Ethical shopping guide to Jeans, from Ethical Consumer.

Ethical shopping guide to Jeans, from Ethical Consumer.

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.


A look at the jeans market and the companies that are doing denim differently


This report includes:

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 20 brands of jeans
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • Fairtrade and organic jeans
  • Sandblasting

See also the Clothes Shops guide for their own brands of jeans.

Read our special report into the Clothing Industry

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Score Ratings

Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings


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The score table shows simple numerical ratings out of 20 for each product. The higher the score, the more ethical the company.

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The Full Scorecard shows the 'black marks' for each product, by each of the 17 negative categories. The bigger the mark, the worse the score. So for example a big black circle under 'Worker Rights' shows that the company making this product has been severely criticised for worker abuses.

Scores start at 14.  A small circle means that half a mark is deducted, a large circle means that a full mark is deducted.

Marks are added in the positive categories of Company Ethos and the five Product Sustainability columns (O,F,E,S,A).  A small circle  means that half a mark is added, a large circle means that a full mark is added.

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Best Buys

as of August 2017

As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that these companies will not always come out top on the scoretable.



Our Best Buy for jeans is to buy second hand.

For new jeans, our picks are those that have a sustainability feature and have a policy on sandblasting (or do not sell distressed denim):

Monkee Genes, Kuyichi, MUD, Thought Queenie, Cock & Bull, Nudie.


Also recommended:

Freitag’s F-ABRIC biodegradable jeans are also recommended.

Levi’s Waste<Less™ and Water<Less™ jeans represent an important step forward in the global jeans industry and are therefore our recommended mainstream brand.


to buy

Ethical Consumer makes a small amount of money from your purchase. This goes to fund our research and campaigning. We ethically screen all the sites we link to.
Last updated: August 2017





Special Report

Ethical Issues in the Fashion Industry.




Jeans Forever


The good news in the jeans market is that there are lots of sustainable options out there, even from mainstream brands like Levi’s.

Of the twenty brands we’ve covered, seven have organic options (marked with an [O] on the table) and/or products with some kind of sustainability feature [S], such as being fashioned from recycled materials.

Monkee Genes are also approved by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) (marked with an [A] on the table).


Image: Jeans Retailer


Three companies get positive marks for their overall company ethos, be it having a charitable structure (Monkee Genes) or only using environmentally responsible materials in their products (Kuyichi, MUD Jeans). Add these to their excellent animal rights policies and you have an almost clean bill of ethical health in the top third of the table.

The High Street shops also sell their own makes of jeans but none of them score anywhere near as high as our Best Buys in this guide to jeans specialists.




Lower ratings


Poorer performances soon creep back in, though, especially in our core ratings on environmental reporting and supply chain management, along with some negative marks for poor pollution and toxics policies, and for using animal products.

Negative marks under our ‘controversial technologies’ rating are from the companies’ cotton sourcing policies, which we expect to include stipulations against using GM cotton.

A poor cotton policy also picks up extra negative marks under pollution and toxics, and workers’ rights due to issues of pesticides, and forced labour in Uzbekistan cotton plantations. Nine companies received our worst rating on this, including Guess, G-Star and Howies.






Most companies lost half a mark under workers’ rights for having no sandblasting policy. Many clothes companies use sandblasting to give denim a worn or ‘distressed’ look.

The process involves firing abrasive sand onto denim under high pressure, whether in a machine booth or simply via an air gun attached to a hose. Often performed without proper ventilation, safety equipment or training, the practice exposes workers to serious risk of silicosis, the deadly lung disease caused by inhalation of silica dust.


Image: Sandblasting protest

Sacom urges blanket ban on sandblasting in 2013, Flickr



The report Breathless for Blue Jeans: Health Hazards in China’s Denim Factories, published by IHLO, SACOM, Clean Clothes Campaign and War on Want in June 2013, found that despite promises by brands to end the practise of sandblasting, factory workers revealed that it continued behind closed doors.

In addition, many factories had introduced other methods of distressing denim which brought their own health risks and workers were rarely given the necessary training in how to use the new techniques safely.

Since that report, both the campaign and corporate landscape have gone very quiet on this issue. There is no evidence to suggest that this is because the practise has been eliminated, more that the public spotlight has moved on.


All the more reason for Ethical Consumer to shine our torch brightly on companies that continue to sell denim with a ‘distressed’ look without explaining how it has been achieved.

Only six of the eighteen companies included in this guide had a current policy on sandblasting. Of the remaining companies, six did not sell ‘distressed’ denim products and were therefore not marked down for not having a policy. Companies that did sell distressed denim and had no policy (or an inadequate one) lost half a mark under Workers’ Rights.  


Table: Sandblasting policies






Company behind the brand

GAP is one of most widely available clothing brands. It owns Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Athleta and Intermix brands and is available in 90 countries worldwide through 3,300 company-operated stores. GAP has been criticised by US consumer advocacy group Public Citizen for funding the lobby group US Chamber of Commerce (USCC).

The USCC was said to have consistently lobbied against climate change and environment legislation and was responsible for commissioning a report that made the case for the US to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Public Citizen said that GAP’s “ongoing membership in and financial support of the Chamber mocks their pretensions of caring about the climate.”


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