Having spent months in elasticated waistbands and baggy sweaters, the return to denim might feel slightly strange. But it won’t be long before you fall back in love with the versatility and ease of the fabric.
And because it transcends ages, genders, countries and styles, it’s not going anywhere. In fact, for yet another year, it dominated the spring-summer catwalks. Wales Bonner opted for button-down dresses, Balenciaga went baggy with its jeans, while Victoria Beckham added denim to her collection for the first time ever. So, while you may think it’s a fabric of the past, there are in fact a host of new pieces to invest in now.
But before you embark on your pursuit on how to reincorporate it into your wardrobe, it’s worth considering the environmental and social impact of denim. According to Greenpeace, it takes an eye-watering 7,000 litres of water to create just one pair of jeans. Much of this water waste contains harmful chemicals, pesticides and coloured dyes that cause permanent destruction to ecosystems and local communities when put back into the waterways.
While there is a long way to go to make sure denim is less harmful, the good news is, we can make more eco-conscious decisions and invest in the right brands that are doing good. With denim one of the most wanted product categories when it comes to sustainable fashion, the growing interest in more ethical consumerism provides hope. Lyst, the global fashion shopping platform, for example, noted that searches relating to sustainable denim are up 108 per cent year-on-year.
Thankfully, you don’t need to spend hours trying to find your new favourite sustainable denim brand because we’ve done the hard work for you. From the increasingly popular Nudie Jeans to affordable newcomer nu-in, there’s something for every taste.
You may notice that many of these brands aren’t at the same price point as high street alternatives, but this is because the reality is sustainable and ethical fashion does cost more. The items reflect the true cost of the materials used, as well as maintaining the high standards of the factories and caring for the people behind the clothing. While these pieces might set you back a little more than usual, they will stand the test of time and you’ll be able to enjoy them for much longer.
When selecting the labels for this round-up, we tried to choose brands that were more affordable. Beyond this, the most paramount thing was the brand’s sustainable credentials and its efforts to do better – namely opting for recycled materials and transparent supply chains.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Nudie Jeans Hanna skirt black trace denim
According to Lyst, Nudie Jeans saw a growth in demand last year and we can totally see why it’s increasing in popularity. Using a high proportion of eco-friendly materials in its products, including GOTS-certified cotton (which limits the amount of chemicals, water and wastewater from its denim products), it also reuses most offcuts to minimise waste. As a member of the Fair Wear Foundation (a non-profit that works to improve the conditions of working in garment factories), it traces its supply chain and pays living wage as standard.
IndyBest pick: Nudie Jeans Hanna skirt black trace denim: £89, Nudiejeans.com
A denim skirt is an item that transcends trends, which is why we particularly loved this one from Nudie Jeans. With a regular fit and washed black colour, it really is a wardrobe staple and it didn’t come up too short (like mini denim skirts often can). We liked that there was a full transparency report on how the skirt is produced from where the raw materials were sourced to the manufacturer and transportation. It’s a big tick from us.
Buy now £89.00, Nudiejeans.com
Nu-in 100% recycled raw hem high rise straight leg jeans
If you’re yet to be acquainted with sustainable-focused fashion brand nu-in, now’s the time. A relative newcomer to the scene, founded in 2019, this is one of our favourite sustainable brands and has featured in our round-up of women’s loungewear, sustainable knitwear and women’s white T-shirts. While nu-in’s entire denim collection is noteworthy – and we’ve got our eye on the brand’s high rise raw hem denim skirt (£36, nu-in.com) – you simply can’t go wrong with a pair of straight-leg jeans. This particular pair are made from 100 per cent recycled cotton, and frankly, you wouldn’t know. The perfect fit, they have the weightiness you’d expect from a high-end brand, and thanks to the cut, they fit tight around the waist and bum before loosening up at the top of the thigh. Add them to your denim collection now – you won’t regret it.
IndyBest pick: nu-in 100% recycled raw hem high rise straight leg jeans: £53, nu-in.com
Using eco-friendly materials, including recycled materials, wherever possible, it’s on a mission to reduce the amount of chemicals, waste and wastewater it uses when producing clothing. As for its denim, it’s produced using 80 per cent less water than standard brands and reuses any offcuts to create cloth.
Buy now £53.00, nu-in.com
Lucy & Yak Easton organic denim dungarees in light wash blue
Lucy & Yak is yet another brand on a mission to prove that sustainable fashion needn’t cost a fortune, so much so it featured in our guide to the best women’s ethical fashion pieces for £50 and under. As brands go, it is doing a lot of things right. In terms of its working conditions, it ensures payment of above living wage in the final stage of production and monitors the health and safety issues by frequently visiting suppliers. That’s not all – almost all of its pieces are either made from organic or recycled materials, and when you receive your order it arrives in a 100 per cent recycled bag. It’s also on a mission to eradicate single-use plastic from production and distribution.
IndyBest pick: Lucy & Yak Easton organic denim dungarees in light wash blue: £65, Lucyandyak.com
These denim dungarees are made from 100 per cent certified GOTS-approved organic cotton, one of the highest standards of cotton production that makes sure strict environmental and social responsibility is adhered to in production and the entire supply chain. We were impressed with the sizing on offer, which is far better than most sustainable brands – from a size 4 regular to a size 22 regular (a leg 30), and the brand has recently introduced a longer leg 32 option for those who are a little taller. A relaxed fit, we cannot fault these retro dungas from one of our favourite brands.
Buy now £65.00, Lucyandyak.com
Outland Denim Amy wide leg
Using organic cotton to create its denim, this brand uses 91 per cent less water than conventional cotton. Its products are made using no agrochemicals, which are known to reduce soil quality, contribute to water pollution and severely affect the health of farmers. Plus, the brand’s water recycling system means 98 per cent of the water used is reintroduced. The factory is even powered through solar panels. Outland Denim’s sustainable credentials are as impressive as its ethical efforts. It also offers sustainable employment and training opportunities to women who have experienced exploitation and makes sure workers are paid a living wage. Working closely with stakeholders globally, from universities to governments and even the UN Global Compact Network, it’s passionate about creating industry-wide change in supply chains and eradicating exploitation.
IndyBest pick: Outland Denim Amy wide leg: £160, Outlanddenim.co.uk
With Gen Z declaring skinny jeans over we were excited to try out Outland Denim’s wide leg jeans. Despite being made from 100 per cent natural fibres, these had the same non-stretch properties you’d expect from your favourite pair of jeans, which worked to accentuate the bum. We can totally see why Meghan Markle is a fan of the brand (she wore the black Harriet high rise skinny (£155, Outlanddenim.co.uk) during their tour of Australia).
Buy now £160.00, Outlanddenim.co.uk
Kuyichi Chelsea sherpa jacket dark indigo
Another Dutch denim brand making waves, Kuyichi shares its sustainability reports on its website – outlining everything from how and where it sources its materials and the working condition standards to the process taken to create each piece. Using recycled materials wherever possible and eco-friendly, GOTS cotton, it’s doing its bit for the planet. As for its social impact, it clearly cares about its workers – as a member of the Fair Wear Foundation, it monitors the health and safety conditions within its production chains by regularly visiting them. Finally, it pays living wage in most of its supply chains and is working to further improve wages.
IndyBest pick: Kuyichi Chelsea sherpa jacket dark indigo: £147.58, Kuyichi.com
The denim outer of this jacket is made from 100 per cent GOTS-certified organic cotton while lining is made from 55 per cent recycled polyester. Detailing the entire production, including where the fabric is made, this really is a wardrobe essential. Both stylish and warm – win, win.
Buy now £147.58, Kuyichi.com
MUD Jeans relax rose dip – black
MUD Jeans works on a circular economy, encouraging customers to return worn jeans so they can be upcycled and sold as vintage pairs. Each pair returned is shredded, cut into pieces and blended with Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton to create new denim yarn; a process that reduces water and chemical usage. MUD also offers a free repairs service and a lease programme where you can rent a pair of jeans on subscription (£6.82 per month for 12 months).
IndyBest pick: MUD Jeans relax rose dip – black: £104, Mudjeans.eu
This brand knows a thing or two when it comes to denim, which became clear as soon as we put these jeans on. Made from a blend of post-consumer recycled cotton (40 per cent) and organic cotton (60 per cent), these are the same non-stretch material you’d expect from non-sustainable brands. With a straight leg cut, these accentuated the bum perfectly and didn’t fit too tightly around the thighs. A big thumbs up from us.
Buy now £104.00, Mudjeans.eu
E.L.V. Denim mid blue match straight leg jeans
Environmental and social sustainability are at the heart of E.L.V. Denim (east London vintage). With a zero-waste ethos, it gives a second life to a fabric that would otherwise be destined for landfill. E.L.V.’s jeans are made from discarded denim that is reworked into contemporary and covetable styles, from straight leg jeans to Seventies flares. Every item in the collection is made locally in east London to keep the carbon footprint to a minimum and to support local communities. While the average new pair of jeans uses 7,000 litres of water, E.L.V. DENIM jeans use a mere seven.
IndyBest pick: E.L.V. Denim mid blue match straight leg jeans: £245, elvdenim.com
The fit of these straight legs jeans is second to none thanks to the stiff and supportive fabric. With a high waist design that offers a silhouette that accentuates the waist, while the cut hugs the bum perfectly. Each pair is slightly unique since they’re made from offcuts, but this one is made from two similar blue denim fabrics to create a vintage-look jean. We’d recommend sizing up as these tend to run small.
Buy now £245.00, elvdenim.com
Tommy Hilfiger mom super high rise tapered jeans
We’re always sceptical about including high street brands in a round-up of sustainable labels often owing to greenwashing. But, Tommy Hilfiger recently joined forces with Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a non-profit that promotes a circular economy within the fashion industry, and the brand has unveiled its first circular denim collection based on traceability and recyclability. The seven-piece collection includes jeans and jackets with a focus on where the materials have come from.
IndyBest pick: Tommy Hilfiger mom super high rise tapered jeans: £90, tommy.com
Made from 100 per cent organic cotton, these were created using Ellen MacArthur’s jeans redesign guidelines, an initiative encouraging brands towards a circular economy and making clothing that is durable, recyclable and good materials. With a super high waist and mom fit, these have a vintage-inspired look we love.
Buy now £90.00, Tommy.com
Newcomer to the sustainable denim market, Pin Denim was founded by ChloeÌ Culpin in lockdown with the goal of helping people find the perfect fitting vintage jeans. Knowing how difficult it is to buy jeans online, the brand takes the hard work out of sourcing vintage-fit jeans and the collection offers a carefully curated selection of the best fits, washes and quality. While the brand stocks affordably priced items on the website, with weekly Sunday drops of new designs, you can also send your measurements and the team will source something entirely for you. We’d suggest keeping an eye out on its Instagram page because it’s certainly popular. A firm favourite, we absolutely love this service and can’t wait to see it go from strength to strength – certainly one to watch.
Thanks to the brand’s helpful size guide, which details how to work out your exact measurements, Pin Denim is the ideal destination if you’re hunting for a pair of jeans that will fit perfectly. Owing to being vintage, each pair of jeans is different, but we found these ones a great fit, mostly down to the team’s excellent service. Not only a high-quality denim, but they were even taken up to make sure they were the perfect fit on arrival. A great service all round.
Buy now £75.00, Pindenim.uk
The verdict: Women’s sustainable denim brands
There are undoubtedly some seriously notable brands in this round-up, with the likes of Lucy & Yak proving that more sustainable and eco-friendly practices needn’t cost a fortune, while Pin Denim is making waves by making vintage denim shopping that bit easier. But Nudie Jeans came up trumps not least because of its high-quality denim offering, but because of its transparency from the supplier of the raw materials to the stages of manufacturing.
For more sustainable fashion picks read our 11 best sustainable swimwear brands for women