Denim HQ – Your Jeans Cost How Much?

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Some of my friends think I must be crazy to pay over $300 (£225) for jeans, in fact I would estimate that 99.9% of people in the world would think the same thing. There is no denying that the top end of premium denim is expensive, but is there an element of paying for the label as there is in high fashion or are the costs justified? I am in a privileged position as a denim head who can also look behind the curtain of retailing , thanks to my involvement with NoKipple, so I’m happy to give a little bit of an expose of why your jeans cost so much.

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Starting at the very beginning of the supply chain it should be fairly obvious that cotton grown in the USA, or the famed long staple Zimbabwe cotton favoured by many companies is going to cost more than cotton grown in places like Turkey, Pakistan (home of the worlds largest denim company) and China, so your raw material costs are instantly more than high street jeans. Moving on to manufacture, and I am not breaking any secret code here when I say that having things made in Japan in damned expensive, far more so than most other places in the world, so that includes weaving the denim, casting the hardware, buying zippers and clips and actually having the jeans stitched together. The places which do these operations are increasingly rare and small concerns, therefore competition to get things done in these factories is fierce and prices are high, with minimum order quantities ever increasing.

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Of course having jeans made in Japan by a high end denim company comes with some advantages, not least of which being that you can pretty much rely of the quality of the material and the manufacture. The Japanese eye for detail really is second to none, but as Japan is a relatively wealthy country then its workers are very skilled, proud of their craft and quite well paid, this again adds to the manufacturing cost.

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Unlike most other places in the world where wholesale pricing is set at around 40 – 50% of retail, in Japan the standard for exported goods is higher, quite considerably higher (I’m not going to reveal this exactly in fear of having my membership card to the guild of denim retailers revoked). This is why most sensible folks will stay away from retailing Japanese denim, it is something that requires testicular fortitude and an appreciation that you probably won’t get rich from it.

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For Western brands or retailers wishing to sell clothing made in Japan, or other places in the East, we now come to my least favourite expense (not that I have a favourite), which is tax. I am unfamiliar with what our friends across the pond pay in the form of tax and import duty, but in the UK on jeans it amounts to around 25% of the declared value plus shipping, it’s fairly expensive and after the initial outlay on product you find that this is a retailers biggest expense.

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Finally we come to the part where the retailer or brand really gets tears in their eyes, profit. Any good retail model will tell you that 50% is a decent profit margin to aim for, 60% is golden and below 50% really should only be for new businesses and for products where the shortfall can be made up elsewhere. We who retail Japanese denim would absolutely love to be able to work to these margins, we would be dancing around our denim covered living rooms in joy if this were the case, but it isn’t. In truth the margins to be made doing this are pretty awful, especially when you are only moving low volumes, it really is a labour of love.

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I read a few people proudly declaring that they purchase their jeans from places like Rakuten for less money, I also read a lot of these same people struggling to return said jeans when they have screwed up the sizing, or the cut doesn’t work for them. I have bought jeans from Rakuten before, a pair of Samurai S5000BK, and it worked for me, but I do imagine that it would have been just about impossible to return them had it not worked out. Having a local denim store, or at least a store who speaks the same language and has a defined returns policy is (in my opinion) far more important than a $50 discount because you will lose far more than that in both money and time if you have to sell them on.

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So there you have it, I could buy cheaper jeans but the quality would not be up to scratch and I could not guarantee ethical production so I don’t. You may still consider that the jeans are a rip off until you think about other areas of retail. A few years ago in London I picked up a bag by an extremely well known designer label to see how much it cost, £425, it was made of cotton with leather trim and manufactured in China, what is the justification there? The Blu Ray discs which Playstation and Xbox One games are written on cost pennies, after recouping the development costs the rest is pure profit, football (soccer) shirts have been in the UK press recently as the new England shirt costs £90 but the manufacturing cost has been revealed to be less than £5 !! Taken in a greater context the premium we pay for our chosen type of clothing does not seem so bad after all.

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Denim HQ -Style, What Do Your Clothes Say About You?

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Style is a funny thing, we all have style each and every one of us, in its most basic form style is simply an individuals way of doing something and in this case we think of style as the way in which a person presents themselves through their clothing choices. Consciously or sub-consciously we all have a self image or a way in which we perceive we are viewed by others and weirdly the truth is rarely anywhere near our expectation, so why is this? How does our own deliberate “style” become so convoluted in the eyes of others? Do we all just aim wide of the mark or are we all deluded to some extent? Maybe so.

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Whether we admit it or not we all make very clear decisions about what we like to wear, there are certain items and brands whom we will be drawn to because of the conditioning we receive from outside influences and the aspirations we have for our own self image. The influences most common in effecting our sense of style range from our social groups, our musical taste and certainly the more modern phenomenon of the internet, where we can feel at the same time validated and shamed by the style choices we make. Whether or not this latter influence is a good thing by the opening of honest discourse from like minded and dressed people, or simply a powerful peer driven marketing force is up for debate, and the truth probably lies with one foot in each camp depending on your own slant on such things and how seriously you take yourself. The one certainty is that people do have an inherent desire to belong to something, to identify with a group and through this to validate their own choices, and nowhere is this more visual than the way a person presents through their clothing.

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A secondary yet just as clear signal that your clothes say about you is not just what you wear, but how you wear it, take two people and dress them in identical jeans, shirt and boots and you will get two entirely different looks. Some people wear their clothes with an easy laid back style, the appearance of just having thrown them on without much consideration, whilst others carefully place each fold, crease and tuck to show the pride they have taken in their presentation. More than this it is not just how you wear, but how long you wear it for. Do you have two or three pairs of jeans that you wear in constant rotation for year after year, or can you not resist buying just one more pair when something new catches your eye? Do you like your jackets to mould to you and change with the wear you put on them like a leather, waxed or denim jacket, or do you prefer to pick something new up for each new season to constantly refresh your “look”?

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Speaking personally I like to dress for comfort, always have. It also helps that I am under no illusions about having a Brad Pitt-esque aesthetic so my self image is not something I feel the need to delicately coiffure to gain kudos. My interest in clothing is two fold, I appreciate high quality wares and the effort that goes into their design and production and I love to see materials evolve with wear and age. My fascination is more born out of utilitarian appreciation than a need for aesthetic validation (not that there is anything wrong with that), simply put I am more engineer than artist. 

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I believe that denim, Americana and work wear is altogether utilitarian at it’s heart and conception, the artistry is in the detailing of the stitch, the fastening and the weave but the garment itself is practical rather than couture fashion, there are of course exceptions but these are exactly that, exceptions. The danger, as I see it, in choosing to collect rather than wear this type of clothing is that you can turn it into dress up or cosplay as it is commonly referred to in Japan. This is not to decry peoples choices in what they buy or how they wear it, new clothes look great and if you can afford it then there is no doubt that new purchases are fun, I simply think that there needs to be a respect and appreciation for the purpose which the garment was created.

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Denim HQ – Washing, a Titanic Subject

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The title of this article is deliberate, as for many the discussion of this subject is like an ice berg under the surface waiting to sink them in endless debate from the internets foremost experts to a dude with his first pair of Nudies. Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one and I am no different….except perhaps that I’m an asshole with an opinion.

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There was recent controversy when the CEO of Levis made a public statement about not washing his jeans for 6 months, in my opinion this guy should have kept his mouth shut as he clearly doesn’t get it, or even worse he wants to propagate the myth of not washing raw denim to get that most hollowed of things “sick fadez”. My guess is that this business suit in denim wanted to get in on the cool bandwagon and show how much he was “down with the kids” when it comes to not washing his jeans, it didn’t work. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, jeans are made from cotton, cotton is a natural fabric and natural fabrics need to be washed or the build up of dirt will cause the fibres to wear and break. Call me weird, but if I’m spending over $300 on jeans I do like them to last a little longer than 6 months. On a very simple level jeans are clothes, and clean clothes are nicer to wear than dirty clothes.

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This is my method, it was not taught to me by wizards living on the top of mountains in Kojima, it was not written in virgins blood on the tooth of a dragon, it was taught to me by my grandmother when I was a teenager and it goes like this…

– Initial soak in water as hot as your skin can take it, the soak should be for approximately 20 minutes and you should agitate them whilst soaking. This removes the majority of the shrink from raw material.

– Future washes should be done in the machine on a regular setting and should be done when you feel that your jeans need washing which will depend entirely on how much you wear them, what you are doing when you wear them and should in no way be linked to time.

– Dark cotton clothing tends to lose some of its colour on the first couple of machine washes which can lead to unsightly blemishes where colour is lost. Therefore it is best to wash the garment inside out to avoid the motion of the machine and rubbing against the drum causing uneven colour distribution.

– If you have had a night out on the town and your jeans smell of booze and cigarettes but are not actually dirty then simply hang them outside for a few hours to disperse the odour, no need to wash at all.

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“But not washing for longer periods gives you sick combs” I hear people screaming, well if that’s what you believe and that is your thing and you don’t mind smelling a little then carry on doing what you’re doing. What I am trying to present is a little information about looking after your jeans in a none damaging manner whilst giving you lovely, natural, vintage style fades, exactly as the gods of denim intended them.

Denim HQ -Heavy Denim, Worth The Weight?

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My none denim interested friends think that I must be insane for spending the majority of my life wearing 25oz jeans, they cannot understand how it can possibly be comfortable or how they don’t continually stink from sweat and wear. My explanations are not usually enough to placate them, they have already made their minds up that it must be just another of my weird quirks coming to the surface, and even some within the denim community openly question the wisdom of heavy denim some of them plainly believing that it is a gimmick or a fad. Allow me to express my view, and please remember that this is my opinion with a certain degree of empirical knowledge to help me feel fairly secure in what I’m saying.

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I was first drawn to heavy denim not because of the weight but because I had seen a pair of Samurai 710’s which looked absolutely glorious, for some reason I rationalised to myself that the extra weight must be the reason for this stunning wear pattern…so I bought some. My first impressions of heavy denim were that it was far more comfortable and breathable than I expected as this is more down to weave than weight, not as stiflingly hot as I had been lead to believe (in fact about as warm as my more regularly weighted jeans) and it did give me a feeling of security to wear something of such heft whether that is a perceived feeling or actual protection is a matter for debate.

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Since those early days I have not owned many jeans that weigh in at less than 19oz, many of them weighing in at much more with the 25oz jeans being the absolute pinnacle for me in terms of weight. It is strange that at this moment in time I have more jeans weighing in at 14 – 14.5oz than ever before but I am still committed to spending the majority of time in my Iron Heart Mega Beatle Busters for the HWDC2, but it makes for an interesting comparison of wear. Monday through Friday I spend in my MBB’s and at the weekend I take my fancy of Trophy jeans depending on what I have planned to do as my Dirt Denim narrow are a little too worn for some situations, this gives me a weekly weight comparison which spends an unhealthy amount of time occupying my thoughts.

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It should be mentioned here that I actually wash my jeans, and by that I don’t mean a quick soak every 6 months. I mean a real wash in a real machine with real detergent and I do that every time I feel that they need it, sometimes a month, sometimes three months, sometimes after a week depending on what I’ve been doing. Denim is made from cotton, cotton is a natural fabric and it will break and fall to pieces if you allow dirt to build up on it, when I spend over $300 on jeans I do not want or expect them to fall apart after 6 months.

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My assertion is that when heavy denim is properly broken in, usually around the 3 – 5 months mark depending on wear and wash, it ceases to actually feel like denim at all. Every pair of heavier denim jeans which I have owned have actually felt more like old comfortable sweat pants than a pair of jeans, and that is especially true of my MBB’s which feel more like heavy cotton winter pyjamas than jeans. Conversely the lighter denim actually feels like denim, and it feels courser and more abrasive with a real sensation of being a practical, working fabric rather than something quite leisurely and nonchalant.

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In my early days of quality denim I was firmly in the heavy denim camp, it is why I started the HWDC, I do believe that there is a practical reasoning behind the extra protection it affords motorcyclists and the like and I do think that it evolves differently to lighter weight denim, although there are many other factors to that last point. As with most things it is a matter of preference, my preference was heavier denim but I have been exposed to lighter denim in more recent times and now I see the merit in all weights and would actively encourage people in all camps of denim weight to ensure that they broaden their horizons and not fall for the myths of the heat retention and heft of heavy weight denim.

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Denim HQ – Consumption Vs Costume

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After the tragic events in Bangladesh last year ,when a factory of workers being paid next to no money in Western terms to manufacture clothes for some of worlds biggest retailers collapsed, there was an understandable outrage within the denim and work wear community to draw the attention of consumers to the effects of buying cheaply produced clothing. It is a fact that consumers in all markets need to be educated about what they are buying and where it comes from, right the way through the supply chain. For some people decisions are made for them by what they can afford, and what they NEED to afford for their families continued well being, but for the privileged others there has to be an awareness of how their purchasing habits effect other areas of the planet and not just to do with people but also wildlife and the environment. This is a key point I make to any brand who I work with, ethics need to be king.

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This awareness of impact though needs to spread into the higher priced, ethically produced items. Simply because an item is high priced and fully ethically produced through its supply chain it does not absolve the consumer from responsibility in fact I would argue that it heightens it as we are the people who can afford to choose. The choice for us who buy in this market (and this is where I am slightly at odds with myself as a retailer) is not so much focussed on what to buy as how much to buy. I must insert my caveat here and say that I am well aware that people are free to spend their money exactly how they feel, I am just asking that they think before they do, I’m not even asking them to buy less, just that they question themselves before buying their 20th flannel shirt.

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You see, the thing is this, no matter how much care and attention is taken throughout the design, sourcing and manufacture stage of a product (any product) there is still an impact, that impact may be environmental due to processing, it might be the carbon footprint of the goods traversing the planet or it may even be something as simple as the financial impact on the customer who cannot really afford to be spending as they are. The manufacturers and retailers do not carry the full responsibility of these things, the consumer is culpable too and well produced, justifiable greed is still greed by anyone’s measure and something we are all guilty of to one degree or another.

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The other argument to this is more of a personal opinion, this is high quality denim, work wear and boots right? This stuff is made to last and evolve with the wearer by people who actively encourage and take pride in the evolution of their products (and rightly so) right? So, if you buy so many things that you cannot possibly have a chance to wear them all are you not missing the point somewhat? Is this not where work wear becomes a costume of work wear? Do you not run the risk that you are not so much a denim head as a person dressed as a denim head? Think about the kid at the mall with his brand new Tony Hawk skateboard still unmarked and complete with rails, trying desperately to convince people that he is a real hardcore skater.

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Materials like denim and leather are made to wear and change over time, their joy is ephemeral and their state of being is in constant flux. With time and wear our jeans change, as do our boots, wallets and jackets, to delay this process by simply not using them is to defy time and to deny them of their purpose, it just seems to go against the natural order of things in a very counter intuitive manner to me. Again though I should stress that this is only my opinion.

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I would suggest that the money spent on those 20 flannel shirts could be used to enrich your life in other ways, you could vary your wardrobe to the nth degree and invest only in the very best things and then use them to their purpose, you could invest in other hobbies or interests or you could travel and experience the world in all it’s wonder, seeking adventures to share with your super well made wardrobe, and you can even look good doing it.

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Denim HQ – Vive La Difference

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Who are you guys again? Where is this brand from? We heard this a lot when we first decided that the brand focus of NoKipple would be to bring something entirely new into what is really quite a narrow market, the old saying of “familiarity breeds contempt” holds no sway in this market and when someone drops over $300 on a pair of jeans they, more often than not, will want to go with something that they are familiar with. Bringing new brands into this market is quite a challenge.

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For us the motivation for wanting to do something different came after the decision to become a retailer, naturally we looked at the most successful people out there already doing it to see what made them a success, who our geographical peers would be, and what the already offered as there would be little point in further diluting the market by offering the exact same brand line up. More than this though, we felt that outside of the established brands, which we are all very familiar with, there must be other brands out there making amazing things and perhaps not getting the attention that their crafts deserved, we were correct.

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The brands which I now work with in a retail sense are all unique in what they do and how they do it, whilst being decidedly different from each other also. Looking specifically at Trophy Clothing and Jelado it would be true to say that they both produce vintage inspired Americana wear in a variety of materials and to a very high standard, but that is where similarities end and “la difference” begins.

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Trophy redesign and reinterpret to their own vision, nothing is truly a reproduction, it is all given a unique “Egawa twist” by Trophy brand owner Masaki Egawa whose vision, keen eye for detail and insistence upon travelling the lengths of Japan to source materials, hardware and fabrics is what makes Trophy Clothing incomparable to anyone else, because no one else shares his particular perspicacity.

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Jelado is also the result of one mans vision and one mans passion, but Yohei Goto walks a different path. Goto San loves authenticity, but more than this he relishes improving on what is already near perfect. If inspiration is found in a vintage flannel from the 1950’s but Goto San is not happy with how it was stitched or patterned then he will re-pattern it and remake it using a higher quality stitch pattern from the 1920’s for example. Jelado work with passion to find inspiration in the old, and then improve upon it in every aspect of materials, manufacture and even slightly modernising the cut, but only if it is absolutely appropriate.

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Articulating the above sentiments and stories about lesser known brands to a narrow field of customers, against established competition, is certainly a challenge, but it is one worth facing and one which I enjoy simply because I believe in our brands and I believe in what they do and what we do. Working with lesser known brands is certainly not the easy path to choose and it has its frustrations, but we believe that the consumers in this market are educated, that they want to try new things and that they take the time to research what they are buying. My aspiration is to keep showing the customers products that I think they will enjoy, made by brands  whom they might need to get to know a little before they swap numbers.

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FWA Number 14 – The Dita Winston Glasses Frames

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I was a weird kid (no surprise there), whilst most children were horrified at the thought of wearing glasses I always wanted to and I put this down to my childhood obsession with Superman and his alter ego Clark Kent. I have always enjoyed the identity changing quality that spectacles afford, the ability to add or change character, like a mask which does not conceal. It took until I was 30 years old for me hear the immortal words from my optician, “I’m afraid that your eyesight requires correction, we need to give you a prescription for glasses”, I was elated.

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Neighborhood/ Effector Tramps

My first foray into quality frames was with a pair of Effector Tramp frames, hand made in Japan and part of a collaboration with famed Japanese street wear label Neighborhood. I thought that they were great, my wife thought otherwise. She said that they were too harsh for my face and made me look unnecessarily stern….I moved them on.

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Persols

Next came a pair of vintage Persol frames which I picked up in Berlin, they had a great retro style and gave me a whole new look. Again my wife disapproved, she said they made me look old, so…. I moved them on.

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Dita Oxford

It was around this time that a friend of mine told me about his Dita frames, in his words “no other frames come close to comparing with them”. A bold claim I thought to myself but it was enough to make me want to see for myself, but certainly enough to make me want to see for myself (pun fully intended), so I bought a pair of Dita Oxford frames for a good price from an internet forum. Sadly, these frames were also not right for me as the colour did suit my pale bald head, the quality of the frames was great, perhaps not as great as my friend had claimed but certainly as good as anything I had tried before and certainly good enough to make my want to try Dita again. All this history brings me to my current, and greatest, frames, the Dita Winston. 

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These frames are hand made in Japan from a combination of zyl acetate and titanium, absolutely top grade materials and they are styled in California in a timeless and understated manner to simply exude quality in a way that only the very best things can. The designs from Dita draw inspiration from classic frames from the 1950’s up to the 1980’s, and whilst it is easy to call them reminiscent it is also very true that they are ,at least equally, unique. Each pair of Dita frames is hand assembled, and each different model has a custom designed hinge particular to that exact style, no expense spared at all, and then individually inspected and hand packaged for despatch.

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After much searching, testing and trying I believe I have found “my” glasses, they offer me everything that I have always wanted from a set of frames in terms of the aesthetics and the quality. What is more important though is probably that my wife is also happy with them, she just tries to convince me that my beard is in need of reduction now.

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