As the denim industry fights for a more sustainable image, dialogue has emerged as its secret weapon. From water wastage in cotton production and jeans manufacturing – it can take 75 litres, per pair, to fake that worn-in look, with tons of garments destined for landfill –  to the human loss of skills and local industry caused by tightening margins, the cost of denim is as much social as environmental. But growing awareness is driving the discourse between consumers, designers and suppliers, which is needed to remodel denim from the rivets up. Here we present three London-based brands with an ethical approach to jeans woven into their DNA.

ELV Denim lifestyle shot

E.L.V Denim upcycles handpicked materials which are saved from landfill

E.L.V. Denim
Named after East London where her jeans are produced, and the vintage pieces reused in them, Anna Foster started E.L.V. Denim in response to throw-away consumerism’s influence on fashion. Saving used denim from landfill, she handpicks, deconstructs and splices together two pairs of discarded jeans to create her signature style, The Twin. And the sustainable message is backed up with luxury-level expertise, reflected in a made-to-measure service at retail studio, Alex Eagle. ‘It’s about educating buyers that recycled products can be modern and sophisticated,’ says Foster. ‘They feel relevant while giving people the satisfaction that they’re helping the environment’.

Ullac lifestyle shot

Ullac’s family-run factory near Bologna works exclusively with organic cotton and sustainable denim mills. Photography: Willow Williams. Fashion: Jordan Schneider

‘When we worked out our values, and what things cost to produce, we realised that normal retail would make our clothes too expensive,’ explains Chris Lynd of Ullac. ‘We want to create something ethical but accessible, and by not wholesaling we can do that’. Working exclusively with organic cotton, sustainable denim mills – like Candiani, and their traditional family-run factory near Bologna, comes with a hefty price tag. But by avoiding store mark-ups and selling exclusively through their online shop, and Hackney Downs studio, Ullac avoids passing the cost of buying into their ethical, genderless vision for workwear-inspired denim onto the customer.

Blackhorse Lane denim close up

Blackhorse Lane Ateliers’ Shoreditch store offers customers a repair and haberdashery service to create custom styles

Blackhorse Lane Ateliers
Making is everything at Blackhorse Lane. The brand evolved from a Walthamstow atelier renowned for keeping denim manufacturing in London alive, which explains its focus on treating machinists with the respect usually reserved for designers. ‘Our factory is beautiful, we eat together, and the team is well paid and owns equity in the company,’ says Head of Digital & Marketing, David Giusti. ‘We’re changing perceptions of what being a maker means.’ This dedication to craftsmanship continues at a new Shoreditch store where, alongside their raw denim staples, lives a repair service and haberdashery offering all the hardware, selvedge and encouragement needed to create your own.

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