The Best Sustainable Jeans Labels for Guilt-Free Style

20 min reading time

Today we’ll be looking at:

  • Why traditional denim manufacturing is unsustainable.
  • The dark truth of child labor in denim manufacturing.
  • How pesticides & insecticides are poisoning our cotton industry.
  • The best sustainable denim brands.

An American icon, jeans are the closet staple we all find ourselves reaching for, no matter our backgrounds. From a beloved pair of worn-in Levi’s to high-end styles from designers such as Prada and Louis Vuitton, jeans are woven into the fabric of style. 

However, denim is also one of the least sustainable products on the market today, with ethical and ecological concerns throughout the entire process. Beginning with cotton production to the finishing touches, denim can be a dirty business. 

In that case, can denim ever be sustainable? With exciting research and new technologies, innovative denim brands are taking on the challenge of making denim safe for their customers and the environment. 

As industry leaders work to change a notoriously destructive business, incorporating sustainable materials such as Tencel and REFIBRA and reducing water usage are top components of sustainable denim brands. Through our careful vetting process, we have rounded up some of the best sustainable denim brands making their mark in the industry so you can find your next beloved pair without guilt.

Why Traditional Denim Manufacturing is Unsustainable

Denim is primarily made from cotton—a renewable material with several advantages in comfort, breathability, and versatility. As a natural fiber, cotton is biodegradable and can be grown worldwide, making it a widely available resource for denim production.

However, it is essential to consider the environmental impacts associated with conventional cotton farming, such as water consumption, pesticide use, and land degradation.

Typically produced in water-scarce areas such as China, India, and Pakistan, the cultivation of cotton results in barren production areas and deprives local residents of resources due to the high water demand needed to sustain its production. 

Creating a single pair of jeans could take up to 2,500 gallons of water with rewashing, a typical step in the process after the jeans have been cut and finished.

The Dark Truth: Child Labor in Cotton Harvesting

The production of denim—which relies heavily on cotton—unfortunately involves the widespread use of child labor in some regions. In these areas, children as young as six are forced to work in cotton fields, picking the crop by hand. This exposes them to dangerous working conditions and robs them of their right to education, safety, and a nurturing childhood.

  1. Health dangers: Kids who toil away in cotton fields face multiple health risks. They are exposed to toxic pesticides and work long hours in harsh weather, which can lead to immediate and long-term health problems like respiratory issues, skin irritations, and chronic illnesses.
  2. Missing out on education: When children are made to work in cotton harvesting, they often miss out on essential years of schooling. This lack of education narrows their future prospects and keeps them trapped in a cycle of poverty and exploitation.
  3. Exploitation: Child laborers in the cotton industry are frequently taken advantage of, with low wages, grueling work hours, and substandard living conditions. They may also endure physical, emotional, and psychological abuse from those who employ them, making their situation even more difficult.
  4. Legal and ethical concerns: Employing children in cotton harvesting not only breaches international labor laws and human rights agreements but it also raises serious ethical questions. Both brands and consumers need to ensure that the products they buy don’t contribute to child exploitation in the supply chain.

Ethical denim brands are committed to sourcing their cotton from suppliers that adhere to strict labor standards, ensuring that child labor and exploitation are not part of their production process. By purchasing from these responsible companies, consumers can encourage more brands to adopt ethical practices and help eradicate child labor from the denim industry.

How Pesticides & Insecticides are Poisoning Our Cotton Industry

According to the Environmental Justice Foundation, cotton uses 6% of the world’s pesticides and 16% of insecticides, making it one of the world’s dirtiest crops. 

These pesticides also contribute to water pollution in local production areas. In denim manufacturing capitals of the world such as Xintang and Guaro, Greenpeace found five heavy metals in the waterways in 17 out of 21 samples where wastewater from denim production is typically deposited. 

This water pollution heavily affects the local residents, particularly with reproductive and fertility problems. Additionally, in the local river, the Xiao Xi, no living fish are in the water due to toxicity. 

These pesticides and insecticides don’t just affect the ground where they are used but also the workers spraying these toxic chemicals. Pesticide poisoning is extremely prevalent for cotton farmers with an average of two in five workers reporting pesticide poisoning in 2021 with symptoms ranging from vomiting to seizures and potentially more life-threatening symptoms such as fluid in the lungs. 

Indigo and Beyond: Synthetic Dyes in Traditional Denim

In conventional denim production, synthetic dyes play a starring role, infusing our beloved jeans with a wide range of colors and shades. While these dyes have revolutionized the denim industry by offering consistent and vibrant hues, they also come with a hidden cost: their impact on the environment and human health.

Synthetic dyes are typically derived from petroleum-based chemicals, which undergo a series of chemical reactions to produce the desired color. While these dyes offer a high degree of color control, the process generates hazardous byproducts, some of which can harm the environment and human health.

These synthetic indigo dyes are extremely polluting and incorporate toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde in the synthesizing and dying processes. According to the University of Georgia, the denim industry uses over 45,000 tons of synthetic indigo a year, as well as 84,000 tons of sodium hydrosulfite and 53,000 tons of lye.

Microfiber Washoff Ends Up In Our Water Supply

With the rise of skin-tight and stretch jeans, microfibers are becoming an increasingly prevalent problem as polyester and denim fibers are shed during the wash cycle of jeans. According to new research, an unsettling amount of 56,000 microfibers are shed on average per wash of a single pair of jeans. 

These microfibers are found in soils, oceans, and even the air in countries worldwide. Researchers from the University of Toronto were shocked to find blue jean microfibers in places as remote as the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. 

To prevent this influx of microfibers into the environment, scientists are urging the general public to limit the frequent washing of jeans.

The Process of Making Sustainable Denim

As the dangers of the traditional denim industry come to light, changemakers and brands alike are taking dramatic steps to transform this dirty industry into a circular and sustainable business model. Innovation and tradition converge as brands take a step back from using modern synthetic dyes in favor of the more traditional natural plant dyes that, while more expensive than synthetic dyes, have a dramatically smaller cost to the environment. 

Materials such as organic cotton and Tencel Lyocell have redefined jean material with sustainable substitutions as opposed to pesticide-heavy cotton. Made of wood pulp from eucalyptus trees, Tencel’s cellulosic fibers not only make the jeans stronger and more durable but also use a fifth of the land and 20 times less water compared to traditional cotton

To reduce toxic waste during the washing process, eco-friendly processes such as neutral enzymes, ozone washes, and nanobubbles are used in place of harsh chemicals. Previous intensive and polluting methods of pumice stones and stone washes are being replaced with laser finishes and faux stones to create the vintage effects that shoppers love such as fading and whiskering. 

Combining ever-changing technology with a desire to do better, sustainable denim brands are transforming the way we see our favorite pair of jeans. Through eco-friendly materials and processes, their jeans are not only healthier for the wearers and the environment but also are becoming fully circular with recycling programs in place.

How to Care For Your Sustainable Denim

There is nothing quite like finding a favorite pair of jeans, those ones your hand constantly gravitates towards. That worn-in, perfect fit is just enough to boost your confidence as you step out the door, ready to tackle the day (or night). 

Nevertheless, there is a proper way to take care of your favorite pair so you may wear them for years. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t typically have to wash jeans as often as you may think. 

Built to be durable and hardy, jeans can be worn multiple times without needing to be tossed in the washer and dryer. By minimizing frequent washing, jeans last longer and are less likely to shrink. 

When things get dirty, we recommend spot-treating specific areas of concern rather than a full wash process. If you need to wash your favorite pair fully, turn the jeans inside out and use cold water to minimize fading and wear. 

Always hang or lay flat to dry for drying to reduce the risk of the fibers shrinking in the hot machine dryer. 

How We Picked The Best Sustainable Brands

As more brands adopt sustainability into their ethos, it can be challenging to differentiate between those making a positive impact and those prioritizing greenwashing over genuine sustainability efforts.

The brands below integrate ecological and ethical practices into each aspect of their design and manufacturing while not compromising style or comfort. 

With jeans built to last for decades, these classic styles fuse vintage versatility with modern silhouettes that eschew fleeting trends or fads. Verified by third-party audits, these brands meet the highest standards of environmental responsibility, with customer education and transparency a foundation of their labels.

Boyish Jeans

StylesStraight | Skinny | Tapered | Flare | Wide leg | Denim shorts | Skirts (Dresses & Jackets also available)
Sizes22 – 32 (women’s only)
Inseam27″ – 34″
MaterialsOCS-certified organic cotton | Recycled cotton | GRS recycled fabrics | Deadstock fabrics | Tencel Lyocell | REFIBRA technology

Made InThailand
Price Range$178 – $208
Where to Buy?

Established in 2018, Boyish Jeans is a Los Angeles-based women’s sustainable denim brand. Inspired by men’s fabrics and silhouettes but with mindful tailoring designed for women’s bodies, this brand is evocative of your favorite vintage jeans. 

Boyish thoughtfully integrates sustainability and ethics into every aspect of the business to ensure minimal environmental impact. Using one-third of the amount of water typically needed to produce a pair of jeans, Boyish also tackles the imposing problem of water pollution by recycling water to keep toxic chemicals out of the local waterways. 

Ensuring customer safety is a top priority as they are Oeko-Tex Standard 100 approved, use natural dyes instead of synthetic dyes, and opt for reduced indigo from Dystar with approximately 80 percent fewer sulfates. 

Their textiles consist of sustainable materials such as certified organic cotton, Tencel Lyocell, and recycled fabrics while also replacing traditional plastic fibers with exciting REFIBRA technology.

Their collection includes a range of pants in various silhouettes and denim shorts, skirts, dresses, and jackets. With a price range of $178-$208, Boyish is moderately priced, and they are also offering some of their jeans at a lower price point through their online consignment shop. 

A haven for denim lovers on a budget, customers are invited to purchase pre-worn Boyish items at reduced prices and sell their used pieces in exchange for money or brand credit for new purchases.  

Triarchy Jeans

StylesStraight | Barrel Leg | Baggy | Skinny

Sizes24 – 32 (women’s only)
Inseam26” – 32”
MaterialsOCS-certified Organic Cotton | Tencel | 100% Cotton Vintage Denim | Natural Rubber
Made InIstanbul
Price Range$265 – $435
Where to Buy?, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Shopbop, Anthropologie

Founded by three siblings, Triarchy Denim prides itself on combining eco-responsibility with a family-rooted love of denim, offering women’s styles made of organic denim and Tencel.

Cut and sewn at STROM, this Istanbul-based manufacturer uses a patented Blue Drop sustainable production solution for their clients that requires less water and energy to create. Along with their core collection, Triarchy Denim offers seasonal fashion-forward designs for the sustainable shopper who wants their jeans to have a bit of edge.


Women’s StylesStraight | Relaxed | Skinny | Curvy | Wide Leg
Men’s StylesSkinny | Slim | Tapered | Athletic | Straight
SizesWomen’s: 23 – 33 | Men’s: 28-40″ waist / 28 – 34″ Length
Inseam25.5 – 31”
MaterialsGOTS and OCS-certified Organic Cotton | Tencel Lyocell x REFIBRA | Recycled Polyester
Made InVietnam
Price Range$78-128
Where to Buy?

A leader in eco-responsible design, Everlane’s denim collection provides moderately priced sustainable denim pieces for men and women in classic silhouettes.

Using GOTS and OCS-certified organic cotton for their more rigid styles and recycled polyester for stretch styles, Everlane also has a signature Curvy Way High Jean designed to fit hourglass shapes perfectly.

Their transparent pricing model ensures customers receive quality products without heavy markups with a denim collection that retails between $78-$128.

Outland Denim

Women’s StylesStraight | Baggy | Skinny | Relaxed | Wide Leg
Men’s StylesSkinny | Slim | Tapered | Athletic | Straight
SizesWomen’s: 23 – 34 | Men’s: 28 – 40″ waist / 31″ length

Inseam26.5 – 32”
MaterialsOrganic Cotton | Tencel | Recycled Cotton | Recycled and Virgin Polyester
Made InCambodia
Price Range$189 – $249
Where to Buy?

Originally founded to provide a safe place to work for victims of sexual exploitation, Australia’s Outland Denim has put itself at the forefront of sustainable and ethical design. Built on their pillars of human empowerment and environmental sustainability, their organic cotton line is a place of constant innovation as they look for new methods and materials to reduce environmental impact.

With an emphasis on customer transparency, they have their 2020 sustainability report on the website where customers can learn more about their processes and the people who make their clothes, as well as future goals.

ELV Denim

Women’s StylesStraight | Boyfriend | Flare | Corduroy
Men’s StylesStraight | Garcon | Flare
SizesWomen’s: 23-34 | Men’s: 28-40” waist / 31″ length.

Inseam26.5 – 32″
MaterialsUpcycled deadstock denim material from vintage warehouses in the UK
Made InUK
Price Range$370 – 820
Where to Buy?, Net-A-Porter, Matches, and Reve en Vert

East London Vintage, otherwise known as ELV Denim, creatively upcycles unwanted jeans destined for the landfill and creates new pieces for clientele in their London studio. In an effort to keep carbon emissions low, they source discarded jeans from vintage warehouses in the UK and use scraps of leather remnants from Tura London for their leather labels.

They also offer custom services for clients, such as made-to-order options (for out-of-stock styles), made-to-measure jeans, and bespoke services that include designing jeans in a rare colorway or reinventing a pair you already own. With upcycling a core ethos of their brand, they donate any unused scraps of denim to denim artist Ian Berry and local schools and universities to use in their textile classes.

Warp + Weft

Women’s StylesSkinny | Straight | Wide Leg | Maternity
Men’s StylesSkinny | Slim | Straight
Sizes00 – 24 (Women’s), 29-42” waist / 30-32” length (Men’s)
Inseam26.5 – 32”
MaterialsCotton, Tencel, Lycra
Made InPakistan
Price Range$88 – 98
Where to Buy?

With a goal of making sustainably-minded denim accessible for all, Warp + Weft’s size-inclusive and affordable denim styles are a great option for those looking for sustainable jeans on a budget.

With styles for men and women, including maternity styles, Warp + Weft’s impressive size range tackles the ever-present problem of sustainability and inclusivity with flattering pieces that can be worn confidently. 


StylesSkinny | Straight | Relaxed | Flare | Wide Leg | Cropped
Sizes24-32 (women’s)  
Inseam26.5 – 31″
MaterialsOrganic cotton | REFIBRA Tencel
Made InMexico
Price Range$168 – $238
Where to Buy? and also Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and select boutiques

Spanish for “Ethical”, Etica Jeans is rooted in supporting the local and global community at large with their sustainable denim offerings. Made in a family-owned and operated factory and wash house in Puebla, Mexico, ÉTICA is committed to supporting the workers who make their brand possible with living wages, health benefits, and free meals.

With certifications including the Worldwide Responsible Apparel Coalition and the Re/Make Seal of Approval, ÉTICA makes sustainable denim and constantly looks for ways to support the local community where their jeans are made.

Their on-site water purification system feeds local farmland and in a mission to reduce waste, they compress used wash stones into bricks donated to build low-income housing in the area. 

Nudie Jeans

Women’s StylesSkinny | Straight | Relaxed | Wide Leg | Cropped
Men’s StylesStraight-Leg | Tapered | Bootcut
SizesWomen’s: 24-36 | Men’s: 24 – 38
InseamWomen’s: 28 – 34″ | Men’s: 28-36″
MaterialsOrganic cotton, recycled cotton, lyocell, recycled elastane, recycled polyester
Made InTunisia
Price Range$185 – 400
Where to Buy?

Built to last, Nudie Jeans utilizes sustainable materials and production methods and offers a repairs program for customers that encourages a rethinking of a garment’s lifetime.

They promise free repairs forever to clients and have in-store repair partners, a mobile repair station, and a DIY repair kit on their website that is free of charge for those wanting to try their hand at doing the repairs themselves. In 2021 alone, they repaired 42,500 jeans. 


Women’s StylesSkinny | Straight | Boyfriend | Flare | Bootcut | Wide
Men’s StylesSkinny | Tapered | Slim | Slim Straight | Straight | Wide
SizesWomen’s: 23-34 | Men’s: 28-42
InseamWomen’s: 27-33″ | Men’s: 30-34″
MaterialsCotton | TENCEL Lyocell | Recycled Polyester
Made InPakistan
Price Range$125-429
Where to Buy? and Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue

Touted as a denim brand with a circular mindset, DL1961 says they’re raising the bar not only for themselves but for the denim industry at large. Overseeing the entire process from fiber to the final product, DL1961 shreds old denim and post-consumer textile waste to be woven into new yarn to create pieces for their collection.

They also have introduced their Digitag program, which is a QR code on the inside waist of the jeans which allows customers to see the complete journey of the jeans from the very beginnings of the fiber to the finished product. 


Women’s StylesSkinny | Straight | Wide Leg | Bootcut
Men’s StylesStraight | Slim
SizesWomen’s: 23-34 | Men’s: 28-42
MaterialsDeadstock denim from mills in US, Italy, and Japan
Made InLos Angeles
Price Range$199
Where to Buy?Styles are available directly on

LA-based Neems is working to eliminate the problem of over-production with their customized jeans made to order from deadstock fabric. Customers begin the customization process by choosing their jeans’ style, rise, wash, and stretch via the website and then are sent an email with instructions on how to use Neem’s Mobile Body Scanner.

The Body Scanner effectively measures the customer’s body to create a pair of perfect-fitting jeans cut, sewn, and washed in Los Angeles. For those who wish to opt out of the mobile body scan, Neems also has step-by-step measuring videos that work to ensure a flawless fit. 


Women’s StylesSkinny | Slim | Straight | Flares | Relaxed | Cropped
Men’s StylesSkinny | Slim | Straight | Relaxed
SizesWomen’s: 24 – 34 | Men’s: 28 – 40

InseamNot listed
MaterialsOrganic cotton | Recycled cotton | Recycled polyester
Made InJapan and Los Angeles
Price Range$158 – $348
Where to Buy?

Previously launched in Tokyo in 1961, EDWIN has also launched in the USA, focusing on innovation while still staying true to their core values of authenticity and craftsmanship.

Manufactured at SAI-TEX, the “Cleanest Denim Factory in the World, EDWIN provides classic jeans with a purpose. The transparent materials index on their website outlines all of the materials they use, categorized from more sustainable to less sustainable.

They’ve also partnered with STELAPOP (Save Trees* Eliminate Landfill* Protect our Planet) which re-uses denim scraps to be transformed into furniture or multipurpose panels that can be used instead of wood to build furniture. 


Women’s StylesFlare | Boyfriend | Slim | Wide Leg | Skinny
Men’s StylesTapered | Straight | Slim
SizesWomen’s: 24 – 32 | Men’s: 28 – 38
InseamWomen’s: 29-31″ | Men’s: 30 – 34″
MaterialsOrganic cotton, recycled cotton, recycled polyester
Made InVietnam, Sewn in Los Angeles
Price Range$178 – $248
Where to Buy?

Founded by esteemed surfer Kelly Slater, Outerknown’s brand includes exclusive S.E.A. jeans that are built for life. Made with organic cotton from premium denim mills worldwide, S.E.A. jeans are locally sewn in their Outerknown studio in Los Angeles.

With each style on the website, they transparently share where the denim came from for men’s and women’s styles. They also have a re-sell marketplace on their website called Outerworn, where shoppers can buy and sell pre-loved pieces.

EB Denim

StylesStraight | Cropped | Flare | Baggy
Sizes23 – 32
InseamNot listed
MaterialsUpcycled Levi 501s
Made InLos Angeles
Price Range$225 – $350
Where to Buy?

Designer Elena Bonvinci’s EB Denim brand was founded from a passion for upcycling denim into new creations.

Produced exclusively in Los Angeles, EB Denim reconstructs vintage Levi 501s into one of a kind styles that have drawn the eyes of celebrities.

Famous for their edgy designs, they have now introduced their line of contemporary sustainable denim on the website but continue to stay true to their roots with a section on their website for all reworked denim styles. 


Women’s StylesSkinny | Slim Straight | Straight | Baggy | Wide Leg | Bootcut | Flare
Men’s StylesSlim Fit | Relaxed | Straight | Baggy
SizesCustom-fit according to the 3D body scan
InseamCan customize length to be regular, cropped, or cuffed
MaterialsOrganic cotton | Recycled cotton | BCI cotton | Lycra
Made InChina and Turkey
Price Range$200 – 215
Where to Buy?

Making jeans one pair at a time, Unspun’s business model works to reduce waste through their tailored approach that eschews traditional sizing for a fully customized fit.

Once customers order their preferred silhouette and customizations, such as rise and length, they use the Unspun iPhone app to take a 3D scan of their body.

To incorporate sustainability in all their business practices, they source premium denim from around the world and employ best practices such as using chemicals from Bluesign system partners, nebulizing technology from Tonello, and closed-loop water recycling. 

Bliss and Mischief

StylesStraight Fit
Sizes25-34 (women’s)
Inseam28 – 30″
Materials100% cotton deadstock denim
Made InLos Angeles
Price Range$248 – $498
Where to Buy?

Bliss and Mischief’s made-to-order deadstock denim line is a love letter to vintage denim. While designer Hillary Justin originally sourced vintage Levi’s for her collection, she wanted to combine vintage denim feel with modern silhouettes by creating new styles from deadstock material from American Cotton Growers.

Bliss and Mischief also offer embroidered pairs that are made to order and take 2-3 weeks for delivery.

In Conclusion: The Power of Conscious Choices

Denim has long been a staple in our wardrobes. With a growing understanding of the environmental and ethical consequences associated with traditional denim manufacturing, the need for sustainable alternatives has never been more critical. We’ve highlighted the dark truths behind child labor, the detrimental impact of pesticides and insecticides, and the pollution caused by synthetic dyes and microfibers in the conventional denim industry.

Fortunately, innovative and responsible brands are paving the way for a more sustainable denim future, using eco-friendly materials and processes to create jeans that are better for the planet and its people. By consciously choosing to support these sustainable denim brands, we, as consumers, have the power to drive change in the industry and encourage other companies to prioritize ethical and ecological practices.

Caring for our jeans responsibly can also significantly reduce our environmental impact, extending the life of our beloved denim and minimizing microfiber pollution. Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to make conscious choices and demand more from the brands we support, embracing a greener, more ethical future for denim and the fashion industry as a whole.

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