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We live our lives in denim. A good pair of denim jeans blends fashion and function to capture a chapter of our lives in a way that not much else can, from the worn-in wash to the coffee stains and the good memories that each pair holds.
But the story of denim is not just our story.
That's why when we went on a search for ethical denim brands, we looked for craftsmanship, innovation, quality and human story. These are the storytellers:
#1. JC Denim Co.
JC Denim Co. is a recent find for us but we've quickly become big fans. These guys are a quality denim brand with a solid following of people who swear by their designs. It's their storyline though, that captured us. JC Denim Co. works with anti sex slavery organization, Destiny International, to provide training and supplies to rescued girls who make each pair of denim by hand. That means when you wear JC, you've helped rescue and sustain a survivor of sex slavery. That blows our mind a little bit.
Kuyichi led the fashion world into the idea of socially responsible denim in 2001. They were founded on the idea that socially responsible work conditions and environmental considerations aren't just trends, but a way of the future. Kuyichi works directly with Peruvian farmers who supply their organic cotton, and even encourages them to become shareholders in the company. In addition to their organic cotton, Kuyichi uses sustainable materials like recycled cotton and polyester from discarded water bottles. The denim line has a passionate fanbase on Instagram and gets some especially friendly shout outs for its raw denim products.
#3. Monkee Genes
Monkee Genes has a kind of whimsical flavor that you don't often find in the world of design. Don't let the light-hearted threads fool you though, Monkee has set their brand apart by taking on issues of fair trade and child labor. Every pair of their denim is sold with a tag that reads, "Everyone involved in the garment has been paid a decent living wage." Their styles get some serious love on Instagram from fashion bloggers to enthused hipsters. We like where these guys are headed.
3Sixteen denim is bringing craftsmanship back to the US through its quality designs and construction. In 2007, Co-founders Andrew Chen and Johan Lam left their jobs to pursue something that they say has never intended to be about the label, but instead, the story, thought and quality. If you take a tour through Instagram you'll see that 3Sixteen denim is telling lots of stories in every part of the world. To us, 3Sixteen isn't just about denim, it's about a belief in the power of quality and local craftsmanship. We don't find that too shabby.
#5. Baldwin Denim
When it comes to Made In America, Baldwin is a favorite here. Matt and Emily Baldwin have built a near cult following in Kansas City, MO over the past 5 years. Their denim is top notch in every way and much like 3Sixteen, Baldwin is bringing quality craftsmanship back to the states. Among it's perks, Baldwin is one of the few Made In America denim lines with a solid women's collection. Both the raw and washed designs are crowd favorites among women. Even Ellen wears the Baldwin line.
#6. Nudie Jeans
Nudie Jeans doesn't shout about their Fair Trade and Organic Denim, but they've quietly become a leader in ethical fashion. Their brand and their denim is about as cool as it gets and they report the origination and the organic contents of every pair of denim they sell. What Nudie does talk loudly about is how your denim isn't just another fast fashion throw away, but when it's built right, with the right materials and right care, it writes a lasting story.
#7. IOU Project
The IOU Project is pushing the boundaries of transparent fashion by putting consumers as close as possible to the craftswomen and craftsmen who make their clothes. The concept is fairly simple, when you purchase a pair of denim online, you receive a tracking code where you can access who your denim is being made by, where that specific fabric came from etc. This means that each pair of denim has a custom look and a far higher percentage of the revenue goes directly back to the craftsman and designer. The IOU project has won awards for its innovation and is a brand that we believe is pushing the limits for how people buy and sell clothing.
Howies is a UK based, active clothing company. Their site features a range of products from bike wear to sweaters and of course, denim. The thread that Howie's uses to hold it all together is sustainable quality. Their denim is triple stitched instead of double, the waist band isn't bleached, the cotton is organic ... and that's just the start. Howie's has actually gotten some attention for some innovative technologies that they put in their clothes to make them rain resistant (something that proves useful during London winters). All in all, these guys have a pulse on quality and they are pulling sustainability through every product they sell. Win-win in our book.
Skunkfunk is an all around winner in the sustainability game. From their transport choices, to the use of recycled plastic and organic cotton in their clothing, these guys are putting the extra effort in to take the environmental harm out of fashion. They provide detailed facts and figures on where and with what materials your denim is created. Skunkfunk can be found in hundreds of retail shops throughout the world (100 in the US) and via their online shop. As you'd imagine, Instagramers love these guys and why wouldn't they?
#10. Mud Jeans
Mud Jeans are building on an innovative concept where jeans are leased instead of purchased. The customer pays a small monthly membership for a pair of denim that is intended to last one year. At the end of that period, the consumer can choose to keep their jeans for another 4 months or return them in trade for a new pair. The model allows Mud to fully recycle the material and give it new life in another pair of denim. It's a bold new idea and we like it a whole lot.
#11. Kutie Protocal
Kutie Protocal is eco-friendly, cool, fair trade and just for kids. The Kutie Protocal unisex designs go from size 1-8 and are named after famous pairs like Bonnie and Clyde, Kurt and Courtney, Fred and Wilma and Adam and Eve. Each pair of denim has a unique pocket designs driven by fabric from offcuts. The production process uses recycled water and non-toxic dyes. That means the jeans are good for kiddos and good for the environment. The denim is made in Medellin, a small community in Columbia. Kutie works closely with their craftsman to ensure fair trade principles and conservation are used through the entire process.