A reader in a comment on my 2015 “Denim made in the US” recently asked for some resources for jeans that are made from American made DENIM, not just jeans that are “made in the US.” Happy to oblige. But first, just a reminder that “made in the US” does NOT mean the item was produced entirely from start to finish in the US, including the components: all it technically has to mean is that the item was put together in the US, not that the fabric came from the US, or the cotton was grown here. Most premium denim brands are manufactured/washed/finished in the US, in Los Angeles specifically (they have the wash houses), but the denim itself is generally imported, in very high-end brands, from Japan.
The denim industry has a gigantic environmental impact, mostly because it takes a lot of water not only to grow cotton for denim, but also to get our precious washes just right (“a pair uses 42-45 litres of water in the finishing process alone“). And synthetic indigo dyes? No good. Not to mention acid washing and sandblasting, which thankfully not many manufacturers do anymore, but any distressing at all leads to denim’s even higher environmental impact.
What’s a denim addict to do??
First, of course, try to use/wear/take care of what you have before buying new. You could also buy secondhand. And when you want/need to buy new, buy responsibly as much as possible.
My strategy with denim now, is to buy the very best quality jeans I can, that fit “perfectly,” are manufactured in the US, and then wear the hell out of them. My favorite jeans now are by 6397, Rag & Bone/JEAN, Frame, and Goldsign, with the later two pairs being more than a couple years old, and the Rag & Bone/JEAN, secondhand. I wash my jeans as infrequently as possible (seriously – I mean maybe once every couple of months?) and never put them in the drier. I would like to explore 100% cotton selvage jeans, organic cotton, and more denim made in the US, as well as natural indigo dyes, or even black, but given my track record with jeans (I’m super hard to fit), I don’t have high hopes. And it hasn’t always been fun trying! Yet I push on LOL.
With regard to jeans, and buying any responsibly made clothing, I try to narrow down my top requirements and search according to what’s most important. If 100% American made denim is important to you, here are some resources I’ve found. Please add your own if you have any, in addition to a review of the brands if you’ve tried them.
Cone Denim – from my research, it appears that Cone Denim is one of the only (if not THE only) manufacturer of American denim fabric. Many of the designers who use Cone denim mention that in their descriptions – it’s something to be proud of! They only supply the fabric, and don’t make any jeans. They’re also starting to grow their own indigo for natural dyes.
Brands for women that use now, or have used American denim (read the descriptions, most of these companies are transparent about where they source their fabrics, and not all of their styles use Cone denim, some source denim from mills in Japan):
Baldwin Denim – not all styles, many use Japanese denim
Brave Star Selvage
Bullet Blues – everything on most of their denim is sourced in the US, including rivets. Not a fan of the styles though.
Imogene & Willie – pretty clearly marked which styles use Turkish or Cone denim
Industry Standard – ‘basic’ denim, everything made in the US
J Crew has some pieces for men & women using Cone denim but it is NOT necessarily manufactured in the US
nudie jeans – selvage denim, shown on men, but the styles are generally unisex
**edited to add after a reader comment: Madewell now carries some jeans that are made with Cone Denim, but they are STILL not made in the US. Below are the styles featuring Cone Denim (it’s not easy to find them, you have to go through each pair…)
For a good overview of responsible denim (not necessarily American made though), see Project Just’s feature on denim.