Welcome to Sustainability Week! While Fashionista covers sustainability news and eco-friendly brands all year round, we wanted to use this time around Earth Day and the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse as a reminder to focus on the impact that the fashion industry has on people and the planet.
Yves Saint Laurent loved denim so much he wished he had invented it. A blue pair of jeans, he said, were "the most relaxed and nonchalant" item in every woman's closet. "They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity — all I hope for in my clothes," he reflected. Few could disagree, but what the inimitable designer didn't foresee is the terrible impact our love of the blue stuff would have on the planet.
To put it bluntly, the denim industry has one of the worst ethical and environmental footprints in fashion. According to a recent Greepeace report, approximately 1.7 million tons of chemicals go into producing two billion pairs of jeans every year. Add to that the fact that it can take up to 7,000 liters of water to produce a single pair (no that's not a typo), and you're left with some pretty terrifying statistics.
Luckily, finding the perfect, guilt-free (or, at least, reduced guilt) denim is getting much easier. Major retailers like Levi's and Citizens of Humanity have begun overhauling their production practices and using innovative approaches and technology to reduce waste and pollution. (Even Gap has pledged to conserve 10 billion liters of water by 2020.) These companies, along with smaller boutique and rising direct-to-consumer brands, are bringing about real change in the industry. Here, we break down 10 brands making shopping for sustainable and stylish denim a cinch. Read on — and bookmark this page as a reference for all your future purchases.
Back in 2007 — and again in 2015 — Levi's tallied up how much energy and water it takes to make a pair of its iconic 501 jeans. Armed with that data, it's implemented a range of eco- conscious changes and strategic partnerships to protect Mother Nature's precious resources: In 2011, its designers came up with a technique called Water<lessTM, which has the capacity to save up to 96 percent of the water typically used in the denim manufacturing process. Levi's also works with Better Cotton Initiative and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition in an ongoing capacity and has vowed to switch exclusively to sustainable cotton by the year 2020.
Everlane's denim debut was six years in the making. Why? Because the brand was waiting on technology to catch up with its exacting eco-centric standards. That day finally came last year with the unveiling of Saitex, a LEED-certified facility that recycles 98 percent of its water and relies on alternative energy sources for power. Even the scraps don't go to waste—Saitex repurposes any excess denim into bricks which are then used to build affordable houses.
On the high-fashion frontier, Edun is rolling out some of the chicest sustainable denim on the market. In keeping with its brand ethos, its jeans are made in Kenya by artisanal craftsmen and are both certified Fair Trade and organic. Like Levi's, Edun works with the Better Cotton Initiative, which aims to dramatically reduce the environmental impact of cotton production.
Citizens of Humanity
After witnessing one of the worst droughts in Californian history, Los Angeles-based brand Citizens of Humanity has amped up its commitment to sustainable denim practices for 2018. Among other things, it's one of the first brands to adopt laser technology to add abrasions to its denim. This step saves gallons of water and reduces gas consumption by 20-30 percent. Citizens has also invested in high-efficiency dyes and washing machines that, together, reduce its power usage by over 70 percent.
AYR jeans boast some impressive eco stats: Each pair of Aloe Jeans is made from recycled denim and takes just one cup of water to manufacture from start to finish. Born and bred in downtown Los Angeles, the brand also donates a portion of its proceeds to charity each season. This time around, 20 percent of sales from its cult Aloe Jean will go directly to the Fresh Air Fund, which helps children from low-income communities enjoy outdoor summer activities and participate in year-round leadership programs.
Kowtow has been around for over a decade, but the minimalist brand waited until the Spring 2018 season to introduce a denim offering. Just like everything else it puts out, Kowtow jeans are made with sustainably and ethically sourced materials. The denim is 100 percent organic cotton; the zippers are nickel-free; and each pair is washed with Global Organic Textile Standard- approved enzymes, which ensure a sustainable dyeing process (aka no chemical leaching into the water chain).
Textiles make up almost 6 percent of the trash in U.S. landfills every year — which is why Reformation buys leftover denim (and fabric) from other designers for its cute-ass pieces. Some of its best denim hits include repurposed Levi's, tailored cut-off shorts and re-lined jackets. According to its website, its remanufactured clothing goes towards saving upwards of 13,000 pounds of CO2 emissions every year.
Eco-conscious denim got the high fashion treatment — Danish style — with the launch of Blanche in August 2017. Founders Mette Fredin and Melissa Bech make and design every piece in Copenhagen out of Global Organic Textile-approved and deadstock fabric. Prices are also also surprisingly affordable: Blanche denim ranges from anywhere around $150 to upwards of $200.
Outland's #zeroexploitation ethos began with a commitment to mitigate the risk of young women being exploited in the sex trade, but has since expanded to include the environment, too. In particular, it's using its jean production as a two-pronged means to help protect its core values: Outland grows its organic cotton on rural farmland in Cambodia and employs young women from the local community (who are statistically at a high risk of being exploited) to help tend to it. The brand recently scored an A+ in an external audit by the World Aid Ethical Fashion Report.
This New York-based brand's focus has been on sustainable denim since day one: DL1961 launched back in 2008 with four styles, all in the same wash. Ten years later, it continues to lead the conversation with its Pre-Fall 2018 collection. Using a trademarked material called Refibra, it's making denim out of cotton scraps and wood pulp that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
Warp + Weft
The majority of denim brands outsource raw materials like cotton, but Warp + Weft makes everything it uses from scratch. Because of this, the third generation, family-owned brand is able to guarantee transparency when it comes to best-practice sustainability. Its vertical factory recycles 98 percent of its water and uses a clever invention called Cutting-Edge Dry Ozone Technology to sidestep nasty chemicals, like bleach.
Boyish jeans are as far from the toxic dangers of synthetic dyes as you can get. Each pair is comprised of 30 percent recycled cotton and comes with buttons and rivets created from waste metal scraps. To help offset what little energy its manufacturing process does use, the brand invests in a wide variety of nonprofits to help improve the health of planet — like Fair Trade USA, Solar Sister, California Coastkeeper Alliance and Friends of the LA River.
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