How to start shopping for more sustainable denim

Shopping for jeans? Canadian and international brands are working to produce denim that goes easier on the planet.

Canadian and international brands are working to produce denim that goes easier on the planet

(Left, credit:, courtesy: Triarchy)

It's no big secret that the fashion industry is a huge polluter. According to a report from the Global Fashion Agenda, in 2015 alone, the industry produced 1,715 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Many of us buy clothing that just doesn't last, use much water to clean clothes too often, and discard of clothing readily. And as with any huge, global problem, trying to overcome it as just one person can seem pointless. But a great place to start is with the way you shop for one of the most basic pieces in your wardrobe: jeans. The good news is, there are some Canadian and international brands working to produce denim in a more environmentally sustainable way.

"The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil, and denim is one of the worst culprits," says Ethan Song, CEO and co-founder of Montreal-based brand, Frank And Oak. "[Producing] the average pair of jeans uses more than 10,000 litres of water, and uses damaging chemicals to create desired washes and fades."

That's why when Frank And Oak expanded their denim collection in August, they decided to go the sustainable route, using new methods that reduce energy consumption and chemicals. They're also using software and lasers to design and implement the colouring, rips and other details that make jeans look aged. Although they're working to improve sustainability across all their offerings, "denim is an essential for many of our customers and we wanted to give people a responsible and environmentally conscious option," explains Song.

And they're not the only company that's giving us that eco-friendly option. Triarchy, another Canadian-run, LA-based label, re-launched their denim brand in 2017 with a view to make their entire process more sustainable. The brand's creative director and designer Adam Taubenfligel says, "the world doesn't need more jeans, and it certainly doesn't need unethically and unsustainably made denim."

Triarchy’s laundry facilities in Mexico (Image courtesy Triarchy)

Triarchy now uses post-consumer, recycled denim which they wash more sustainably, using ozone laundry (a process that replaces the usual chemicals used in laundry with electricity and oxygen), in LA or in their own sustainable laundry facilities in Mexico. That's where the factory that produces all their denim is situated, and 85 per cent of the water used in their process is reused. They finish their jeans with buttons made from recycled metals and labels made from recycled water bottles.

Of course, producing denim sustainably isn't cheap. A lot of the technology is new, which is more expensive to implement, and that translates to a higher cost for the consumer. When it comes to that cost, "it's hard to get the consumer to understand how damaging and wasteful traditional denim manufacturing can be to our planet's natural resources," says Taubenfligel.

That's a problem across the board for sustainable, local or ethically-made clothing — it's not easy to change people's mindset about how much something should cost when we're living in a world full of cheap, fast fashion. But, it seems like brands are stepping up and finding ways to offer us choices.

Everlane Authentic Stretch High-Rise Skinny Ankle Jean

Nudie Jeans makes their denim with 100 per cent organic cotton, offers free repairs to discourage you from throwing your jeans out, and they plan to replace their leather patches with paper this year. Everlane uses a denim facility that recycles 98 per cent of its water, runs on alternative energy sources and reuses the byproducts of the process. The jeans in the Waste>Less collection from Levi's are made with 20 per cent post-consumer waste. The denim pieces in H&M's Conscious Collection are partly made from old jeans and textile leftovers.

If you're looking at a pair of jeans this fall, and you're not sure how sustainable the brand's practices are, try popping them into an app like Good On You to find out how they rank. Educating yourself on what brands are (or aren't) doing to minimize the amount of waste and environmental impact that comes with producing denim means you won't have to depend on what their marketing campaigns would have you think.

Tara MacInnis is a Toronto-based writer and editor with a deep love for lipstick, jumpsuits and dogs. Follow her on Instagram @tara_macinnis.