Green jeans? Easier said than done…

Temperatures have started to drop, the clocks have gone back, it feels like winter, and I’ve realised perhaps I might need a new pair of jeans. I’ve been wanting to branch out from the constrictive skinny style for a while now – although I need a new pair of blue ones after I wore my old pair into the ground and I won’t be binning my spray-on black Levi’s any time soon. It feels like a good time to experiment with new shapes, especially with all the styles now on offer. I specifically want a more relaxed, straight style which I can wear with anything. But where’s the best place to buy from? And who is best on sustainability?

First, a bit about jeans. They’re obviously super durable, which is why they’re popular the world over and perfect for the student lifestyle. What else can you wear every single day without much visible wear and tear? Plus, they’re versatile and go with pretty much everything in my wardrobe.

But each pair of jeans has a significant environmental impact.

The main problem is the material it’s made with: cotton.

http---cottonaustralia.com.au-uploads-images-gallery-Cotton_Bolls_4It takes 1800 gallons of water and a pound and a half (around 680g) of cotton to create a single pair of jeans. Moreover, the cotton is often mixed with non-biodegradable spandex or polyester, to make them unbreakable and more stretchy. Non-organic cotton is also grown with pesticides and other chemicals which damage crops.

The most sustainable option is to either buy vintage or fix your jeans. I don’t have jeans to fix (although at some point I will get round to altering my skinnies!), and I want to update my wardrobe – purchasing it is. Although abstinence from shopping might be the best option in theory, reality is a bit more demanding. Instead, I’ll be looking at the best brands in my budget.

The main thing to look for when buying jeans sustainably is their cotton content. First off, are they 100% cotton? And has that cotton been grown sustainably? Clearly, there’s also a compromise between size, fit and materials, but better to start off looking for the best.

First, brands who need to up their game, and who I’ll be avoiding for now:

Topshop

My problems with Topshop jeans started long before I started thinking about sustainability. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a pair of their jeans which haven’t started to gape and sag after just a few washes. Plus, the last time I went to find jeans in Topshop, virtually every single style had rips in. The bane of my life. I know I sound like such an old woman, but still, I live in Newcastle. It’s not exactly the Bahamas. And when I buy an item of clothing that’s supposed to cover my legs, I really want it to, well, cover my legs. Luckily for me (and not the lads from Love Island) it looks like that phase is finally going out, to my absolute pleasure.

Topshop is also not great on sustainability. First off, they’re a fast fashion brand, which means their output is extremely high. However, most brands that I can afford as a student do come under this umbrella, so that’s more of a major problem with the industry’s attitude to production.

Although Topshop is part of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), an organisation which supports farmers so that they can ‘adopt more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable production practices’, less than 20% of the cotton they use is ‘Better Cotton’. Also, it took me a ridiculously long time to find that stat, which is still pretty vague, even though I actually read their official report! Speaking of, that’s from 2017, it’s written by the Arcadia Group (who own Topshop) to cover all of their brands, and there are no specific numbers. Everything is very bitesize and refers to what they plan to do in the future, rather than saying what is happening now. I’m buying jeans for this winter, not winter in 2020.

Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters is going to be a harder break up than Topshop. I’ve often purchased their BDG branded jeans, which seem to always fit. But, alas, we must part ways. Mostly because there is next to no information on their sustainability efforts, and what little there is does not relate to specific brands or products. They have some current initiatives for switching to alternative energy and recycling waste, however there is absolutely nothing about how their clothes are made. Which is, you know, what their business is built on…

The most annoying thing about all of this is Urban’s marketing strategy targeting ‘woke’ millennials/Gen Zers, trying to sell us house plants and refillable water bottles; apparently it’s impossible to translate this into the majority of their lines (file this under: things that make you go hmmmmm…).

But that’s the bad stuff out of the way. Who’s actually making an effort?

Well, a search for sustainable jeans manufacturers often turns up results that aren’t ideal; take M.i.h. Jeans and RE/DONE, who each charge upwards of £200 for a pair, or Reformation, selling cheaper jeans but shipping from America. Luckily there are some brands who are closer to home and a little friendlier on the pockets.

Monki

Reasonable prices, cute styles and ALL cotton 100% sustainably sourced: Monki is definitely the place to go. They have loads of info on their website, which means it’s really easy for a regular consumer to find out about their eco-friendly efforts. They’re part of the BCI; they don’t use rainforest products, real furs or angora wool; they don’t test any products on animals; and they don’t use PVC in their products. There are also some more vague promises for the future, but overall they’re looking pretty good.

ASOS

All of these brands are pretty transparent, which is so helpful when you’re trying to become a more conscious shopper, and ASOS is one of the best on this front. They have four ‘sustainable sourcing pillars’: improving traceability of raw materials, lowering environmental impact, investing in craftmanship and engaging with customers on sustainability. They’re part of the BCI and have a target of 95% more sustainable cotton by next year. To find products directly linked to their sustainability efforts, just search for the Eco Edit on their website, or look for the symbol on product pages.

Cheap Monday

This is the brand I eventually went for: not only is sustainability one of their core principles, they also have some really cool cuts and washes. As of SS18, all of their cotton is organic or recycled, and from FW18 all of their textile products will contain a minimum of 50% sustainable materials, set to increase over the coming seasons. All of their business partners have to sign their sustainability commitment, and they are the ONLY brand to have a suppliers list on their website which is easily available to consumers.

I ordered three pairs (two in the sale, wooo) and sent one back. The only annoying thing was that they were shipped all the way from Sweden, but unfortunately their only UK store is in London.

Screenshot 2018-11-05 at 12.15.43

^ The three pairs I ordered. I sent back the Revive Tainted Blue – the style just didn’t suit my short legs. I love the other two though, and they all fitted like a dream which is such a rarity!

{ Check out my new insta @_thegreenmode_ for how the jeans looked }

Other brands to look out for are WEEKDAYG STAR RAW and Levi’s Waterless Collection.

Overall, it was easier than I thought to find brands that make jeans sustainably which are still a reasonable price! However, it’s clear that some big hitters in the industry really need to up their game. The good news is, we can persuade the brands lagging behind by making conscious choices, to persuade them that sustainability – and transparency – is the only way forward.

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