Ethical Denim, 101

By Elizabeth Stilwell

You really only need one pair of jeans. One really good pair. Ideally of a raw (minimally processed) denim from a sustainable brand (or the elusive perfect vintage pair) and washed only occasionally. Below are some companies that are leading the sustainable, ethical, quality, and locally-made denim industry.

3Sixteen

3Sixteen is a NYC-based company founded in 2003 by Andrew Chen and Johan Lam. The brand utilizes raw indigo selvedge denim which is custom woven exclusively for them by Kuroki Mills and constructed in the US. Learn more about their process on the VSCO Journal

 

3×1

This 24 person NYC factory and showroom has the largest collection of selvedge denim in the world. There, you can buy off-the-rack or employ their bespoke service for jeans designed specially for you. 

I'm going to need my one pair of jeans soon (although I am going to try to repair the ones I have at Denim Therapy first) and I would really like to try the bespoke process. I may have to because of the continued omnipresence of skinny jeans and a lack of size ranges. I cannot sigh deeply enough about this issue. I don't like skinny jeans and I have a 34 inch inseam. 

 

Brooklyn Denim Co.

Brooklyn Denim Co. is located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where they provide a large selection of all types of denim including raw and washed denim, as well a denim related services such as denim tailoring and denim repair. Their selection includes many ethical brands, including some of the others listed here. 

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Howie's

Howie's is a small active clothing company based in West Wales. Their denim is made to last; it's made from organic cotton, triple stitched, with chain stitched hems, and unbleached waistbands. 

 

Imogene + Willie

Husband and wife founders Matt and Carrie Eddmenson run the Nashville,TN store named after Carrie's grandparents. History, quality, and community are integral to the brand which uses one of the oldest denim mills in the world: Cone Denim. Jeans are made at a factory within an hour's drive of Nashville.

 

IOU Project

From the site:

The IOU Project is a study in the creation of a Prosperity Chain; an experiment to rethink how goods are produced and sold in a way that benefits everyone and protects the environment.

Read more about their unique, handmade, traceable apparel here. They have jeans, among other items, and the site is incredibly interesting to peruse. 

 

JC Denim Co.

I really like what JC Denim Co. is doing. They are combining social enterprise in Cambodia and local production in Australia in an effort to make a real difference in the world. Watch the video below and read more here

 

 

 

Kuyichi

From the site: 

We started the organic revolution as being the first brand to produce organic jeans, and we still are. We want to be innovative in many ways, not only in our collections, but also on a sustainable level. Embracing the principle of the recycling process and aiming for a completely closed-loop collection. We're happy to see that we raised the bar for many companies around us and hope to inspire many more to come.

Read more about their corporate responsibility, sustainable concepts, and who makes their clothes

 

Level 99

Level 99 produces only women's jeans with an emphasis on femininity and trends. Even if their styles are trendy, their materials are long-lasting and sustainable. Most of their products contain Tencel or Modal made from sustainability harvested trees in a closed-loop process. They were pioneers of water-free and laser technology, using techniques like ozone chambers and low compression lasers to replicate the look of ‘washed’ jeans without water or chemicals. Level 99 also works with TerraPass on carbon off-setting the shipment of their product.

 

Mud Jeans

One of the coolest things about this brand is their lease philosophy. From the site:

We are a Dutch denim brand that dreams of a world in which there is no such thing as waste. What if we all clean up our own mess? This simple thought led us to a new way of thinking. Send your jeans back when you don’t wear them any longer. We reuse all materials, while you can switch to a new pair. Returned jeans are upcycled and transformed into one-of-a-kind vintage pieces. Or, when they are beyond repair, the jeans are recycled into new items. This is how we create our own circle of denim products.

 

Noble Denim

Noble Denim began 25 years ago and has (barely) weathered the outsourcing and trade agreements inflicted over those years. The 4 remaining employees in Cincinnati tirelessly evaluate options considering the materials available, and make the best product decisions they can. Their journey is transparent and you can see their supply map here.  Check out their own tips for denim care, like wait 6 months before washing a new pair! I don't know if these are unisex or if they will ever have jeans specifically for women, but I'm rooting for these guys!

 

Nudie Jeans

Swedish brand Nudie Jeans' website is informative, with sections like "How to Break-In a Pair of Dry Jeans," and encourages few washes, repair, reuse, and recycling. Select Nudie Jeans stores around the world will repair your worn in Nudie Jeans for free, or you can order a repair kit. Check out their detailed production guide for information on producers, audits, materials, and transport. I'm very impressed with the transparency of this brand and, hallelujah, they come in larger and longer unisex sizes and fits. 

 

Raleigh Denim Workshop

Husband and wife team Victor Iytvinenko and Sarah Yarborough started Raleigh Denim Workshop in 2007 in their hometown, Raleigh, NC.  They learned the history and techniques of traditional American jeansmaking through a series of informal apprenticeships throughout the state. They craft denim the old-school way at their Raleigh workshop and were recently accepted into the CFDA. 

 

Re/done

RE/DONE is one of my favorite concepts. There are so many great vintage jeans out there, but often the fit is a little off or too dated. RE/DONE takes Levi’s vintage denim apart at the seams and repurposes the fabric into new modern-fitting jeans. "RE/DONE is a movement – a movement to restore individuality to the luxury fashion space, a movement to keep heritage brands relevant, and a movement to create sustainable fashion." Quantities are limited and pairs are one-of-a-kind — sign up for their newsletter to get early access to new styles.

 

Skunkfunk

Skunkfunk has been moving towards more sustainability since 2004 when they moved to using better materials. Today, they use organic cotton, Lyocell, recycled polyester, and linen and want to have 100% of their environmentally friendly fibers certified in 2015. In addition, Skunkfunk staff regularly visit their suppliers to ensure compliance, work to reduce their carbon footprint, and utilize bioplastics and recyclables. Read more about the evolution of Skunkfunk here

 

Sonas Denim

Under the tagline, "Look good. Do good." Sonas Denim makes ethical, eco- friendly and vegan denim products. They also donate 10% of their profits to build an animal sanctuary which will help educate the public about animal welfare issues. The story of Sonas began with founder Gerry's beloved patchwork jeans and I'm sure the brand will continue to grow. 

 

TRAIDREMADE X ALEX NOBLE 2015 

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The UK’s leading fashion reuse charity TRAID is currently showcasing a new sustainable fashion collection for Traidremade: ‘Rights of Massive’, designed by Alex Noble. Founded in 2002, Traidremade launched to create sustainable clothes using upcycling and customization techniques to keep clothes from being thrown away. The Alex Noble collection includes a hand-painted and bleached denim collection. Profits raised from the sale of this collection will buy birth certificates for children of garment industry workers in Bangladesh, meaning the children will be recognised as citizens and can receive medical treatment and enroll in school.

 

 

Elizabeth StilwellABOUT THE AUTHOR

With a background in education, Elizabeth Stilwell produces engaging, actionable content as editor-in-chief of The Note Passer. A proud sustainability nerd, her aim is to be a resource for ethical alternatives that benefit both people and the environment. The Note Passer is inspiration for better, sustainable future; one that's full of more meaning and less waste. Elizabeth’s graphics, photography, and words have have appeared on EF Magazine, Moral Fibres, BF+DA, EcoGreenLove, and others. She is also a co-founder of the Ethical Writers Coalition , a group of writers who are furthering ethical and sustainable living online and in print.

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