Rag & Bone/JEAN capri jeans | “secondhand” from a friend – made in the US of Japanese fabric (via Instagram)
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.
Thanks for this – I live near Baldwin on the Plaza and had no idea that their denim was truly made in America. It will be my first stop the next time I want to buy jeans (I’ve stuck to AG for quite some time, for purely vanity reasons – they’re the only petite jeans that actually fit me off the rack).
Grechen Reiter says
i’ve been wanting to try baldwin denim also – please let me know if you find anything! (I’m actually REALLY drawn to this skirt at shopbop)
that’s the challenge though, with jeans, the fit is paramount. and no matter how sustainable, or eco-friendly the jeans are, if they don’t fit me like i want them to, i will never wear them. and that is ultimately wasteful, and NOT sustainable at all!
incidentally, not all of their jeans use denim made in the US, some of it comes from japan, from Kaihara Mill, and it will usually say that on their site
Ok, this has NOTHING to do with this post (I should have posted on last Friday’s Random!)…but I ordered the Deadwood leather jacket from Zady, and wanted to give a quick review.
The leather was SO SOFT. I’ve tried on biked jackets before, and they have felt so stiff and bulky, but the recycled leather was amazing. Also, it all matched very well–they have a warning that the color may differ, but the one I got was very evenly colored. I ordered the medium (which was all they had), which was too small for me. It hits at the hip and is a pretty traditional biker length–I think I need something more cropped. But in any case, wonderfully made and a great deal (for you and the environment!)
Grechen Reiter says
haha. that’s okay, thanks for the review! another reader ordered it too, and said the same thing you did about the quality, etc. but that the fit was “off” on her and definitely not cropped. she and i are sort of the same shape/size, so i sort of gave up on that one for me. i would absolutely need something cropped
i’ve been looking at the recycled leather jackets at urban outfitters too…this one specifically…
With regards to eco-friendly denim, would white denim be the best (second to “natural”) or is the bleaching process just as toxic or water consuming as blue denim processing? Thanks for your informative blog post! Really helpful in making more environmentally conscious purchases.
Love this post. I live in denim and try to make ethical choices in my purchases. A local company, here in Cincinnati, has made men’s denim for a while and has started making women’s as well as tees and sweatshirts. Look into Noble denim and their sister company Victor Athletics, They have a good vibe and its neat to see their old sewing machines. Oh and talking about made in Cincinnati, we have a very cool furniture maker called Brush Factory.
I love, love, love my Raleigh denim jeans. I also tried Imogen&Willie and was not impressed. I got the black ones, and they basically wear like Old Navy jeans. No thank you. I’ve also tried the Levi’s water-saving made-in-USA ones, which are nicely real-denim but otherwise kinda meh.
Grechen Reiter says
oh, thanks for that andrea! i’d heard of victor athletics, but not noble denim. i hope you’ll try the jeans when they launch and let us know how they fit!!
Grechen Reiter says
what style by raleigh do you have?
i tried on a pair of imogene + willie at shinola here once and was completely unimpressed. but i continue to hear good things about them. whenever i get to nashville i’d like to try all of them on to see the differences in style/wash.
i think ultimately, i lean towards 100% cotton denim nowadays. i just want loose and comfortable LOL
Grechen Reiter says
that’s a great question leigh – i’ll look into that. i would say just instinctively yes, it’s probably better than other dyes, but that could be way off base!
I got Imogene Willie jeans at their sample sale (I live in Portland) and I liked them ok, they were just a size too big. I sold them to my SIL and she loves them. Also, she is 6 foot and I am 5’3” so maybe they fit taller people better?
Madewell also uses cone denim in a few styles, which makes sense since they are a Jcrew subsidiary.
I have the Surry skinny, which is NOT skinny on me–I think the sizing runs pretty big in that brand. I’m mildly curious about sizing down, but not enough to buy another pair right now.
I did the try-on-a-million-pairs thing at Brooklyn Denim Co., which was really worthwhile, although it was so much information I didn’t retain much!
Thank you for this exhaustive research. I want you to know I appreciate it! I wish Madewell would get with the program, because their jeans fit me perfectly. I’ll wear the hell out of them for sure!
Grechen Reiter says
actually a reader mentioned that madewell does use some cone denim in some of their styles, it’s very hard to identify which, because a search comes up with nothing. but if you look at the individual styles now, it will say which mill their denim comes from. which is some progress, i’ll give them that…
I just bought my first pair of noble denim for women. They are currently available in skinny jeans in three washes, black, raw, and worn. I tried on both the worn and the raw. It was a tough choice, but with help of the awesome sales staff/ designer I chose the worn. I chose them a bit snug because they are supposed to stretch a half size. In general they are super comfortable and very flattering. The rise is just right. My husband likes the rear view. I also bought two tanks from the sister store, victor athletics.
Emily Gray says
Hi! So I ordered the XS size from Deadwood, since I’m generally an XS in US sizing, and it was WAY too small, so now I’m trying to figure out if I need to go one size up or two. Did you feel like the Medium you ordered (38, I assume?) felt more like an XS/S?