If the ’70s was all about flared jeans; the ‘90s meant high-waisted jeans that flattered absolutely no one; and the noughties was the decade of the ubiquitous black skinny, then 2019 might go down as the year we embraced a new jeans trend: ethical denim.
These days, sustainability is fashion’s favourite buzzword, and denim – historically a huge source of pollution – is no exception. Browse your favourite e-tailer and you’ll find ethical and environmental denim brands jostling for space next to the bigger, mass-produced, global players.
But it’s one thing to lovingly craft a press release outlining your ethical credentials in detail; it’s another to be genuinely making a difference. So, which denim brands really are saving the planet? And – just as importantly – which ones are stylish, too?
Which denim brands really are saving the planet? And – just as importantly – which ones are stylish, too?
To find out, we enlisted content creator – and human ray of sunshine – Sophia Athas, who not only loves denim, but built her fashion business around it. She owns – wait for it – about 80 denim pieces. “I think I have about 20 denim jackets in different colours… and I’d have to have just as many pairs of jeans. I rarely throw denim out.”
Sophia, who runs the website Hatrik, remembers falling in love with Gucci’s embellished denim creations in 2016, and subsequently began to customise denim jackets herself. “I remember going to one of the Gucci stores at the time, just for the fun of it because I couldn’t afford it, and afterwards I went to the haberdashery store and thought: I could just make this myself.”
Afterwards I went to the haberdashery store and thought: I could just make this myself
The former law student started making embellished jackets for herself and her friends, and before she knew it, she was fielding orders from strangers and spending her time scouring thrift stores to find vintage jackets that she could customise to order. “I remember finding old Versace denim jackets. I found an old Valentino jacket for $15 once.”
These days, Sophia only makes customised jackets for special occasions but her love of one-off or vintage pieces remains. She tends to favour locally-made pieces over mass-produced brands but admits that her environmental education is ongoing. “The great thing about denim is that it’s one of those pieces in your wardrobe that will never go out of fashion… You can keep jeans and bring them out seasons later.”
We asked stylist Aileen Marr to style her in a range of ethical denim looks.
L: Bassike linen shirt dress, Anna Quan Heather Turtleneck top, Arms Of Eve bracelet and ring R: Bassike linen shirt dress; Levi’s Made & Crafted Blue Bell Jeans; Anna Quan Heather Turtleneck Top; St Xavier Chelsea Waist Bag; Solsana Scottie Boot
“I love this look,” admits Sophia. “I tend to dress more masculine than feminine, so baggy silhouettes and oversized pieces. I love layering.”
“I love double denim – especially when it’s exactly the same colour,” says Sophia of this look from Nobody. “I also love these white boots. It’s the alternative to what you think is the norm.”
L: Outland Denim Ava Jacket In Patchwork; Justice Denim Redemption Jean; Hansen & Gretel Ruby Jean Top (coming soon); Witchery Belt (shop similar here); Primavera Seva Beaded Necklace; Meadowlark Clio Choker; F+ H Ozzie Hoops. R: Levi’s Made & Crafted French Fringe Trucker Jacket (launches next week); Outland Harriet Jean; Primavera- Silvia Necklace Black; F+ H All Right earrings Dr Martens 8 eye boots.
“I’m a bit fan of the whole ruffled little puffy sleeve thing. And if you’re showing skin, I love layering lots of necklaces and beads. More is more!” says Sophia of the summery denim look above.
She was more wary of the fringed western-style shirt and jeans combo. “When I saw it on the hanger I wasn’t really keen on it at all. But then when it was styled back with all the little pieces, I really loved it. It was similar, in a way, to all the embellished pieces I do myself.”
Ethical Denim Cheatsheet
Outland Denim: An Australian brand that offers denim pieces produced by former victims of human trafficking. It’s also a Meghan Markle favourite, so there you go.
Justice Denim: Vegan-friendly jeans, using denim produced in mills with sustainable employment practices, and cut in Melbourne. The best bit? Every pair of jeans funds four weeks of education for a young child who has been rescued from slavery.
Nobody Denim: An Australian brand with a longstanding commitment to local and ethical manufacturing. Nobody has also committed to paying a living wage to everyone in its supply chain – including those overseas – by 2025.
Bassike: Chic and stylish, Bassike is committed to ethical practices too. Its denim is handmade in Japan and dyed with natural indigo. Many Bassike products are organic cotton.
Levi’s: This global denim mega-brand has committed to zero hazardous chemicals by 2020 and is a founding member of the Better Cotton Initiative. (Sidenote: The RE/DONE x Levi’s brand is especially brilliant – it takes vintage Levis and reworks them into contemporary styles)
Other ethical denim brands we love
Nudie Jeans: Not only does this denim brand use eco-friendly materials and also limit its chemical and water usage, but every pair of jeans also comes with the promise of lifelong free repairs.
Kowtow: A cool New Zealand brand (aren’t they all?) that uses organic materials and ethical manufacturing processes.
For more information on the ethical credentials of these and other denim brands, we recommend downloading GoodOnYou app.