Our recent trip to the country side for the NoKipple gave us an opportunity to work with a photographer who likes to try a few different photographic techniques, and the technique which he favours most is called Pinhole. Please forgive my layman’s explanation, which I believe I have already given on an earlier post (so also forgive me for repeating myself), Pinhole photography is technique by which an infinite depth of field is gained by overexposure through an extremely small aperture. Unfortunately for Alex our photographer his subject was the grim and grisly visage presented by me and NoKipple owner Jon, we quite enjoy the results.
My old Schott in NYC
As well as seeking employment I am still looking for the remaining items on my FWA list, of which number one is a classic, timeless leather jacket. My plans have been slightly delayed by my impending family trip to Barcelona which will consume my spare money for the next couple of months, but I no matter as I am still in the research phase of the hunt. Recently I have been taking a closer look at leather options as I definitely want a jacket which can be worn as often as possible throughout the year so heavy, thick, rigid leather is more than likely not an option. Ideally I would like something substantial in heft, but supple in texture to allow maximum movement but still feel like a “proper” jacket. Through research and conversation I have narrowed the leather down to a straight choice between a mid weight steer hide and goat, which was a very popular leather in military contract leather jackets through the 40’s and 50’s.
The Himel Brothers Heron
I have a had two steer hide jackets before, the first being the Schott which was cumbersome and unwieldy but looked great, the second was a Brooks Café racer which was made from a much thinner steer hide and felt extremely flimsy in comparison. The point which this illustrated to me is that there is a huge amount of variation in this leather, and without being able to feel the material in person I will not be sure that it is what I am looking for. Goat leather also has a fair amount of variation but it is by nature a much more pliable material, which means that even with at a significant thickness it will still be comfortable and moveable. I am edging to wards the goat (never thought I’d say that), for reasons of comfort and authenticity.
Vintage Brooks Cafe Racer
After leather comes the question of how to buy rather than where to buy, do I buy new or vintage? There is no doubt that it is still very possible to pick up a really nice bargain in the second hand leather jacket market, a quick search of eBay will show you that vintage jackets by Brooks, Schott, Sears, Golden Bear and many other older American brands can be found for less than $150 in some cases, it’s just a case of patience and waiting for something you love to become available. The draw back of this method of purchasing is that you don’t get to handle the jacket, your purchase is based solely on pictures and this can lead to some pretty major pitfalls, $150 may not seem like much money until you have to throw it away after receiving something completely awful from some unscrupulous vendor.
The Alexander Leathers Simmons
The other option is obviously to buy new, with the variables being price, brand and either off the shelf or custom made. For a jacket worthy of being a FWA I actually don’t need to spend a fortune, as some really good brands often have sample sales or seasonal reduction on existing stock models and jackets made as samples for retailers or customers who changed their mind, this can be a really good way of getting a top quality jacket for appreciably less money, works for boots too. I am leaning towards buying a new jacket, and I am thinking that my next move will be to compare a few models which take my fancy and see how they stack up.
So where to begin, how do you go about finding paid work in an industry where your work thus far has been pro bono? What is it I actually want to do? Where do my talents lay? What to do first? Well, firstly I should give serious consideration to what I have done so far, what has worked out well and what did I enjoy doing?
Without doubt my biggest personal success is the Heavyweight Denim Contest, it’s the worlds biggest denim contest and I created it and organised the vast majority of it single handed, not only as a contest but as a promotional tool for the denim industry it has plenty of untapped potential, I would definitely say that organisation and promotion are strengths for me. The work I have most enjoyed is the promoting ideas, brands, products and ideas, I love nothing more than having something that I really believe in and being able to share my enthusiasm for it with the world, so I think helping to grow business, products and ideas into previously unfamiliar markets is definitely something I can excel at. It’s something that I already do with quite a degree of success.
To illustrate this I would like to point to my involvement with Trophy Clothing. It was November 2012 when I was looking through the “Unknown Japanese Brands” thread on Superfuture, basically looking for something to inspire me, something new. Every time I came across a brand name that I was unfamiliar with I took a look at their website, on the third or fourth search I found Trophy and something completely inspiring. Their denim and outerwear in particular struck me as something so refreshingly different and cool that I struggled to believe that people in the Western market weren’t clamouring for it, but they didn’t know about it. Trophy were the first brand on the list when NoKipple was first formed, I literally harassed Masaki Egawa with email after email, I bought shirts and jeans and eventually he relented to what I hope was my clear and passionate love for his brand, but was more likely my crazy British persistence. Trophy are now well on their way to being a very well established brand in the Western market and they have their own feature in the latest issue of Men’s File for the first ever time.
Not that I want to claim sole responsibility for the introduction of Trophy to the world outside of Japan. I didn’t finance bringing the clothing here and I did not provide the web platform for the gear to be sold, what I did do was sing the praises of this amazing brand to anyone who would listen until my NoKipple partner Jon listened, then I took to the forums and social media to espouse the virtues of the brand and its specific items and I beat that drum black and blue until people took notice. I visited Trophy with Jon, I organised denim tours, I wrote countless articles, I started forum threads, I took picture after picture of materials, details, hardware and hundreds of fit pics, I think that over the last year and a bit I have probably produced more pictures of Trophy Clothing than Trophy have themselves.
That was the process, it continues to be the process as there is so much more growth out there for Trophy and the other NoKipple brands that it never stops, the drum is still beaten regularly and slowly but surely we are getting acceptance into the market, and I have loved doing it. This is the kind of work I want to find for myself, whether it is working with brands, specific products, or concepts and ideas I believe my strength lays in bringing something new to the table and getting people to nod approvingly, acknowledging that what I am showing them is good, genuine and worthy of their attention and custom, plus nothing gives me more satisfaction than when something that deserves more attention actually gets it.
Something else appealing to me is breaking down a few prejudices which still exist in this industry about where things can be made, and that just because something is made elsewhere than Japan or the United States it is not necessarily poor quality. I have seen with my own eyes some amazing items being ethically and skillfully produced in Indonesia, indeed I have worked to promote some of these brands and their wares in our market already. Whilst the more I see of Chinese brands such as Red Cloud the more impressed that I am, as a growing market China cannot be bettered so it makes sense that there should be domestic brands rising to meet domestic and international demand which might require some asistance, who perhaps have a decent home market share but lack promotion and awareness outside of their own borders, working with brands like this appeals a great deal. Not just with completed items but with materials also, recently I have had a look at ISKO denim from Turkey and been really impressed with the the quality of their premium lines, so if I could find employment with an ethical materials producer who would like to change the way that certain markets view their wares then this would also interest me.
I have updated my LinkedIn profile to give details of my skills and experience (see below) and I have begun looking at how best to use LinkedIn as a resource for finding work. Next up I shall take a look at the kind of brands, products, materials and concepts I would like to help promote, and see if there are any opportunities to do exactly that.
Contrary to the belief of some people whom I encountered when organising the HWDC2 I am not a denim billionaire, I do not live in an indigo dipped mansion and spend my evening cavorting in hot tubs with 23oz denim bikini covered super models, I am a normal man with a very normal job and, like the majority of mankind, I am bored with it.
My involvement in the world of high quality denim from a task perspective has been many and varied, I created, manage and own the worlds largest denim competition, the HWDC, I have spent many a long night into the early hours compiling spreadsheets, talking to developers and answering questions from contestants based all over the world. I have invested my own money to no fruition, I have helped to design merchandise and I have dragged my family around for publicity events. The HWDC makes no money.
I am the Brand Manager of UK based retailer NoKipple. My work here has seen me educate myself about social media marketing, constructing a cohesive brand image, writing copy, effectively promoting and building unknown brands in unfamiliar markets, negotiating and meeting with suppliers to discuss costs, time scales, import, quality and supply chain in both Indonesia and Japan and even working as a model. The learning curve has been steep on all counts but successful nevertheless, NoKipple is a new retailer and the level of investment required to set it up (not by me) was not insignificant. Currently I do not earn any money from this venture.
I’m guessing by now that you might see a pattern forming here, I’m working but not actually being paid, and like most people I really quite like being paid for what I do. It is therefore with some trepidation that I am setting myself a bit of a challenge, I will set myself a deadline of New Years Day 2015 to find myself gainful employment, paid employment in the industry of denim or workwear. I have experience in retail, negotiations, social media management, brand management, manufacturing, leading teams, meeting deadlines, writing copy, gonzo journalism and working with some of the worlds finest brands and retailers. I am active, articulate, well travelled, culturally aware, I have a base knowledge of Japanese and German and I already have a certain amount of profile, surely anyone would want to employ me right? Lets find out.
For the entertainment and continued interest of the readership of this very blog I will record my efforts to find gainful employment here, and if I fail to achieve my goal then I will go back to simply being a dude who wears jeans. First though, I have to try, I have to go for the dream and see just what is attainable, time to have a think about what it is exactly that I would like to do and where I think I could excel. Set a goal and go for it…..hang in there dear readers, this might be a long road.
Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen people, Megatron is for hire!!
Sometimes a sure thing isn’t so sure, a no lose situation results in a loss, and all the positive market research you get done points you in totally the wrong direction. When we first launched NoKipple we had a product that we absolutely knew could not fail, people we clamouring for it, we fielded easily 50 enquiries about availability and it had been spoken about by much of the denim press on the internet to favourable response. So what happened? Why did the NKxEK01, our first beautifully imagined collaborative article, not set the world alight as it seemed destined to do?
Let’s break down the strengths and weakness’s of the jeans, starting with the strengths. What we have here is the worlds first and only left hand twill, hand woven, hanks dyed, heavyweight denim. This in itself should have moved units, this is a real denim heads dream, a world first, a denim so soft and heavy it almost feels like you’re wearing a pair of heavy wool trousers. The dye technique mimics natural indigo to give a unique and varied hew, it also makes the colour extremely stubborn to fade, the rivets are all hand settled, the cut is a slightly slimmer straight cut for broad appeal and the pocket bags have chain stitched logos and are made from traditional Indonesian Batik fabric. This is quite a feature list to be honest, I’m pretty sure you can see why it would inspire confidence in us as retailers.
Now for a look at the negatives. They are made a by an almost unknown brand from Indonesia rather than a Japanese mega brand, we were told by several people in the run up to launch that a certain well known Japanese brand had made a similar jean and retailed it for over $1000. The fact that they are made in Indonesia we knew would be an issue for some people who are used to buying only Japanese denim, the fact that it was a straight cut would put some people off and also acknowledging also that not only are Elhaus a new brand but NoKipple is a new retailer.
So, on balance we still firmly believed that the features, difference and diversity of the jeans would make them a hit, and the way people were responding to the pre launch announcements only further endorsed that perspective. As our core belief is in marketing new brands from places which were not traditionally associated with denim and work wear, we knew the quality was good and their supply chain was ethical so we hoped that the strength of the product would help customers see past any slight bias against none Japanese or US denim, we seem to have been proved wrong.
None of this is to say that we haven’t sold quite a few pairs of these jeans, because we have, just nowhere near as many as we thought we would. Feedback from owners has been generally positive and everyone seems to love the denim, so what is it about these jeans that does not fully ring peoples bell? Are they too different? Are there too many features for people to fully appreciate? Does the list of attributes simply become white noise against the background of the competition, including our own brands from Japan? We’re not sure, but the jeans have certainly not been the run away success we had expected.
My personal feeling is that there is a combination of factors conspiring against them, they do look slightly different, they are not made in Japan and they are not made by an established brand, these factors alone will have an effect of popularity. The jeans are currently reduced in price on the NoKipple site, and I suspect that in a couple of years people may look back on them as a missed opportunity. I believe that simply for being the worlds first hand woven heavyweight denim that they deserve a place in denim history, and not as a white elephant.
Being my son didn’t really give poor Tommy much of a chance when it came to a love of denim. From being a baby I dragged my wife around GAP stores trying to find some of their Baby GAP Selvedge range, and buying a couple of pairs when we were lucky enough to find some. So when my family and I attended the Iron Heart Summer Party in 2011, and Tommy cheekily asked Shinichi Haraki, founder and owner of Iron Heart, if he could make him some jeans just like his dads so (at 5 years old) began young Tommys journey into quality denim.
Haraki-San was as good as his word, and though he didn’t make Tommy a pair of jeans he did have some “mini” jeans that he had made up for advertising purposes, which fit Tommy perfectly when he received them in November of 2011. In less than a year Tommy had predictably done 2 things to his exclusive jeans, firstly he had trashed them and secondly he had out grown them, but Haraki had other ideas and thanks to Giles the jeans were taken back to The Works in Hachioji to lengthening surgery.
As you can see Haraki’s thoughts on lengthening the jeans were far more complex than simply adding a false cuff (which is what Giles and I thought was happening), what Haraki did was completely deconstruct the jeans and add in extra lengths of 21oz denim so that Tommys original fade pattern remained where it should be, an unbelievable level of detail.
Unfortunately it didn’t take Tommy too long to out grow them for a second time, and do even more damage to them, lengthening and repair were not really an option this time around so instead I summoned the courage to ask Giles is Haraki would be open to actually patterning a completely new pair of jeans for Tommy, we were delighted when he agreed, and together Tom(oko) of Iron Heart Japan they set to work creating an entirely new pair of jeans for Tommy. The one and only pair of “Mini Mega Beatle Busters”.
The only down side was that I was asked for measurements for these jeans, and being ever cautious about the rate at which my boy grew I added an extra couple of inches to measurements. The up side of this being that he will still be able to wear them when he’s 10 or 11. Here are a couple of comparison shots of the old and new jeans.
My family and I are extremely grateful to the entire Iron Heart crew, and in particular the man who Tommy thinks of as his “Uncle from Japan”, Haraki San. I’ll leave this piece with a few shots of Tommy getting acquainted with his last pair of Iron Heart…