I have a friend, Niklas, who has been pestering me for weeks now about tips on buying a pair of new, ethical jeans. I have been putting it off the whole summer, as I have been busy with other things (exams, work, drinking beer), but I hear that Niklas’ current pair of jeans is in fact falling apart. The boy’s legwear is in desperate condition. So here goes denim for boys (girls need to have a bit more patience):
As we all know, jeans are such a basic item in (almost) everyone’s wardrobe that, as a piece of clothing, they barely need any other introduction. I also think it’s an easy approach to start this whole introduction to more ethical fashion direction.
Later posts will go deeper into the philosophy and explain in more detail what I mean with ethical brands and production in this blog, as the terms and concepts are really vague and lack proper definition. To some extent, we can never really know if an item we buy is produced ethically and we have to rely on information from the companies themselves, their partners, NGOs and other blogs like this. But more on this later – right now, I am in a hurry to publish this post, so poor Niklas gets his new jeans.
As I started to do some research on this subject, especially from the viewpoint of male fashion, I was expecting slim pickings – a couple of well reputed and regarded brands with a good track record of ethical and ecological production. What I certainly did not expect, was a myriad of different brands, all stylish and with price ranges for all “tastes”.
There has never been a better time to get a pair of ethical jeans.
I left out brands that are difficult to get hold of (no webshops, no shipping outside the U.S, only one product available), but refer to a couple of potentially very interesting, U.S. based companies at the end of the part five. Also, as per request, I only focus on denim in these posts – many of the brands in questions also make chinos and trousers of other materials.
Problems with denim production are seen throughout the garment industry: non-organic sourcing of cotton and other fibres along with toxic chemicals used during the manufacturing process that are a danger to the environment if chemical waste is not properly disposed of. The same chemicals are often also a safety hazard to the employees if and when there is a lack of proper safety structures. Also worth mentioning is the excessive amount of water and energy that are needed: annual production of jeans worldwide is 5 billion units and each pair goes through 70 liters of water, 1.5 kilowatt-hours of energy and 150 grams of chemicals. It’s also a familiar story with social issues: exploiting a labour force with below-standard wages and inhumane working hours as well dangerous working conditions.
It is quite a challenge to distinguish between brands that are serious about their causes and getting to the bottom of things can be hard, verging on impossible. I do my best to cross-review different brands and find reliable information before giving them my seal of approval. If you have better knowledge on a brand or something I have written is incorrect, I am more than happy to know what the real deal is.
Before we finally get to the point, A GENERAL TIP FOR BUYING A PAIR OF JEANS for all you men folk out there: buy a pair of jeans that fits (and is the right size, too). Ask help, if you aren’t sure. Take them to a tailor if they need adjusting. Right away – not six months later. You’re welcome.
AND A PRO-TIP FOR SERIOUS JEAN-BUYERS: buy two pairs of that well-fitting pair. You can thank me later.
Chapter 1: Nudie-jeans
The flagship brand for cool, fair jeans with street credibility, the Swedish brand Nudie is the bio-bee’s knees: complete in store indie rock shows and whatnot.
According to their website, since last year, their jeans are all 100% organic cotton* – which is great! Nudie produces their jeans in Italy (83%) and Tunisia (17%) and while there can be a good bunch of ambiguity in manufacturing in these countries, Nudie’s biggest selling point on the ethical front is their complete transparency regarding their production chain and sites: lists of all manufacturers and subcontractors, their contact details, locations and addresses are available on the Nudie website, as well as their history with Nudie Jeans, relations between different subcontractors and their latest Audit Reports. So if there is anything going on in the production chain that the customer does not like – the information is easily available on their website for the engaged, well-informed consumer. As an example: some of Nudie’s Italian subcontractors use controversial sand blasting as a technique to distress and “wear” the denim. According to the company however, less than 5% of their total manufacturing involves sandblasting. The company claims on their website that they are responsible and mindful about the method and that all appropriate safety measures are in place. Nudie keeps up their part of the deal and openly informs the customer.
What Nudie-jeans also excel in is the variety of their fits and styles! While it seems like the brand is directed more toward guys than girls, according to the brand, some fits will look swell on ladies too.
Prices seem to be around the 100€ mark and the brand sports 11 different fits with different washes, ranging from tight slim fits to looser, more relaxed ones. Something for everyone, I assume. Super extra bonus for the great features of the website: their “Fit Guide” let’s you compare different fits simultaneously (360 degrees, none the less!) and displays the measurements of the pair of jeans according to the waist size selected. Brilliant! I wish every brand did this.
*but this claim seems to officially apply only to their denim items, however! I couldn’t find the percentage/claim for their whole line of cotton products, but a quick glimpse of their collection reveals that most of it is organic anyway.
Sources will be listed at the end of the fifth post.