Good Jeans: Sustainable + Ethical Denim

Excessive water use, harmful pesticides, toxic dyes, sandblasting, and exploitative labour. Your humble pair of denim jeans come from less than humble beginnings. Here are 8 denim brands who do it better.

Denim is a staple in pretty much every modern wardrobe. Dress them up, dress them down, a good pair of jeans can take you from casual to a night out. But did you know that denim has a sustainability problem? The process of manufacturing a pair of jeans is carbon intensive, emitting around 33.4 kilograms of carbon—the equivalent of driving 111 kilometres.

Over 2 billion pairs of jeans, made from cotton, are produced worldwide every year, and cotton is a thirsty crop, requiring high levels of irrigation and water intensive processing. On average each pair of jeans—which requires about a kilo of cotton—consumes around 10,000 litres of water according to UN statistics. With over 10% of the world population deprived of access to clean drinking water, this figure is staggering.

While cotton only takes up 2.5% of agricultural land, it also accounts for a disproportionate amount of insecticide (16%) and herbicide (6.8%) used worldwide. These agricultural chemicals have health impacts on workers in the field and on our ecosystems as excess run-off from farms enter the water supply. That iconic indigo blue colour further adds to the toxic brew of chemicals that we’re putting next to our skin, and into the environment, damaging rivers, ecosystems and entire communities in China, Bangladesh and India where the jeans are often manufactured. After agriculture, textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of fresh water globally. In fact, it is estimated that 70% of Asia’s rivers and lakes are contaminated by the 2.5 billion gallons of wastewater produced by the textile industry which impacts local communities who rely on these rivers for drinking and bathing.

Meanwhile sandblasting of denim—to give jeans a worn or ‘distressed’ look—is still widespread in China, despite most Western brands banning the practice ten years ago. It is linked to silicosis, a deadly lung disease that has already caused the deaths of many garment workers. There's a lot going on behind the seams of your favourite pair of jeans. Clearly the environmental and health impact of an average pair of jeans is just not worth it.