vietnam that relies on solar power, recycles 98% of its water and uses reverse osmosis to filter the remaining 2% into clean drinking water. The denim is slightly heavier than the industry norm so it has a longer life span: jeans are classic cut so as not to go out of style, and designed to snap back into place after each wear, thus requiring less washing.
Our favourite piece: Made from 100% organic cotton, the Super-Soft Wide Leg Jean (S$114) is ideal for pear shaped figures. With a high waist, flattering full length and non-stretch material, it will balance out your proportions.
Founded by surfer Kelly Slater, the sustainable brand doesn't just make jeans, in 2015, it was the first to launch clothes made with ECONYL that is made from fishing nets. Their S.E.A. Jeans have a lifetime guaranteee - you can send them back and Outerknown will repair or replace them for free. When your S.E.A. Jeans are ready to retire, send them back so it can be upcycled and repurposed to be housing insulation.
Our favourite piece: The Strand High Rise Skinny Jean is great if you like wearing cropped tops or you want some lift with the 1% elastane stretch. Sewn in a Fair Trade Certified facility, the skinny jeans are made from 95% organic cotton and 4% recycled polyester which is created by taking raw material waste, like plastic bottles, and transforming it into a premium polyester fiber.
"Wear, tear, and repair" is the motto of Nudie Jeans that offers free tear repairs for life. The Swedish company gives you 20% off a new pair when you turn in an old one—some of which are then washed and sold again as part of its Re-Use collection. Since 2018, all back patches are made from paper instead of leather, so all their denim is vegan.
Our favourite piece: Everyone needs a good denim jacket, whether you want to wear it with jeans or a dress. The Jerry Dark Worn is a relaxed fit jacket with a vintage worn-in look that is made from organic cotton. We love the virtual size guide that lets you compare measurements with an existing jacket you already own.
E.L.V. is an acronym for East London Vintage; ‘East London’ stands for creativity, and ‘Vintage’ evokes sustainable responsibility. Operating on a no-waste model, this upcycled denim brand, available at Shopbop and Net-a-Porter, uses discarded, unwanted deadstock denim and denim destined for landfills.
Our favourite piece: Every E.L.V. Denim piece is made up of two halves of vintage jeans or jackets, so everything is entirely unique in its colour and fit. A pair of good white denim jeans are hard to come by, but these limited edition high waisted White Match Boyfriend Jeans (S$640) look divine. Boyfriend jeans will help balance out a classic inverted triangle shape if you've got wide shoulders and smaller hips and thighs.
cover image: @reformation