The 8 Best Sustainable Jeans of 2022

DL1961 is our top choice for environmentally friendly denim staples.

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A row of jean hanging on hooks.

Fancy Yan / Getty

Our classic closet companion, denim jeans, have a bad rap. Each year, approximately 2 billion pairs of jeans are churned out, with a single pair guzzling on an average 7,000 liters of water. What’s more, a staggering 1.7 million tonnes of chemicals are used in the dyeing process to get the much-loved indigo and other shades, adversely impacting the environment and people. Jeans are also adding to fashion’s problem of shedding microfibers with each wash.

The good news is that some brands are stepping up to improve how denim is made. These labels are constructing jeans with green-certified fibers, adopting eco-friendly technologies to reduce chemical and water usage, following ethical labor practices, and encouraging recycling. Moreover, by making smart consumer choices, whether swathing your legs in natural materials or jumping on to the No Wash Club, you can lengthen the life of your favorite denims by a long stretch.

So, have first dibs on the best sustainable jeans with a green heart.

Best Overall

DL1961 Premium Denim

DL1961 Bridget Bootcut

Courtesy of DL1961

Meghan Markle, Gigi Hadid, and Jessica Alba have all shimmied into denim from the sustainable and playful family-owned premium brand, DL1961. Taking trash and converting it into well-made, durable jeans, the brand is committed to the planet and people. DL1961 shreds denim discards and post-consumer waste, weaving them into new yarn with eco-friendly fibers such as Tencel and Modal (both are produced from wood pulp).

Energy-efficient, the closed-loop manufacturing process is powered by a solar plant. Using hi-tech waterless technology, each pair requires less than 10 gallons of water to make, and 98% of the water used is treated and reused. Kind to your skin, the comfy jeans are made using DyStar Liquid Indigo dyes that spout out lesser effluents.

DL1961 is also a member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s The Jeans Redesign. Following the guidelines, they are crafting circular, recyclable jeans for tomorrow that are made from safe, renewable materials and are built to endure. 

Best Budget

Levi's Jeans

Levi's Stretch Skinny Jeans

Courtesy of Levi's

By cleverly affixing copper rivets on denim workwear way back in 1873, Levi’s introduced the classic 501 Original blue jeans to the world, unleashing a fashion trend we have never quite recovered from. Levi’s offers the widest selection of denim at the best prices while pushing the envelope when it comes to reducing resources used and waste generated.

Levi’s works with softer and cleaner materials such as Tencel and cottonized hemp (hemp that’s soft like cotton). It has implemented its proprietary "Water<Less" technique that has saved around 4.2 billion liters of water and reused and recycled approximately 9.6 billion liters. Working with the world’s largest cotton sustainability program, Better Cotton Initiative, Levi’s is finding more productive and water-efficient cultivation methods for cotton, with a goal to source 100% sustainable cotton by 2025.

You can always revisit old classics through its SecondHand selection of vintage, thrifted jeans, jackets, and more, all patched up with loads of TLC. We also love that Chip Bergh, Levi’s CEO is a vocal proponent of the No Wash Jeans movement. He spot cleans grime and hand washes his jeans only when necessary, letting them drip dry.

Best Luxury

Amendi Denim

Amendi Karolina Jeans

Courtesy of Amendi

Founded by Corey Spencer and Andreas and Julia Åhrman, the Swedish-American Amendi (inspired by amendments) strives to improve fashion’s ethos with its low impact, high-quality clothing label. Amendi champions thoughtful earth-friendly design and clean industry practices with a strong sense of social responsibility.

It works with fabrics such as GOTS and OCS 100 organic certified cotton (both of which ensure the organic status of the fabric) and GRS certified recycled materials (it verifies the contents of the recycled products). Amendi has fostered deep relationships with suppliers, listing in detail each on its website, and has embedded transparency in its supply chain so you can track the journey of these jeans from cradle to grave.

If that’s not enough, the Fabrication Facts tag dangling off each item reveals the complete story. It breaks down every nitty-gritty, right from each certification received and every dollar spent, to how much the company gave back and the number of people involved in the entire process.

Best Black Denim

Boyish Jeans

Boyish Jeans The Casey Jean

Courtesy of Boyish Jeans

Second only to Indigo-colored jeans are black denims. Boyish nails the smoky silhouette with its sustainable black and charcoal shade jeans. These timeless, vintage-inspired togs are super versatile, perfect for a casual meeting or a night out.

OEKO-TEX STANDARD 100 approved (free from toxic chemicals and safe for human use), Boyish’s upcycled jeans are run through a black eco wash and use natural plant-based dyes. A durable blend of OCS 100 certified organic cotton, GRS-certified recycled cotton, and Tencel, they’re PETA-approved vegan and don’t sag on the derrière after a few washes. Boyish is also a part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s The Jeans Redesign that’s taking fashion towards a circular economy.

Best Inclusive

Warp + Weft

Woman wearing white top and light jeans

Warp + Weft

Sara Ahmed (she is also the chief creative officer of DL1961 that’s owned by her family) is behind this accessible denim and essential wear label that “creates sustainable products for everybody and every body.” The company currently serves 75 different body sizes, shapes, and heights, and is even pushing to embrace more.

Women can pick from sizes 00-24, while men’s sizes go up to a 48 waist. Most importantly, the manufacturing process is vertically integrated, meaning the company has complete control from processing the cotton to the final wash treatment in its ethically run and ecologically managed factory.

What’s more, it produces its own denim fabric from scratch, creating unique blends from materials like cotton, lycra, and Tencel. The jeans suit just about every body type, while letting you breathe.

Best Unisex

Nudie Jeans Co.

Nudie Jeans Co. Tuff Tony Snake Eyes Selvage

Courtesy of Nudie Jeans Co.

Jeans are a wardrobe staple that have blurred the gender binary for decades. Nudie Jeans, a GOTS-certified company, makes responsible, seasonless, sustainable, and genderless denims primarily from organic, Fairtrade, or recycled cotton. Nudie Jeans are known for their unisex fits (though the label points out that Hightop Tilde, Breezy Britt, Straight Sally, and Clean Eileen are specifically designed for women, men can work the look too).

In 2020, the company produced 98.6% of its products sustainably, containing at least 70% sustainable fibers. It also encourages shoppers to trade in their old Nudie Jeans and also repair them through their facilities. Old denim is resold or recycled into new items. Each year, Nudie Jeans brings out a comprehensive sustainability report that you can download and peruse in detail to uncover the naked truth behind its sustainability efforts.

Best for Wide-Leg Cuts

Reformation Jeans

Reformation Jeans

Courtesy of Reformation

For a wide range of wide-leg styles, consider turning to Reformation, which is known for cutting fashion-forward silhouettes from sustainable materials. You’ll find looks in a range of colors, including white, black, brown, blue (of course), and even corduroy. Much of Reformation’s denim blends organic or regenerative cotton and Tencel Lyocell, which is a tree-based fiber that’s made in a closed-loop process. The company rigorously evaluates fibers before selecting its materials.

Reformation has also committed to a number of equatable labor practices, including membership in the Fair Labor Association, and setting a Living Wage Commitment. The company is certified Carbon Neutral, and has set a goal of being Climate Positive by 2025.

Best Fair Trade

People Tree

People Tree Rochelle Wide Leg Trousers In Black

Courtesy of People Tree

When it comes to Fair Trade fashion, no one does it better than People Tree, founded by social entrepreneur Safia Minney in 1991. This affordable label dresses women from top-to-toe in Fair Trade fashion that promotes traditional craftsmanship and responsible materials.

All its products, including the denim collection is Fair Trade certified, which means workers and farmers in developing countries are given fair wages, have decent working conditions, and receive an equitable deal. People Tree is also a member of a global network, the World Fair Trade Organization that’s transformed the lives of over a million people in local communities, with a majority of them women.

Whether you’re sliding into the 80s inspired tapered jeans or a wide flared 70s number, you know this choice has put people and the planet first.

Final Verdict

Our pick of sustainable denim is the upcycled DL1961 that’s eco-friendly and stylish at the same time. When it comes to hunting for a wide variety of styles, great fits, and affordable prices, look no further than classic Levi’s, a label that has been around for over a century and is making rapid strides towards sustainability.

What to Consider When Shopping for Sustainable Jeans

Do you need to buy new?

Avoiding new purchases is the single biggest thing you can do to reduce the environmental footprint of clothing. Denim is durable, so jeans are one wardrobe item that offers ample opportunity for creative mending, upcycling, hand-me-downs, and thrifting. Consider if the jeans already in your closet can be refreshed by a trip to the tailor or a patch. You can also check out local vintage shops, or search for a pair on secondhand sites like ThredUp or Poshmark

Fibers

Denim fabric is traditionally woven from cotton alone, but lately plenty of plastic has threaded its way into jeans to add stretch and elasticity. However, these synthetic additives can make the finished products harder to recycle and may also contribute to water pollution when we wash them. From a sustainability perspective, it’s better to avoid jeans that include blends of spandex and polyester. 

It’s also great to buy jeans made with organic cotton, which often carries a Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS) certification, and has a considerably lower impact than conventional cotton. 

Transparent Manufacturing Practices

As a shopper, you shouldn’t have to dig deep into a brand’s manufacturing process to understand if clothing is sustainably made. Companies should be upfront about the ways they are working to lighten their impact on the environment. We consider it a red flag if a brand does not make this information easy to find. 

For example, fabric dying can be particularly resource intensive, as it can use huge amounts of water and chemicals. Some brands, like Levi’s and DL1961, are working to use these resources more efficiently through closed-loop processes, and are eager to share details about it on their websites and in their promotional materials. 

Other popular sustainable practices that brands adopt include using renewable energy, buying carbon credits, and using deadstock fabrics. 

Why Trust Treehugger?

From cradle-to-grave, denim has had a dirty past, but the future looks bright.

For our shortlist, we picked brands that are creating quality jeans in a responsible manner. We’ve considered denim made from third-party certified sustainable fabrics using cutting-edge technology. The companies follow eco-friendly production processes that are transparent and follow set labor standards. So, whether you’re looking for a sustainable slouchy pair for yourself, skinnies for the spouse, or boyfriend jeans for the kids, we’ve got you covered.

Author Neeti Mehra is a luxury-industry veteran who’s also committed to sustainable, slow, and mindful living. Her all-time favorite jeans were a preloved pair that she wore for nearly a decade, till they fell apart.

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