Something I’d really like to explore on this blog is sustainable and ethically made fashion. For most of us, how we dress ourselves is a nice luxury, and I feel strongly that if I’m going to take advantage of the priviledge of buying “pretty” things to wear, I want to make sure no one is being exploited (including the planet) along the way. That said, while I feel hopeful that sustainable production is becoming more of a priority to designers, for many of us “ethical” clothing still conjures up stereotypes of a more “granola” bohemian style. While there is nothing wrong with that style, responsibly made goods have come to delve much further than one aesthetic, and there are plenty of classic, ethereal, and chic offerings available too! So I want to explore and share those things here…starting with the most essential of all wardrobe items.
Ahhh, a girl’s best friend: the perfect pair of jeans. Worn slumpy with a tshirt or fitted with a flowy silk blouse, jeans run the gamut from ultimate casual comfort to the foundation of a chic, polished ensemble. To me, they are like muscle memory. When I can’t think of anything else to wear, my hands just subconsciously go to my jeans drawer and pulls out a favorite pair. And I rely on that pair to do a lot! To be comfortable and keep its shape all day long, to highlight my assets (if you will), and to leave me feeling confident and looking my best whether its with aviators and a ratty old t-shirt, a lovely little blouse to go out in, or under a tailored blazer for more professional moments. That’s a long, diverse list of demands from some sewn up blue cotton, no?
What I’ve discovered is, when you count on one garment to do so much it’s imperative you find the right pair. A pair you can rely on, because when you do, you wear that pair to its dying day (which should be way off in the future when they disintegrate off your body), rather than buying 20 pairs that last a few months before their color gets wonky, they lose their shape, and they start fading in all the wrong places.
When I open my jeans drawer (they technically only take up half that drawer), I’ve got a handful of pairs: white jeans for summer, black jeans for a little edge, a pair of high waisted dark denim jeans, and a leftover pair of lower rise jeans that I rarely wear but have yet to toss just in case. I’m actively looking for the right pair of a lighter wash to invest in, but that’s it! To some of you, that is going to sound like a lot of denim, but to many others, that will sound like a pretty pared down drawer. I had the same pair of Imogene Elizabeth’s for about 5 years, and honestly they look every bit as good as the day I bought them. So yes, they were expensive initially, but when I think of a more moderate priced pair that I’d need to replace every year, I’ve actually come out saving money in the end – and with a pair that I’m constantly asked “where are those from?!”
Funny enough, I’ve found that the pairs that are sustainably made tend to be the ones that get the ravest of reviews and the ones I’ve been most impressed by. I’ve found that while being more thoughtful about their process of creating or resurrecting their denim sustainably, construction, fabrics, and overall quality are more thoughtfully considered along the way, generally creating a better product all around.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, I’ve found that there aren’t that many responsible sources for denim and that a good introductory rundown can be helpful for many!
I should start with my own personal favorite, the Nashville based Imogene + Willie. All of their denim is made here in the United States and in limited runs. They don’t carry many different styles of jeans, but they are like a lot of my favorite restaurants: they’ve sought to perfect their few offerings rather than offer a larger range of mediocrity. While the rest of this list features brands that have a wide array of offerings, I appreciate that denim is the main focus of I+W.
Their Elizabeth fit changed the game for me with jeans. The small company made a big splash back in the early days of Instagram, and I remember thinking “how in the world can anyone afford a pair of jeans that expensive?” (some of these can run you about $300). But once I tried on a pair and made the jump, I’ve been super surprised by the cost-per-wear breakdown, and how much less I’ve spent on jeans overall in the past several years. I bought my first pair of Elizabeths in a dark denim wash, and they fit me like a glove. They hugged me everywhere, and that uber dark shade made them versatile enough to wear with anything and everything: I ditched all my other denim, which previously were Madewell, Jcrew, and Citizens for Humanity. I wore the Elizabeths several times a week for about 4 years and they never stretched out, sagged, or showed much wear. The only reason I moved on to a new pair was because my waist line had expanded. So I sold them online!
That was another great perk about Imogenes – they hold their value and generally resell well. I took that money and bought the exact same pair, just in a larger size! I’ve also bought Elizabeths in white off of Ebay for a fraction of the full price cost.
True ultra high waist (the highest I’ve found, comes all the way up to the smallest point of my waist). Made of selvedge denim that never stretches out or gets saggy – I rarely wash these, and even with 30+ wears (and that is a conservative number) between washes, they still fit like a glove. You can customize the inseam length at no extra cost, and size offerings run from 23 to 32. I’ve owned a few pairs of Elizabeths now and have been to the Nashville storefront and tried on Catherines and a few other cuts, and they all fit true to size on me.
Other jeans may say they are “high rise,” but the Elizabeth’s are the only ones I’ve found to truly come as high as they should, and remind me a lot of vintage waistlines, which I find to be a super flattering on most because it highlights the smallest part of your waist. The Catherines have been on my wishlist for a while, and they feature the same ultra high waist, but in a more “boyfriend” style open leg.
If high waisted isn’t your thing, they have some mid- and low-rise options as well.
All made in the United States in very limited runs so as to not be left with a lot of unused / excess inventory. I also appreciate that you can send in your used jeans from them no matter when you bought them to get repaired, mended, or patched—they really promote the idea that these jeans are meant to last you a lifetime.
Ranges from $195-$295
(But psst: I scored a pair of new Elizabeth’s in white denim via Ebay for half the price directly from Imogene & Willie themselves!)
Produced through their self-proclaimed “world’s cleanest denim factory,” Everlane’s jean offerings come in at the most affordable price point. I always recommend them to anyone who says responsibly made goods are financially out of reach: at $68 a pair, these ring up to be on par or less than many popular mainstream spots, and their production standards for jeans in particular are incredibly impressive. And while I don’t actually own a pair of these myself, I have tried them on in multiple washes and was definitely impressed.
Overall, these felt super comfortable on and definitely hug the booty well. I did find their high rise to fit more like a mid rise on me, which was a little disappointing, but mostly because if I’m getting a high rise I want them ultra high. I love that these are offered in a variety of rinses. While I didn’t end up keeping a pair, Everlane jeans have plenty of rave reviews and are definitely worth a try on. One of the initial common complaints was that the inseam wasn’t long enough, but they’ve since released a longer option (and they also have an ankle cut version as well). I don’t think these would last as long as the Imogene + Willie pairs, but they are a great value, comfortable, and have an overall flattering fit with a variety of body types!
The production factory really impressed me—and they by far have the most thorough and transparent breakdown of how their denim is produced and how they define sustainability. I highly recommend reading through it!
The main environmental burdens denim production puts on the world is the immense waste of water and energy, and the toxic by-product sludge all denim produces. Everlane has addressed all three of these in substantial ways: they’ve created a LEED-certified facility that mostly runs on solar power, and utilizing 98% of recycled water that comes out sludge-free (and apparently so clean, its safe to drink!) on the other end. All the denim is air dried to further reduce energy usage. And that toxic sludge that is produced? It is extracted and safely mixed with cement to create building materials for affordable housing projects. All the while, the employees of these factories (like all Everlane factories) are in safe working conditions being paid fairly with benefits.
image source, wearing Levi’s Straight Skinny via Re/Done
A company focused on putting vintage back in the spotlight is a company after my own heart: Re/Done offers a large smattering of re-tailored vintage jeans and have also expanded to include their own private label denim collections.
I don’t own a pair of these, I’ve heard (and seen!) amazing things from personal friends. If you like a true high waist like me, you will get it with vintage! I love that these have been taken apart and resewn together for a more flattering, modern fit. I know first hand that it can be frustrating to hunt for the perfect vintage Levis. Often, even if they fit you like a glove around the waist and bum, they have that saggy bottom and not-so-flattering balloon leg. Each time I’d try a pair of true vintage 80s or 90s jeans on, I’d wonder “how in god’s name are all these beautiful people looking so good in these old jeans?” BECAUSE THEY HAVE BEEN TAILORED, my friends, that’s why.
I’ve heard that you do need to sometimes try on a few pairs before you land on the right one, so you are at an advantage if you have a retail spot carrying some of Re/Done’s denim. But the people I’ve seen rocking these have looked dynamite and swear by their comfort. Truth be told, these are on my wishlist big time.
Their sustainability efforts rotate around upcycling and local Los Angeles-based production. They originally started the brand by tailoring vintage jeans in a one-off fashion—which they still do!—and have since expanded to offer their own private label line where they create an entire size run in different styles, which is apparently still produced with recycled vintage denim.*
(note: I did reach out to Re/Done personally to confirm this about their private label collections, but never heard back from them. A local boutique here in Boston that carries Re/Done collections informed me that these lines were still created with recycled denim, which was a helpful tidbit but I wasn’t able to officially confirm that standard or more details via the brand itself)
(but psst: I often find some good deals on these via The Real Real, Poshmark, and Noisaf Bazaar—you’re welcome. You can also get 15% off if you sign up for their email list, and they have some of their pieces marked down for Labor Day Weekend right now)
Put on my radar by the sustainable-focused e-boutique Amour Vert, who have an exclusive collaboration line with AGolde, this seems like a great source for more “fashionable” or trend-oriented denim. They have a variety of cuts with a range of distressed styles if you prefer your jeans with a little bit of stylistic flair.
Agolde has a fairly wide variety of styles and they have a generous amount of stretch in them while still having somewhat substantial weight, which means they remain super comfortable while wearing.
I recently ordered the Roxanne Super High Rise Skinny with high hopes, but quite honestly I did find the fit of these less flattering overall: they hugged my waist and bum well, but had weird areas of slack under the seat and from the ankles up to the calves. I probably would have gotten a better fit everywhere else had I sized down a size, but then the waist wouldn’t have been a comfortable fit. I also got the feeling that because of the extra bit of stretch in these, they weren’t going to hold their shape well, stretch out, and get saggy, which is my number one pet peeve in a pair of jeans. You want them to fit perfectly and consistently every time you reach for them, and I’m not confident these would have held up. My other minor gripe is that while these were sustainably made, they were shipped in a large box with lots of plastic, tissue paper, and collateral, which all seemed counterintuitively wasteful given the thought that must have gone into to producing these more consciously, so that was a bummer. I ended up returning these. But comfort can definitely be subjective, so I’m leaving these on here as some people LOVE more stretch-based jeans, and they are a decent moderate price point for “premium” jeans.
All hand-crafted in Los Angeles, using organic and recycled cotton.
While a few people have tried to put AYR on my radar for sustainable denim, I had a hard time fact-checking their process on all their denim offerings. Instead—from what I could find—there is one particular pair of jeans they were quite transparent about regarding sustainability and production: The Aloe Jeans.
Unfortunately I cannot personally attest to their fit as I’ve never tried these on in person. I do hear amazing things about AYR as a whole, as it has established quite the cult-following over the past couple of years. Stylistically speaking, I do really like that this pair with its balance of unique flairs—the horizontal line at the calf, subtle fading, high waist, and cut off hem—while still seeming versatile enough to dress up and down! I’m definitely interested…though I don’t love the forced fading action shown on the backside, but to each their own and maybe that is less exaggerated in person!
AYR—standing for “All Year Round”— already focuses on consuming less by creating clothing that should be usable in one’s wardrobe year round, rather than being either disposable or not versatile enough to be a real work-horse. They went a step further by looking at denim production and how they can shake up standards in the industry. AYR denim focuses on alternative wash methods with a very conservative use of water (apparently only using one cup of water per pair of jeans, versus the 17 gallon industry standard).
I am definitely glad to see them taking steps in the right direction, but I’m little confused on why they limited this method to only one style of denim they produce. Why not apply this standard to all their offerings? While I’m sure the answer is a bit more complicated than what I can see as a consumer, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed (but I should note that all of their denim styles are made in LA, not just the Aloe). Regardless, the Aloe Jeans are a great option if you are an AYR lover.
(but I’m currently seeing them on Ebay for $55, and they also offer $30 off your first order if you sign up for their email list)
I also haven’t had the opportunity to try any of these on and don’t own any Reformation denim personally, but many of my friends do and LOVE them. They offer a very wide variety of fits and styles from simple and classic to those adorned with embroidery throughout, and lots of torn and distressed options as well—so if you are looking for variety in styles Reformation is a good resource.
Like Everlane, Reformation shares an impressive yet digestable amount of information about how they source and produce their goods as well as the payment and treatment of their employees at every tier of the process. I’m super impressed with their breakdown, highly recommend the easy read, and wish every company was required to do so.
Reformation takes a three-pronged approach to their denim with goals of using less energy / producing less carbon emissions, minimizing waste, and limiting water usage. What I thought was a super cool facet to their options was that you can click the “RefScale” tab (shown on every single one of their product pages) and see exactly what the savings in each of these facets are for that particular item. They also go the extra mile in making sure they are sourcing fibers from ethical producers, use recycled fibers when they can, and pay fair wages (with the goal of 100% living wages) and provide health benefits to all their workers.
(they are having a massive sale right now though FYI, with a lot of markdowns on denim)
Ok guys, phew! That was a lot to put together, but I hope this is a good resource for many of you on where to grab every closet’s most essential item. I also think its interesting to look at how each company defines sustainability in their supply and production chain. While there are certainly other sustainably made denim sources out there, they can frankly be surprisingly hard to come by and my hopes were to share my favorite sources and to showcase that they can really come at every tier of style and pricepoints!
So did your favorite make the list? Did I miss an awesome maker or resource? Want to share a little more on how you liked a particular pair of jeans or have some questions I didn’t address? Hit me up in the comments below!