Imagine watering your garden for nine hours straight. That’s how much water – up to 10,000 litres – can go into producing one pair of jeans. From growing the cotton crop, to dyeing the cloth in your favourite shade of indigo, the humble jean is one of the thirstiest items in your wardrobe.
And its environmental impact doesn’t end there. The cultivation of conventional cotton, used in denim, accounts for 24 per cent of the world’s use of insecticides, and synthetic indigo dye has been found to leach out from factories into rivers with devastating effects.
Buying denim might seem fraught when you hear about how it’s made, but there’s a number of labels here in Australia and abroad producing garments with a lighter environmental impact. We’re a long way off from a zero-impact jean, but the options below are moving towards a more sustainable approach. The best part? They don’t compromise on style or cut.
New Zealand designer Gosia Piatek is one of the region’s strongest advocates for responsible fashion. Her decade-old label uses only fair-trade, GOTS-certified (Global Organic Textile Standard) organic cottons and minimal-impact fabric dyes. Piatek’s design approach is to keep things simple, classic and to do them well. The high-waisted, straight-legged Stage Jean wins for versatility. Made entirely from cotton, the slightly-rigid fabric holds its shape for a clean look.
Arnsdorf’s sustainable denim line didn’t come about easily. Designer Jade Sarita Arnott couldn’t find a denim both made from organic cotton and dyed with natural indigo, so she worked with a mill in Pakistan to develop her own fabric. Choose from a wide leg or slim look in white, ’90s pale blue, or dark indigo. All jeans are 100 per cent cotton and feature a leg-lengthening high waist.
The 17-year-old Swedish label has been peddling 100 per cent organic denim for men since 2012. The label produces a large array of styles and fits to suit any body shape, with prices sitting around the $240 mark. The company also emphasises looking after your jeans to improve longevity, and offers a free repair service. Once you’ve worn your jeans beyond repair, leave them at a Nudie store to be recycled and turned into other products.
L.A.-based label Reformation has carved out such a loyal following for its playful, youthful looks, it’s easy to forget fair production and sustainability are key tenets of its business model. Reformation’s range of denim jeans is made from either deadstock (fabrics deemed outdated or not useful by other companies) or surplus materials, in an effort to minimise waste. Style-wise, there’s plenty to choose from, especially if you like vintage washes and a classic mid-rise fit.
Ever wondered how we collectively began hankering for a pair of perfect Levi’s 501s? The fashion it-girls we saw sporting them hadn’t simply struck gold in a vintage store – more than a few were wearing jeans from Re/Done, an L.A.-based business started in 2014 by Sean Barron and Jamie Mazur. The label’s premise is simple: source unwanted Levi’s languishing in warehouses and recut them into sexy, modern fits. Every pair produced is a one-off but there are plenty of styles and washes to choose from.
The H&M Group-owned label has incorporated organic cotton into its products since its spring-summer 2017 collection. Its denim jeans are composed mostly of GOTS and OCS-certified (Organic Cotton Standard) cotton, but there are styles (particularly the skinnier fits) that also contain smaller amounts of elastane and polyester. The company is still making headway in the sustainability space and has big goals, including to someday make denim from recycled fibres. Cheap Monday is not yet the paragon of sustainable denim, but the brand is still worth a look for the sheer variety of styles it produces in organic cotton.
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