If you are a denim addict that respects the planet, you might have asked yourself the question of how sustainable is denim fabric? The best sustainable jeans will help you to look good sustainably, without harming the environment. In an industry where trends are always changing, bringing new styles and fabrics to the fore can seem quite a challenge, however, sustainability is not a limit to style.
Is Denim Sustainable?
With a climate crisis on the horizon, there has never been a better time to commit to sustainable fashion. The textile industry has increasingly been put under the magnifying glass with organic cotton and denim being scrutinized to establish how sustainable is denim.
More and more brands are showing greater attention as to how this blue canvas is produced and wanting to ensure that production is not only sustainable, but also respectful of the planet.
Thousands of liters of water are used to produce a single pair of jeans, with chemical rich dyes polluting the water.
Consumers are more informed and aware of their environmental footprint, and is therefore demanding that companies pay more attention. There is a push towards a circular economy and wanting the blue denim canvas to be “greener”.
Brands like the Los Angeles based brand ReDone, give life to old models that have been discarded, by recovering and reassembling vintage garments. You can read more about ReDone and sustainable denim practices in this related post on the 8 Best Green Jeans Denim Brands.
Fibers Determine How Sustainable is Denim Fabric
The sustainability of denim fabric would depend on the origin of the fibers that are used, being it natural, artificial or synthetic.
- Natural fibers are derived from materials that are present in nature. It would either come from plants, like cotton, linen, bamboo and hemp, or it would be derived from animals, like silk, wool and leather. Discover more about natural fibers in this post on What are Natural Fibers.
- Artificial fibers are derived from natural products, but through chemical processes, they are then reworked to produce fibers. These include cellulose fibers, like viscose from trees, milk fiber from animals, or orange and apple fibers derived from agricultural waste. Discover more about cellulose fibers in this post on Viscose fabric – the textile made from cellulose, and orange and apple fibers are discussed in this post on 5 Innovative Textile Solutions for Vegans.
- Synthetic fibers are made through transformation of chemical substances, with the origin being petrochemical. If you are interested to learn more about synthetic fibers, then read this post on Synthetic fibers vs natural fibers – which one will you choose.
Natural fibers are the most sustainable and depending on the production processes used for natural fibers, will have a varying impact on the environment. Synthetic fibers are the least sustainable and eco friendly and leaves the biggest carbon footprint. Artificial fibers are somewhere in the middle with concerns that cellulose fibers are derived from wood, which can lead to deforestation.
To establish how sustainable is denim, production processes also need to be considered. The best sustainable jeans would be made from natural fibers with organic cotton high on the list. Read more about organic cotton in this post on the 10 Best Organic Cotton Jeans Brands.
We cannot talk about how sustainable is denim without including Levi’s, who has been a pioneer in the search for alternative production methods of their legendary jeans. Levi’s has several initiatives that support and show how sustainable is denim fabric when eco friendly practices are followed.
- Recycled denim is a collection made with organic cotton and circulose, which is a special regenerated fabric that is created by the Swedish startup Renewcell. Renewcell is recycling cotton fabrics with a process that is similar to that used for recycling paper. Through the recovery of used clothes, a cellulose fiber that is equivalent to natural fibers, is produced and new clothes can be made from it. Circulose is an awesome example of how sustainable is denim fabric and you can read more about circulose in this post on What is cellulose pulp and what is Circulose.
- Levi’s is strengthening their contribution to sustainability and is launching Levi’s SecondHand, a buy back and resale program. Levi’s SecondHand will enable customers to return used jeans and jackets in the stores and receive a gift card of $15 to $25, which can be redeemed against buying second hand clothing from Levis.com marketplace.
- Previous support of green fashion has been seen in their Wellthread and Outerknow collection, launched in 2019, where hemp, rather than cotton, is used. Hemp is a more eco-friendly and sustainable fiber than conventional cotton.
- Wellthread is a line that includes cottonised help products, a material that requires less water and pesticides for its cultivation.
- Levi’s Waterless way of dyeing fabric uses a production cycle with very low quantities of water.
Levi’s is one of the best sustainable jeans brands and already has the majority share of the second hand and vintage market, with the younger generation having a very high interest in the second hand market.
Use this link to get your pair of Levi jeans at the best price.
Madewell is all about is denim sustainable and Fair Trade certified. They use organic cotton in some of their denim and have partnered with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) to improve global cotton farming. They also use recycled polyester and viscose, a cellulose fiber derived from wood.
In partnership with Fair Trade USA, Madewell has launched a Fair Trade denim collection, and by supporting jobs with dignity, they want to build a better future for workers. Essentials like fair wages, healthy working conditions and maternity leave, are a part of the program.
Madewell pays a premium directly to a community development fund for every certified Fair Trade product that is produced for them. The fund is run by people who make Madewell clothes. Their partnership with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) to integrate cotton that is grown under strict conditions, is to improve the livelihood of the growers and workers, and also protect the environment. These are all ways to improve how sustainable is denim.
Fabric and fibers that Madewell use to ensure how sustainable is denim fabric, include these:
- Recycled cotton that comes from old garments and fabric that is leftover from production.
- Tencell Lyocell (viscose) that is made from wood pulp that is derived from sustainable forests.
- Recycled plastic in the from of PrimaLoft, which is used as insulation in jackets. It is as warm as down, but made from a hundred percent recycled plastic bottles.
They offer repairs like hemming and mending in their stores. With a program of Reuse, those jeans that are returned and are still good enough to be worn, is resold through ThredUp as previously loved jeans.
Madewell also recycle old jeans into insulation for housing.
Everlane is an American brand that was founded in 2010. Their jeans are made in the denim factory Saitex, which is a LEED Certified facility. Through a unique closed system, the factory recycles 98 percent of the water that is used and the water is clean enough to drink. It means that only 0.4 liters of water is used to make a pair of denim jeans.
If you are still wondering is denim sustainable, then Everlane proves that it can be.
Saitex gets electricity from alternative sources of energy. The entire factory uses solar power, which is renewable. It has meant that carbon dioxide emissions have been reduced by almost eighty percent.
When denim is made, a toxic byproduct called sludge, is created. Saitex extracts the sludge from the water and ships it to a brick factory nearby. There it is incorporated into bricks, which is used to build affordable housing.
Everlane jeans are air-dried in the factory, further reducing the amount of electricity that is used. By re purposing byproducts, the factory is almost a zero waste facility. So your cleanest pair of jeans is produced with clean water, clean energy and clean waste, resulting in the best sustainable jeans.
Their ethical approach means they visit the factories that they use on a regular basis to evaluate environment, working hours, fair wages and other factors that could affect not only workers, but also how sustainable is denim fabric.
Everlane mixes sustainability with transparency. They share with customers the exact breakdown of the cost of each item and also show the factories where garments are made. The company builds strong relationships with factory owners to ensure that the employees and production meet Everlane’s high ethical standards.
Everlane recently released a line of clothing made from recycled plastic bottles and other reused materials.
4. Candiani Denim
Candiani Denim is a specialist in denim and sustainability and was founded near Milan, Italy, in 1938. Since then, it has grown to become one of the best and most sustainable denim mills in the world. It is regarded by many as the greenest textile company in the world of the blue canvas. They strongly believe in innovation, sustainability and the Made in Italy label.
The area where the Candiani production facility is, is located in a nature reserve, making them particularly sensitive to environmental issues and how sustainable is denim fabric production.
They have their own Developement Centre where amongst other things, they develop new washing techniques for a more sustainable way of treating denim garments. Sustainability also means social responsibility.
When you source Candiani denim, you are buying premium quality denim that is soft to the touch, has an amazing color and innovative performance, as well as a much cleaner piece of fabric.
Candiani produces denim for some of the most prestigious brands in the fashion and denim world, like Stella McCartney, Denham and the eco-friendly denim of Liu Jo. Liu Jo recently launched a collection with 13 eco-friendly garments.
Kitotex is the only way Candiani denim is dyed and it replaced all the toxic chemicals that are normally added to indigo. Kitotex is the patented name for Kitosan, which is a natural polymer that is obtained from food waste, like recycled shrimp shells. It is used to cover the yarns after the dyeing process and replaces all the sizing agents, fixing agents and products such as polyvinilic alcool (PVA) that end up as micro plastic particles in our water.
Kitosan is 100% biodegradable and is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-static. Vegetal Chitosan has also been added, which reduces the consumption of water, chemicals and energy in the production process.
Is Denim Sustainable?
More and more fashion companies, from luxury brands to fast fashion brands, are implementing sustainability initiatives.
If you look at some of the innovative practices that these companies follow, then, it shows us how sustainable is denim and it is possible to have sustainable denim jeans.
I would like to hear you views on how sustainable is denim fabric, so if you have any suggestions or comments, then please leave them below and I will get back to you.