Denim HQ – New Brands, Kickstarters and Hostility

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Whilst enjoying my morning coffee and browsing my usual internet haunts this morning I was drawn to a thread on a popular denim forum about (yet another) new Kickstarted denim brand/ project. I took a look, as I’m always interested in brand concepts, and was for the first time surprised with the level of hostility, cynicism and general nit picking with what this new start up was promoting, and it made me question why are people seemingly so against these new start ups? Don’t get me wrong here, I have been negative towards some of these kickstarter projects myself, but was I right to be? Are we just bitter and jealous? If we’re not interested in what they have to say then shouldn’t we just ignore them and hope that they go away? Well, let’s look at the reasons for this general sense of discontent every time a new Kickstarter is announced.

There Is Just Too Damned Many Of Them

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My feeling, and that of quite a few others who I read, is that it seems to be a fairly regular occurance that a new brand is launching through a Kickstarter style platform, and it is an economic fact that markets (particularly niche markets) become saturated with brands and products which invariably dilutes the scene and moves it away from what made people like it in the first place. In other words it can lead to the customers not being able to see the wood for the trees. The counter argument to this is that cream rises to the top, if your brand and product is good enough you will succeed and if not you are doomed to fail.

I believe that the rising tide of brands who throw around denim buzz words like “heritage”, “vintage” and “crafted” in their blurb will be a passing phase. The market is simply not big enough to sustain all these enterprises as going concerns, the customer base is not big enough and so unless you offer something decidedly different or innovative in terms of product, brand or concept then you will struggle in the long term.

There Is Nothing Different About Any Of Them

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Whilst I’m not sure that statement is 100% accurate it is true to say that the first few of these start ups that I checked out were very, very similar. The buzz words, the presentation, the clean lines, the use of cone mills denim is all great right up to the point where it just becomes white noise. I want to see my brands experiment with their products, homage is fine until it becomes the standard, I want to see different weights, cuts, patches, hardware, textures. I would like to see a brand seeking out some fabric mill in Siberia that is used to making military clothes but has turned their talents to looming their own crazy denim and stitching it on sewing machines powered using Trabant engines, now there’s a concept.

The Best Jeans Are Made In Japan, Not The USA

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This is absolutely baseless and pure conjecture, it’s too subjective to say with any real conviction. It’s a true fact to say that jeans were popularised in the USA and that is the culture with which they will always be associated, it is equally true to say that Japanese made jeans have dominated the quality denim market for the last 5 or 6 years at least. There will always be a romanticism attached to American made jeans which other countries struggle to replicate owing to the depth of history and iconography of denim in society at large, Japanese denim has managed to come the closest to recapturing that feeling by replacing the image of the denim clad cowboy with that of the Bosozoku biker.

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No matter what your feeling are towards these new start ups, we do have to accept them as part of denim society in general. I have noted that the distain is not only reserved for brands going through the crowd source method of funding, but new brands in general seem to be treated with a suspicious eye if they cannot claim acceptable provenance (i.e. established market share in Japan, and to a lesser extent Europe or the US). In the last two days I have been sent a presentation by a European denim brand who manufacture in Japan and are interested in working with UK based retailers, and an email from a new denim company based in South East Asia who would like me to take a look at their product. This is the kind of thing I love, the search for originality and innovation or (as with the Ooe jeans). really top level quality, so my point of view on new to market brands is slightly different.

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I think that each new brand or project should be judged on its own merits, if you find it boring then by all means dismiss it but don’t dismiss everything just because of a few. I think the real danger of Kickstarter style projects and most new brands is that if they don’t offer something interesting then all they really do is confirm and spread peoples apathy towards any other new brand which follows, all I am asking people is that rather than give up on newbs simply demand that they do something worthy of our interest and excitement.

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3 thoughts on “Denim HQ – New Brands, Kickstarters and Hostility”

  1. Good article Gav, my point concerns the number of these Kickstarter style denim brands and their target markets so I’d like to expand on some of the interesting themes you’ve already raised with my own ramblings.

    For many people reading about such brands on your blog or via the ‘quality’ denim forums (fora ?), there is an automatic inbuilt elitist/purist/snob response as you’ve quite rightly mentioned. It is very unlikely denim aficionados who regularly spend $300 on Samurai, Full Count, etc are likely to take what would be seen as a backwards step and start buying the latest Uncle Sam’s Original Made in USA good ole’ American blue jeans for $100. That is, unless a new brand can differentiate itself on quality or innovation but as long as they are all offering standard sanforized Cone Mills denim, this will patently never be the case.

    There seem to be 3 key tenets to these brands:

    1) Quality – not as good as high end Japanese or Cone denim but better than standard high street/supermarket/mall offerings. This is likely to appeal to younger buyers with an interest in perceived quality or older buyers who can remember when things used to be better.

    2) Heritage – seen to go hand in hand with quality. The whole US made ethos will primarily achieve resonance with Americans (including the xenophobes!) and hold a more limited appeal with Americana fans elsewhere. The irony here is that whilst many brands use American heritage as a selling point, they have little to none of their own!

    3) Price. To denim aficionados, the prices may seem low but to the mass-market, they are probably on the high side. This must therefore be outweighed by the quality and heritage factors. The price will possibly also deter those who buy True Religions, Seven for All Mankind, etc (the label brands) who may perceive them as cheap.

    Considering the number of kick-starters doing the rounds, who all seem to be taking an identikit approach, I think the target market really is mainstream America. It is aimed at those currently buying cheap, imported jeans who may be swayed by the notion of better quality (at a price of course) with a nod to the past via supporting a return to US manufacturing of the most American of all garments.

  2. Great comment Martin. For me I totally understand and even share many of the negative feelings about this rush to crowd source denim, but I also want to temper that by not disregarding all new brands.

    I can’t accept that there is no innovation or originality out there, surely there are still some wow moments left in denim and work wear?

  3. Great blog by the way Gav, really enjoying it. I especially like the Denim Monk theme and breaking the spending ‘habit’!

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