Sustainable jeans test

I tested 5 jeans for Remarkable magazine: Freitag, Patagonia, Selfnation, Wunderwerk, H&M Conscious

Remarkable Magazine

Jeans are cool, but boy are they dirty. They’re on the list of the most polluting products in fashion. Denim production is linked to severe water pollution, toxic waste dumping and bad workers’ conditions. Digging a bit deeper into the wonderful world of denim doesn’t end up in pretty sights. Yet, we all love’em deeply because they’re so democratic. They fit any occasion, any style and any budget.

The good news is that more and more brands – big and small – are out to change the environmental impact of the denim industry. Whether it’s a change in fabric, in chemicals or in engineering; a lot of stunning innovations have been launched in the last years. Sometimes they’re ‘less bad’ and sometimes they’re truly revolutionary. We’ve tested five jeans.

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Remarkable Patagonia

From the moment the Patagonia Denim line was launched, we were dedicated on getting our hands on it. Not just out of curiosity – there’s a fine line between function and fashion – but also because the campaign triggered us: it shows rock climbers wearing jeans…this has to be a stretchy one! On top of that the campaign claims: ‘We’re out to change the denim industry because denim is filthy business’. Quite a bold statement, especially for a non-denim brand. But hey, Patagonia is founded by thrill-seekers so never afraid to take up a challenge. Throughout the years the’ve proven that high-tech clothes can be made in better ways. They source loads of sustainable, innovative materials and they promote recycling and repairing of clothes. Patagonia also invests heavily in improving factory workers’ conditions. With all the action surrounding this brand we decided we had to test the Women Slim Jeans in a more active way.

The jeans is made of organic cotton and it feels soft, light and comfortable. It is stitched in a Fair Trade Certified factory in Sri Lanka (see supplier map

The jeans is dyed with an environmentally friendlier process using sulfur dyestuffs instead of the commonly used indigo Indigo basically is not a smart choice for dyeing. It doesn’t easily attach to cotton so a lot of pigment baths plus huge amounts of process chemicals are needed to get the colour right.

Why do all denim brands still use it? Because indigo has that beautiful, characteristic fading quality. Anyway, Patagonia’s sulfur dye process colours the woven fabric fast and easy. It uses 84% less water and 30% less energy than conventional indigo dyeing.

The dark blue fabric of this pair of jeans looks very nice. If you take a closer look you’ll clearly see the mix of white and blue yarns that characterizes indigo-dyed denim weaves.

Let’s get into action and see what happens. When putting the jeans on it is slim – it nicely hugs legs, hips and bum. No mountains available in our area, so we decided to do some intense yoga stretching. We were stunned! Warrior, sun salutations, lazy dog, you name it, we were not held back by the jeans at all, it just flows along. However, after yoga, the jeans had stretched-out a lot; one full size. It did recover after washing so we tested it again during a regular day of commuting, biking and work. After a few hours it had already stretched-out again a full size.

On the website, Patagonia also refers to this model as ‘skinny’ but that’s far from the truth. We’d call this a wider slim fit. It’s a classic five-pocket with stitching on the back pockets, so it looks alright for jeans. If you’re looking for a body hugging slim fit with some pzazz, this may not be the right choice for you. The back of the jeans is very high, which is very comfy when rock climbing or doing yoga, but looking at it from a fashion perspective, it’s not that edgy.

This is a remarkable pair of sustainable jeans. It has a lot going for it. We’ve tried yoga positions with the other tested jeans as well (just to feel the difference), but this is the only one that offers the possibility to freely stretch out to any level. If that’s what you’d wish for in a jeans then this is a go. The blue colour is truly beautiful and it’s hard to believe it isn’t indigo. The overall look may not be the most edgy, but it sure has character. The lack of harsh chemicals in the dyeing process feels good. Add to that the Fair Trade factor and it’s clear that you’ll boost your karma with this jeans.

In general, we love the natural fading of indigo-dyed denim; it adds ‘personality’ to a jeans. We’re very curious how this non-indigo blue colour will fade over time.


Remarkable WunderwerkBRAND & U.S.P.
German brand Wunderwerk prefers to call itself a ‘Lovebrand’ instead of a ‘green brand’. The two founders Tim and Heiko started their company with a clear mission: offering fashion that’s good value for money, made in harmony with the environment, humans and animals. All of the organic cottons and wools are GOTS-certified and they exclude harsh chemicals like chlorine and chromium VI, which are commonly used in the fashion industry.

A very remarkable thing about Wunderwerk is its main street shopping price range. It positions its collections next to the conventionally produced mainstream labels. Whatever their business secret may be; Wunderwerk proves that environmentally friendlier fabrics and fair wages do not have to drive up retail prices. Any brand that still uses price as an excuse for not adopting sustainable practices should have a chat with Tim and Heiko. Now let’s see what Wunderwerk’s strategy does for its jeans. We’ve tested slimfit jeans Lynn in dark blue denim.

The jeans is made of 98% GOTS-certified cotton and 2% elasthane. This small percentage of stretch is well thought-out: Wunderwerk wants to stay away from petroleum-based materials as much as possible. When using as little as 2% elasthane, extra techniques are needed to add stretch to the fabric. Wunderwerk has solved this by using denim that’s woven in a special high-stretch-weave technique. The dying method is an oxygen-based process that only requires 3-10 liters of water, which is ten times less than conventional denim-dye processes. The jeans is made in Tunisia. Wunderwerk chooses its factories close to ‘home’. Not only to save energy on transport and traveling, but also to be able to thoroughly monitor the factories themselves.

The fabric feels supple and comfortable. The denim’s got a nice thick quality so that’s comfy on cold days too. At the first try, the fit seems pretty tight and strong. The jeans keeps its shape in the first hours of wearing (walking, sitting behind the computer and biking around town). After half a day it starts to loose its initial tightness and at the end of the day it has stretched-out half a size, but mostly in the bum area. Around the legs and calves it keeps its tight fit. After washing, the jeans fully recovers its original shape.

A basic, no-fuss slimfit jeans. Nice feature is the allover white stitching (organic cotton, not polyester), which matches with the white cotton back label. We think the jeans could’ve been cut a bit lower in the front, just to add a more feminine silhouette, but overall, the look is clean and definitely timeless.

Like no other, Wunderwerk knows how to combine value for money with a high level of sustainability. Slimfit Lynn in denim blue is a great choice for women looking for a no-nonsense jeans. But Lynn has more tricks up her sleeve. She is available in lots of trend colours and different fabrics. There are some pretty crazy styles too, like the outrageous rock and roll tie-dye version, ‘bleached’ without chlorine. We love the fact that Lynn is non-toxic, honest and affordable.

It surprises us that Wunderwerk only modestly communicates about sustainability and its environmentally friendly fabrics and processes. Yes, the info is on the website, but you’ll have to go and look for it. It’s not visible on the main pages. Fast shoppers might even miss it! We think it wouldn’t hurt to boost the p.r. machine and add a couple of in-your-face statements on the website.


Remarkable FreitagBRAND & U.S.P.
Swiss brand Freitag is known for its highly functional long-lasting bags and accessories made from used truck tarps. As a company that embraces circular design, it was looking for well designed, 100% recyclable clothes for its employees. It turned out that sustainable and factory-proof fabrics that met Freitag’s standards were impossible to find. So, Markus and Daniel Freitag – founders and CEO’s of the company – decided to develop their own. In 2014 they launched the clothes collection Freitag F-abric, made of 100% biodegradable, European grown fibres. The first F-abric collection consisted of chino pants, a work dress and several shirts and tops.
In August 2015 Freitag added a men’s and women’s jeans to the F-abric collection: ‘Biodegradable jeans’. It triggered us, jeans lovers, right away, for one because ‘biodegradable’ would mean: no stretch. Secondly, the F-abric jeans does not contain cotton. What? No cotton in jeans? That’s like Swiss cheese fondue without the Gruyère. On the other hand, Freitag has never been one to follow the rules – otherwise they would’ve never reinvented the urban bag – and everything they do has been well thought-out. This made us even more curious about this no-cotton-jeans.

All of the production stages of F-abric products take place within a 2500 km radius of Freitag’s factory in Zürich. The jeans are made in Poland. For F-abric, few chemicals are used for cultivation, processing and dyeing. Freitag F-abric meets ‘Product class I’ of the Oeko-Tex Standard, which is the strictest standard of this certification system; ‘suitable for babies’. The F-abric jeans is made of linen and hemp and feels heavy. The weaving is loose, so despite the weight, the fabric is very soft and supple. The jeans have quite some nice design details. For us, the screw-on button is the absolute winner. This metal screw-button (your initials will be engraved) is patented by Freitag. The idea behind it is: metal is not biodegradable, so for proper bio-composting, the buttons should be taken off.

This is a straight cut, five-pocket jeans. Without added elastane or spandex, the magic should be in the weave and in the cut. At first try, the cut seems wide enough to offer plenty of comfort, also in the curvier parts of the female body (upper legs and thighs). Unfortunately it’s not that comfortable when sitting for a few hours at work. It feels pretty tight on the upper legs, so after a couple of hours we started feeling our legs could use some circulation and we wanted to move around and take a walk. At the same time, the jeans does stretch-out a lot in the first hours’ wearing. More about that later. Walking around in this jeans feels fine, but riding a bike isn’t a big pleasure; hopping on and off the bike makes me constantly aware of the limits of non-stretch denim. Without the reinforcement piece in the crotch area, I would’ve definitely torn it.

This jeans looks nice. The colour is beautiful and the straight five-pocket model is a great classic. After one or two hours, the jeans has already stretched-out a lot; at least a whole size, maybe even more. The bum-area stretches out over a whole size within the hour. There’s hardly any silhouette left there. Linen fabrics are known to wrinkle and yes, this jeans wrinkles a lot. It reminds us of those wrinkly linen summer pants. After sitting behind the desk for an hour, there are big, bulky wrinkles on the back of the knees and they will not fade out. This is not the look we had expected.

First of all, we love the concept of Fretaig F-abric jeans. The company’s efforts in replacing conventional fabrics with better ones is admirable. We can imagine that designing a pair of denim pants with neither stretch nor cotton has not been easy. We love the nice design details – like the buttons – and basically, we also love the heavy feel of the twill fabric. If you’re interested in design innovation and high sustainability, this jeans is a good choice. The stretch-out factor and the tightness in some areas are pretty disappointing (you may expect good-fitting jeans for € 190,-), so if you’re looking for a sustainable jeans that stays in shape, this may not be the one.

We’re sad that the fit of this jeans is disappointing, when everything else is so cool and so innovative. We can only hope Freitag is already secretly developing a biodegradable ‘stretch’.


Remarkable SelfnationBRAND & U.S.P.
What happens when you mix highly sophisticated computer engineering with a love for fashion and respect for people and planet? You’ll get bespoke, affordable and sustainable jeans. Bespoke and affordable…? Yes, it is possible! Thanks to an innovative algorithm. Selfnation saves you time, money and jeans-fitting-frustration.
Berlin based company Selfnation developed (and patented) an algorithm that generates a perfectly fitting pattern, based on eight measurements. The algorithm draws the pattern in 1 second and their cutting machine only needs 40 seconds to cut the parts. Sowing is still done by human beings. Selfnation’s skilled seamers and seamstresses work in safe, healthy ateliers in Switzerland and Germany and they are being paid well. The denim fabric is exclusively supplied by one of the most sustainable and high-quality denim weavers on the planet: Italdenim Selfnation offers a range of five women’s styles and four men’s styles. We’ve tested the women’s Slim Fit jeans with low waist, in colour Tokyo Knights (deep black)

This deep black denim is made of BCI Cotton(Better Cotton Initiative). The better Cotton Initiative is a holistic approach to sustainable cotton production which covers all three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic. BCI is convinced that this approach has globally the biggest effect for social and environmental improvements.

After choosing model and colour and entering your sizes, Selfnation renders a digital true-to-size image of your lower body, wearing the jeans you’ve chosen in the measurements that you’ve entered into the system. You’re watching at your own lower body, wearing your brand new jeans.
This unique visualisation technology is another exclusive and patented innovation by Selfnation.
Remark: obviously it’s your own responsibility to measure your body right. A huge difference with having your body measured by a real-life tailor. If you’d make a mistake, there’s no one to blame but yourself. That being said, Selfnation makes measuring a piece of cake with a range of fool-proof instruction videos. With these instructions we managed to measure our bodies correctly and we had never measured our knees, ankles and calves before.
The fit is simply perfect; no part of this jeans is too wide, too short or too long. Welcome to the world of bespoke clothes. The recovery quality of the fabric amazes us. After a day of biking around Amsterdam for appointments (two biking trips in the rain) and sitting behind the desk for most of the day, there were no ‘knees’ visible in the jeans. The jeans – yes, even the bum-area – remained 99% in shape. After washing, the jeans fully recovered its fit.

This is an excellent basic skinny jeans. The Slim Fit jeans is available in different colours and different waist rises.
The sustainability and the engineering of the product is truly remarkable. As is the price for a bespoke jeans.

Selfnation combines the latest in computer engineering with environmentally forward-thinking and a good sense for customer needs. We like this philosophy a lot. The three weeks’ delivery time is worth the wait for this quality product.
We’re truly swept off our feet by the black Slim Fit. It’s the best fitting and most comfortable skinny jeans (this really is a tight fitting skinny jeans) we’ve ever had.
With hundreds of denim brands and millions of computer engineers out there, we think it’s pretty crazy that a bespoke concept like this hasn’t been on the jeans market before. So a big hurray for Selfnation!
We have to add that we tested the blue denim (Paris Blues) Slim Fit Low Waist jeans as well. It’s made of a slightly different fabric: 97% organic cotton and 3% elasthane (the black fabric contains polyester too).
The blue denim was a bit less tight and stretched-out a little bit more at the end of the day, but it was still far, far within the ‘happy zone’. We do think it’s important to stress the fact that ‘colour’ in Selfnation’s shop also means that you may get a different fabric. So, make sure to check the composition before switching colours.

We know – because we contacted fabric supplier Italdenim – that Selfnation only uses certified organic cotton. Unfortunately this information is nowhere to be found on Selfnation’s website, nor on the tags of the jeans.
We are aware that the use of polyester might not be part of a ‘sustainable choice’ for some customers.


Remarkable H&M jeansBRAND & U.S.P.
H&M is known as the fast-fashion chain with the biggest sustainability campaigns. One of its big media campaigns is about pushing textile recycling forward. H&M is the first company in the world that has launched a consumers’ reward program for returning old clothes to its shops: the Garment Collecting Program
The biggest fashion-recycling challenges du moment are: collecting tons and tons of worn clothes (or basically any other old textiles), developing techniques to automatically sort textile qualities and improving the quality of recycled yarns.

To enlarge the volume of the clothes recycling process, H&M announced in April 2015 a collaboration with Kering Group and UK based recycling company Worn Again
In Summer 2015, H&M launched its first collection made of recycled yarns: the Re-born collection. It consisted of sixteen denim pieces for men, women and children, made with recycled yarns and organic cotton.
We’ve tested the Re-born women’s skinny jeans in a soft grey colour, with ripped knees.

The textile label in the jeans says: 98% cotton, 2% elasthane. Separate paper hangtags specify the cotton part in 78% organic cotton and 20% recycled cotton. The inner waist band of the pants claims: ‘Denim made with recycled fibers’. This product gives consumers a lot of information about the fibres they’re buying. The jeans is ‘made in Pakistan’, but unfortunately there’s no detailed information to be found about the worker’s conditions. It’s communicated neither on the jeans, nor on H&M’s website. According to H&M’s online supplier list it works with over 25 manufacturing factories in Pakistan We don’t have the name of the factory that has supplied this jeans, so there’s no way for us to find out anything about the workers’ conditions for this jeans.

The fit is good at first. The stretch fabric is soft and feels strong enough. The model is cut a bit higher at the back, so it covers the bum part nicely; important for ladies who love riding bikes and are not fans of the underwear-above-jeans-effect. After an hour moving and biking around the city, the fabric has already lost some of its initial tightness and stretched out quite a bit, especially around the bum area. After a full work day, the jeans has stretched out a lot…at least half a size, everywhere. The jeans does recover to its initial fit after washing, but looses it again after a few hours’ wear.

Nice tight fit and a very modern. Surely, ripped-knees aren’t for everyone. First thing that happened is that I accidentally ripped the left knee another five inches as I put it on (it was very early, I was sleepy and thinking about coffee. Have to say that I’d never worn ripped jeans before and would never buy them either.
Still, I am very aware of the ripped-knee trend, so despite my clumsiness, this style scores on the trend factor.

Basically, it’s a well designed model made with innovative and environmentally friendly materials. The volume of H&M’s recycling project is admirable. For a true sustainable jeans, it lacks information about workers’ conditions though. The stretch factor seems good, but turns out to be of a rather short-lasting quality. For only € 39,99 this may still be an interesting purchase for fast-fashion lovers looking for environmentally friendlier products.

We’re well aware of the fact that the system of fast-fashion is extremely polluting and lacks overall transparency. At the same time we do think H&M’s sustainable projects are worth sharing (without losing a critical approach), because they’re groundbreaking for the industry and because they bring environmental issues to the attention of a large audience. The created awareness offers possibilities for further discussion.

Published @ Remarkable Magazine//January 2016//© Miranda Writes//