Jeans

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 20 brands of Jeans

We also look at sandblasting, organic and fairtrade Jeans, shine a spotlight on the ethics of GAP and give our recommended best buys. 

About 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.

What to buy

Ethical jeans companies are trying to lead this industry in a new direction, offering more and more sustainable products.

  • Is it organic? There are many problems associated with cotton production, from the use of child labour to the widespread use of toxic pesticides. Look for 100% organic cotton.

  • Is it recycled? The fashion industry is the second biggest polluter in the UK. Most clothing is worn only a handful of times and then sent to landfill. Help the environment by shopping second hand or buying from a jeans company that offers free repairs or uses recycled material.

Best Buys

For new jeans we suggest brands that are organic, have a Product Sustainability feature and don't use sandblasting:

Recommended buys

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.

What not to buy

High street clothing brands still dominate the fashion market, and continue to make cheap clothing by exploiting garment workers and using up scarce resources.

  • Is it distressed denim? This fabric is produced by blasting sand at denim, a process which poses serious health risks for the workers involved. Avoid jeans made of this.

  • Does it use toxic chemicals? Clothes manufacturing often uses numerous chemicals that are then released, seriously damaging the environment. Look for companies that ban toxic chemicals.

Companies to avoid

We suggest avoiding brands that use sandblasting to produce 'distressed denim', these include: 

  • Lee
  • Wrangler
  • Levi Strauss
  • Pepe
  • Diesel
  • SuperDry
  • Guess
  • Howies

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

MUD organic jeans [O,S]

Company Profile: MUD Jeans International B.V.
16

Monkee Genes Jeans [A]

Company Profile: Stop Taking the Pennies Ltd
15.5

Monkee Genes organic jeans [O, A]

Company Profile: Stop Taking the Pennies Ltd
15.5

MUD Jeans [S]

Company Profile: MUD Jeans International B.V.
15

Kuyichi organic and recycled cotton jeans [O,S]

Company Profile: Kuyichi Europe BV
14.5

Kuyichi organic cotton and recycled PET jeans [O,S]

Company Profile: Kuyichi Europe BV
14.5

Thought Queenie jeans [O]

Company Profile: Thought Fashion Limited
14.5

Kuyichi organic jeans [O]

Company Profile: Kuyichi Europe BV
14

Cock & Bull Jeans [S]

Company Profile: Insider Trading
13.5

F-ABRIC Compostable Jeans [S]

Company Profile: FREITAG lab. ag
13

Nudie Jeans [O,S]

Company Profile: Nudie Jeans
13

Komodo SAGE jeans

Company Profile: Yakit Rackit Ltd (The)
12

Finisterre organic jeans [O]

Company Profile: Finisterre UK Limited
11.5

Howies Jeans [O]

Company Profile: Howies Ltd
11

Finisterre jeans

Company Profile: Finisterre UK Limited
10.5

Hiut organic jeans [O,S]

Company Profile: Hiut Ltd
10.5

Hiut jeans [S]

Company Profile: Hiut Ltd
10

Howies Jeans

Company Profile: Howies Ltd
10

G Star RAW Jeans

Company Profile: G-Star (UK) Ltd
9

Levi's Water<Less™ Jeans [S]

Company Profile: Levi Strauss & Co
8

Levi's Waste<Less™ Jeans [S]

Company Profile: Levi Strauss & Co
7.5

Levi's jeans

Company Profile: Levi Strauss & Co
7.5

Lee jeans

Company Profile: Lee
6

Wrangler jeans

Company Profile: Wrangler
6

Diesel jeans

Company Profile: Diesel SpA
5.5

Pepe Jeans

Company Profile: Pepe Jeans S.L
5.5

Superdry Jeans

Company Profile: Superdry PLC [previously SuperGroup Plc]
5

Guess Jeans

Company Profile: Guess? Inc
2.5

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

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: ethical guide to jeans

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.

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.

Sandblasting

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
Sacom urges blanket ban on sandblasting in 2013, Flickr.
Image: Breathless for Blue Jeans

Breathless for Blue Jeans

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.  

How the Jeans retailers stand on sandblasting:

Policy against using sandblasting No policy but didn't sell 'distressed' denim No policy or inadequate policy and did sell 'distressed' denim
Monkee Genes Queenie Thought Howies
Kuyichi Komodo Levi Strauss
Nudie Jeans Hiut VF Corporation
FREITAG Finisterre Pepe
G-Star MUD Jeans Diesel
Gap Cock and Bull SuperDry
    Guess

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.”

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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