Denim HQ – Having A Great Product Is Not Enough To Succeed

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With the best will in the world sometimes the greatest artisans, designers and skilled crafts people don’t know how to sell the amazing things which they produce. This is a state of affairs I find particularly tragic as I hate the idea of beautiful and useful things which should be enjoyed sat unloved and unused, and the people who spend their precious time making them going unrecognised and unrewarded whilst the populace eagerly fills their homes and hearts with mass produced, cheap tat. It is almost inconceivable that the same person who takes their thoughts and inspirations and turns them into a physical item could have no idea about how to tell people about their awesome thing or things, sometimes it is an issue of confidence, sometimes the craftsman is simply a little introverted and sometimes they just need a little affirmation that what they do is good and that people really do like it. Apart from the product itself there are another few key considerations in making what you produce a success, so let’s take a look at a few of them.

Branding

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This is an all encompassing term for things like your company name, your concept, how you advertise, where you advertise and who your target audience (the people who will buy your “thing”) are? The importance of picking a name for what you do cannot be overstated, your brand name is your introduction, it is your first impression and if it isn’t memorable or conjures the wrong image then it can sink you no matter how good your product is. Denim and work wear brands fall mainly into a very small niche when it comes to naming a brand with the common traits tending to be to pick something very masculine but with an element of history, heritage or nature around it. I considered making my own “work wear brand name generator” for this post, but after writing a list of words commonly used I realised that it would offend just about everyone in the business.

The absolute golden rule of branding is to know the market, especially in something for this niche. For something so creative and high quality there are actually fairly narrow parameters, people tend to know what they like and what they don’t, straying outside of these limitations before you are a known quantity can be a mistake as I have learned personally.

Audience

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In a previous piece I briefly looked at the niche within a niche, and this is where those narrow limitations come into play again. Some of the most successful brands in this market are a direct representation of their owners good tastes, some of those who fail miserably are the result of brand owners not realising that their vision and tastes do not suit their market. For example, if G Star Raw tried to move into the heritage/ repro market I have no doubt it would be an abject failure as it is simply not what their design aesthetic lends itself too (plus they have an established market), the same would happen if Iron Heart took a move into hip hop influenced street wear.

Knowing your audience allows you to tailor your marketing in terms of where and how you advertise, what promotions you run and how to engage through social media. If you don’t know who you are selling to then you won’t learn how to sell to them.

Personal Communications

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When you operate in a small market your reputation is everything and even the smallest interactions can leave a lasting impression which you may never alter. Customer service is a huge part of this at every level, not just pre and post sale, in the advice you offer, in the speed of your response and in the conveyance of personality. There are certain brands and retailers whom I have had past dealings which were less than satisfactory and I will more than likely not go back to them again, and more so I will not give them a recommendation if someone asks my opinion on their service.

To have a great product(s) is not enough, and customer service is not just about how nice and polite you are when things are going well it is more to do with how you respond when things don’t go so well. We all make mistakes, and we are all the victim of bad luck now and then but keeping the customer impressed with how you deal with this will be a key feature of repeat custom and enhanced reputation.

Price

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There is a concept known as the Veblen effect, in its most basic form the Veblen effect refers to an item being perceived as high quality simply because it is expensive, this is more relevant to high fashion but is also a factor in this market. There are simple truths in this market which effect price, namely..

– Manufacturing in Japan is expensive.
– Proprietary materials are expensive.
– Paying a fair living wage to those making the raw materials and garments makes the supply chain more expensive.
– Imported goods carry additional costs.
– There is a cost to innovation.
– There is also a cost attached to manufacturing the old way, it is slower and requires more skill.

All of the above are factors obviously impact price, and the margin of profit made on a quality pair of Japanese made selvedge jeans will be less than a high street retailer makes on their sweatshop produced jeans, plus their jeans number their sales in the thousands every week which gives the high street market power to buy and produce in massive bulk, thus reducing costs. There is a thought that you should aim for at least 60% margin on what you sell, in this niche that is all but impossible. In all honesty if you can get 50% you have done unbelievably well, most common margins of profit are around the 25 – 35% and if you can’t live with that then you might be in the wrong business.

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Hopefully this has given a little food for thought to anyone who wants to get into the manufacturing game, take some time to think about what you want to achieve and do seek opinions from trusted sources. You don’t have to listen to them but it is sometimes good to have your own thoughts and suspicions validated. As I have previously stated on DHQ I am always happy to help to promote and advise new brands, you don’t have to listen to me but what do you have to lose?

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Denim HQ – Personal Grails

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In the denim scene a grail item is something which we aspire to own but may find difficult to acquire due to its rarity, its age, its prohibitive price or its popularity. Most of us have items which we refer to as our grails, they may not even be the best item of their category, but to us they are the ultimate goal of our desires. I love to hear what people consider as their grail items as it is in a very real sense an expression of what our personal style would be should we be able to fulfil our hearts desires, although that aspect is lessened when you consider just how close to the top of tree most of the popular items in this market are. Nevertheless, I will attempt to compile a short list of grail items which I would be hunting if a significant amount of money became available to me.

Dita Grandmaster IV

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I love Dita frames, and the Grandmaster IV is Dita’s ultimate frame. I use the term ultimate as it is crafted with no expense spared, gold plate titanium hinges, gold detailing and lower lens rims and hand made in Japan from zhyl acetate, and hard resin made from natural cotton. The Grandmaster IV will not be to everyone’s taste, in fact it is probably not to many peoples taste as it is brash, bold and borderline offensive, but I think it’s great. It is everything I love about Dita, it’s a luxury statement which also performs its job admirably, which I guess it should for $800.

White Kloud Ankle Boots

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For these boots I have to take back virtually everything that I have said previously about boots, about subtle beauty and about wearing boots throughout your life and aging them gracefully, I think these boots are so pretty that I would be almost scared to wear them. Not many agree with me, my wife thinks that they look like orthopaedic footwear, but I think that are completely breathtaking, in a good way. I did actually try to buy a pair of these and they are not as ludicrously expensive as I thought they might be (depending on options you take you are looking at Viberg type pricing), but the hitch is that you have to go to Goto-Sans workshop outside of Tokyo to be personally fitted for a pair, and that is the only way you are going to get any. One day…..

SExIH01od Jeans

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I actually owned these jeans, and stupidly sold them on. They were known as the “Dior cut” on some denim forums as they were cut similarly to the popular made in Japan jeans by designer label Dior. The Dior jeans were much loved for their flattering cut which was slim but not hugging and suited a much wider range of body types than almost any other cut available. Couple this with Iron Hearts signature 21oz denim in an over dyed form and you have a serious winner. I still haven’t found a cut which fits quite as well as the SExIH01, Trophy Clothing’s Dirt Denim Narrow is very, very close but the top block is slightly narrower on the Trophy jeans.

Jelado Rockstar Leather Jacket

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On a trip to Tokyo in 2013 I have the particular pleasure of visiting the Jelado showroom in Ebisu and speaking with Yohei Goto, owner of Jelado, about the process he goes through to configure a new garment. The item which he used to demonstrate his process was a Jelado leather jacket, one of a wide range which they have made to order, this jacket was not the object of my grail desire but his explanation and passion made me look at their entire range of designs, and it was there that I first saw it.

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The Jelado process is to find rare and beautiful vintage items which were manufactured the “right” way, deconstruct them, learn from them and implement that learning and further improvements in each of their vintage inspired clothing lines. The leather jackets by Jelado are the ultimate expression of this.

IHSH-20 – Blue

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Iron Heart are exceptional at many things, but I think one of their major strengths is in the heavyweight flannel shirt, and I have owned a few. To wear one can only be compared to wearing a comfortable carpet, which is almost entirely wind proof, they are unlike any other flannel you will ever try. So thick and worm are they that I have worn them in the depths of winter in lieu of an actual winter coat, they are that warm.

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The IHSH-20 was one of the first Iron Heart flannels, and reputedly the heaviest. Blue is the most sought after colour way, referred to as the “cookie monster” amongst fans it is the grail for many a collector of classic Iron Heart. I have had the opportunity to buy one before, but never when I have had the money to buy one. It will come at the right time one day.

Goro Ring

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Goro Takahashi died this year, and we lost a truly magnificent craftsman of silver and leather. Goro was taught to craft leather by American GI’s during the occupation of Japan after the Second World War, but he had to actually travel to the States in the 60’s to learn silver craft where he spent several years living with a tribe of Sioux Indians on their reservation and was given the name “Yellow Eagle” by the medicine man there. Goro had an unmatched level of authenticity and an unparalleled level of skill, his jewellery was only ever available from his Harajuku store and you could only buy what he had chosen to make for sale on that particular day, and only then if he and his staff thought the item matched your personality. I love this kind of what many would see as cranky behaviour, and we may never see his like again.

Vintage Rolex Submariner

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James Bond may wear an Omega these days, and he may have flirted with Seiko’s in the 90’s but he was written as wearing a Rolex Submariner, and that is the watch he wore on screen throughout the heady days of the 60’s and 70’s hey day of Bond movies. From a very early age this association with Bond made quite an impression on me, at a time when all the big action stars were American James Bond was our British salvation, his style, calmness under pressure and wit were what a generation of British youth aspired to in the early 80’s, so the Rolex Submariner became the first watch which I genuinely lusted after, and still do.

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Doing even the slightest bit of research into this iconic time piece only serves to strengthen that desire also. Bond was not the only famous wearer of a Submariner, they were the favoured wrist clock of luminaries such as Steve McQueen, Bruce Lee and Arnold Schwarzenegger too, and during WW2 if a POW wrote to Rolex from their prison camp they would receive a watch free of charge for their bravery and endurance, though not a Submariner as this model was introduced in 1953 (thanks for the correction Uwe). The submariner may have lost its cool to some watch aficionados, but to me it is something which will forever represent style, opulence and reliability.

Denim HQ – Fill Your Boots

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A few articles back I was less than complimentary about a certain brand of boots who enjoy enormous popularity in the denim and work wear scene, and for this I received quite a bit of backlash and also quite a bit of support it has to be said. To be clear my position is based around a few things…

* The price for these boots in the UK is ridiculous, not a million miles away from custom boots by White’s, Wesco and Viberg etc.

* Personally, I think that 90% of the particular range is fairly bland to downright ugly.

* I find their leather to be characterless when set side by side with some of the stunning hides used by quality boot makers.

There are a few more but I have no real interest in re-igniting the same debate again, what I do have interest in though is in a question I was asked in the ensuing debate, namely “tell me a better gateway boot for people in the denim scene? (we can’t all afford White’s you know).

Well, to start at the end, if you can afford to wear Red Wings then you can afford to wear White’s (or Wesco, or Viberg, or Trickers, or…..), you simply have to be prepared to wait a little longer to gather the funds and have the boots made, in my opinion the extra time and money is well worth it. On to the meat of the question, I also believe that there are far better gateway products into this market, in fact I know that there are and I’ll show you who.

Thorogood Boots

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The first thing that anyone with market knowledge will now be thinking is “Thorogood make their boots in China”, wrong! Thorogood make some of their safety boots in China, but their American Heritage range is all “proudly made in the USA”. Not to mention that this forms the bulk of their range, not to mention that they are much cheaper even in America and also not to mention that they even make those awful moc toe things with the big white sole should you desire a pair. The Roofer boots from Thorogood are full of character and go great with your denim.

Wolverine

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Another American Heritage brand who produce some boots in the far east, but also have a more than impressive range of domestic product at a price point which competes and often betters good old faithful. Not to mention that they have a hook up with famed tannery Horween for some of their higher priced boots, which means you can get an American bench made boot, with a great character leather for only £30 more than a Red Wing Beckman, I know where my money would go.

Oak Street Bootmakers

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All hand made in Chicago featuring Horween Chromexcel leather, and soles by Vibram and Dainite  the OSB Trench Boot looks fantastic, and at $426 it’s about $100 more than the Beckman, which is comparatively a small amount of money for the step up in quality.

Sagara

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If you’re boots don’t have to be made in the USA then a brand which I have personal experience of is Sagara of Indonesia. I have met the company owner, tried his boots and came away unbelievably impressed. Sagara use imported American leathers and Cats Paw heels on their 100% hand made boots, and let me explain that by 100% hand made I don’t mean that a guy hand fed the hide into the pattern cutter, I mean that they are totally made by hand. Sagara have such high regard for their products that the owner personally ensures each pair is sent out in impeccable condition.

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I hope this has helped to broaden a few horizons and at least given a few choices to some. Any of the boots I’ve listed here are absolutely great in terms of price and quality and will serve you well, but you should be aware that the extra money you pay for the next level is due to the materials and custom nature of what you are ordering (except Viberg who have a pricing structure I cannot fathom), not to mention the level of skill and quality assurance which goes into them.

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I have heard people openly snigger at the thought of guys paying $500+ for boots to basically walk around urban environments in, rather than using them for their intended purpose of driving cattle or putting out forest fires, but the reason is this. We all want things which last in this niche, we’re into this because we like well made things which will journey through our lives with us right?

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I haven’t worn my White’s Bounty Hunters much at all in the last few months, but I know that come winter they will be with me daily, just like they were last winter and just like they will be in 20 winters time if I live that long and treat them right.

 

Denim HQ – First World Problems

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Every now and again in the quest for denim and work wear perfection we run across things which frustrate and annoy us, not real problems, just things which make our denim lives a little more irritating. The oft used phrase “first world problems” fits these things well, a bunch of folks in very expensive work wear take to the inter web to express their minor indignations, here a few of the common gripes along with a couple of my own.

Inseams not long enough

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There seems to be a disproportionate amount of really tall people who love quality denim, I am 6ft 1″ tall and I have felt like a midget at some denim gatherings. A common gripe amongst denim enthusiasts is that they cannot find a pair of jeans to fit them as they would like (presumably with cuffs), even with a 37″ inseam. I know that some of the lesser known Japanese brands don’t make jeans longer than 33″, which could be an issue to some, but 37″!!! I worry about these places where giants wander around un-attended with exposed ankles terrifying the locals.

Crotch blow out after only 6 months

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The thing is, if your jeans rub on that centre seam when you walk then you have done well to get 6 months out of them. The crotch is arguably the biggest stress point on a pair of jeans, so getting the right fit is super important if you want to avoid a ventilated groin, thicker denim and poly cotton stitching will help…..but not for long.

Damn these jeans are tough to fade

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I know it’s a strange concept, but fading is not the point of jeans, it is a by product of wear, and without wishing to point out the obvious the more that you wear them the more they will fade. It is true to say that some jeans fade far quicker than others, and if sick fades are really important to you then I’d suggest doing your research into quick fading brands, Samurai’s standard models are the quickest which I have tried.

I washed my jeans and now they have this stupid white line on the back

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If you are google raw denim ,or selvedge denim, I am convinced that 99.4% (that precise) of the posts will be people asking about, or answering, denim washing questions. It is THE most talked about subject in denim, and everyone thoroughly believes that their “technique” is the best, with some folks going to insane extremes, including not washing at all. The sad fact is that if you treat your expensive tough workwear like regular high street jeans when it comes to washing them you will ruin them. Inside out, little or no detergent, avoid the spin cycle on the first few washes…these are my golden rules.

I can’t get a shirt/ jacket with arms/ width long/wide enough to fit me

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Another one for the giants mainly, and a problem I have experience on a few occasions also. Much of the clothing we love is made in Japan or other parts of Asia, where they have to think about their domestic markets first as that is where the majority of their profits are made, and it is a simple fact of life that many folks in Asia are smaller than their Western counterparts, and therefore their clothing also needs to be a little smaller too. This is not common to all brands though, Iron Heart retail internationally on a large scale and definitely accommodate the big boned brother, and there are also many great brands from the US or Europe who cater to the needs of the more heroically built (like me).

My pocket bags lasted like 2 weeks 

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My personal top first world problem, I am the destroyer of pocket bags, if pocket bags were Thulsa Doom, I would be Conan The Barbarian. I’m a pocket hoarder, throughout my average day I pick things up and put them in my pockets (not a kleptomaniac), add to this assorted rummerage the already ample contents of a massive bunch of keys, my phone, change and credit card case and they get smashed up pretty quick. So far I have found that Trophy Clothing’s double reinforced pocket bags work best if you’re a super hoarder like me.