Denim HQ x DWC – Public Service Announcement

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By now the DWC web site is live, and the keen observers who have taken the opportunity to have a thorough investigation of all the pages will have noticed that certain things are missing, don’t worry they are still in process and I’m happy to give you an update on some of the glaring omissions.

Judges

The Judging panel will be either selected from, or nominated by our plethora of sponsors. Every sponsor has at least one vote in the main DWC, along with separate judging duties in the other contest/ divisions. The judging panel will be fully announced in the coming weeks.

Prizes

Prizes will be provided both by the sponsors, and by the DWC itself, trust me when I say that the overall winner of the DWC will be in denim heaven. Once the sponsors have decided what they would like to award the prize pool will be split between the individual contests and the DWC, a further announcement on this will be made in the coming weeks.

Competition Specific Products and Prizes

HWDC2 had the Iron Heart Mega Beatle Busters, HWBC had the White’s Bounty Hunter, both were very successful and so this is something which we were very keen to continue. Some of our sponsors are currently working to spec, produce and announce competition specific products, others will make existing products available at a discounted rate for contest participants. As you can appreciate this is not a quick process but we will make announcements as and when information is available, expect the first of these to be made in the coming week concerning jeans, jackets and boots…so keep your powder dry for now until you see what is coming.

Events

There will be events, loose plans are in place for locations and themes for the first of these, but we will not announce anything until the plans become more than loose.

Sign Up Procedure

The sign up procedure for the DWC is as follows…

– Click on the link to register for the type of contest which you wish to enter.

– You will be redirected to Paypal.

– Enter your details.

– Your order will then need to be approved by the DWC staff, this will take a maximum of 12 hours.

– Sign up to the forum and enter the discussion.

– Only registered contestants can view and participate in the DWC forums.

– Please direct any questions through the link on the DWC web site or Facebook.

Hopefully that mini update clears up a few points, as always we can be reached through the email link on the DWC website or through or Facebook page or Twitter.

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Denim HQ – Dangerous Prejudice

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Recently I have shown a few pictures of a design for some jeans which I have been working on with Chinese brand Sauce Zhan, I am understandably very pleased with them and proud of them as they are exactly what I asked for in terms of both design and materials, but for some there still seems to be a stigma attached to goods made in China. Hopefully anyone who has been reading or skimming this blog for a while now will know that ethical supply is something very close to my heart, I will not deal with sweatshop labour or the exploitation of workers by working hours, working conditions or pay in any form. Believe me that this is a global issue not something confined to SE Asia as it is often portrayed to be, it happens in the UK and US too. What I want to talk about in this piece is the other side to ethical supply, about how dangerous assumptions and judging with broad strokes can be as counter productive to ethical supply and local economies as shopping in the high street.

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To state that all denim goods made in China are low quality is wrong, to state that all denim made in China is produced with exploited labour is a false assumption, it’s like stating that all Americans are fat junk food monsters, or all English people are football hooligans with a drinking problem, inevitably those problems do exist in these countries but to stigmatise the entire nation is incorrect and offensive. What I am seeing more and more regarding brands and artisans from countries with a tainted reputation for manufacture is that they have a to struggle not only against the mass of low quality wares produced domestically, but also against the perception of international customers who take the majority to mean all without checking their facts. It literally makes me cringe when I read a so called educated denim consumer say something disparaging about Chinese, Indonesian or Malaysian jeans without bothering to find out anything about the brand that they are talking about, it’s a damaging thing to say, it propagates myths, and it adds to the already considerable struggles of small artisan companies from these countries for no good reason.

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The thing is that if you would rather buy Japanese or American jeans that’s fine, but don’t use your inherent and ill educated generalised prejudice against other countries as a public justification to do so, especially as Japan and America aren’t entirely innocent either. There are certain well known Japanese denim mills which also produce denim for cheap high street retailers who do have their clothing made in an exploitive environment, and there are certain American brands who have their “Proudly made in the USA” tags stitched on by migrant workers in sweatshop conditions in downtown Los Angeles, sounds perfectly ethical right? Levi’s were amongst the first to move their production abroad and I know that the majority of Levi’s sold in Europe are made in Turkey from Isko denim. Nothing wrong with that at all as Isko make some very nice denim, but if you’re sat wearing some European bought LVC whilst looking down on SE Asian brands you might want to think about it, along with all the manufacturing plants in Mexico, China and Vietnam. Levi’s has acknowledged that paying a living wage through their supply chain is a requirement, but they have also devolved the responsibility to provide that solely onto their suppliers whilst only offering support through “money management” courses for employees, which doesn’t really help anyone and is a little patronising (source: Labour Behind The Label).

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Generally speaking, all the quality denim and clothing brands who are coveted in the market can be well trusted in what they supply, this is a market which doesn’t tend to tolerate mass production or worker exploitation, and that does extend to brands from China and elsewhere in SE Asia. Is it really so hard to believe that a country the size of China will not produce craftsmen with the passion, love and ability to make quality clothing the right way? Is it so hard to believe that China has cotton mills which are generations old and produce some of the finest and most diverse fabrics in the world? I sincerely believe that sometimes people have tendency to forget that a decent living wage in some countries would not keep the lights on in others. To simplify this somewhat, what $5 would pay for in China would require $10 in Japan, that doesn’t mean that the Chinese worker is getting a raw deal, it means that their economy works at a relative difference to Japans. People earn less but goods and services cost less. This is a generalisation and I know that exploitation is widespread in the SE Asian clothing industry, but it isn’t everywhere and everyone should not be judged to the lowest common denominator because that does as much damage as supporting the sweatshops.

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The weakness of certain aspects of the Chinese denim scene, even those which are artisan produced, is that originality is sometimes lacking. A quick browse through Taobao will reveal some very familiar designs amongst the listings, designs which you might have seen from your favourite Japanese and American brands, and for once I am not just talking about Levis. Thankfully this is changing, Red Cloud have made strides to establish their own distinct identity, Sauce Zhan are doing likewise, but still companies like Bob Dong market a range of reproduction items from designs by brands like Mister Freedom. This does no one any good in the long term and only serves to damage the reputation of the whole scene rather than enhance it.

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Personally speaking I think that the Chinese denim scene could become extremely exciting for a variety of reasons, the undoubted value of what you pay versus what you receive is second to none, the capacity to experiment with raw materials is extremely exciting as already seen in some of the denims produced by brands like Sauce Zhan and Red Cloud and the more favourable export conditions created by Chinese taxation on domestic goods make for less financial burden on retailers. These factors make perfect conditions for these brands to position themselves at the entry to mid level of quality denim, providing immediate competition in a section of the market with relatively few options. To add a little perspective here I am not saying that Chinese brands are producing jeans on a level to compete with the best which Japan and America has to offer, those jeans are still a couple of levels above what can be bought from China. What I am saying is that these brands offer ethically sourced and produced items to a high standard at a reasonable cost, and that has a place in this market.

Denim HQ – Viberg Short Shift Engineer Boot Review

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Viberg are a company who have not, in my opinion, gone out of their way to ingratiate themselves to the entire boot market. Their pricing has traditionally been much higher than companies who could be considered their rivals for trade, but Viberg fans point to a perceived higher standard in materials and workmanship. Their Managing Director, Brett has gone on record as stating that he wants the prices of Viberg boots to increase as they embrace the fashion market for work boots, which has definitely made a section of the market feel a little uncomfortable, so for these reasons a pair of Viberg boots has never been a huge draw for me, until now. Viberg have not changed their position on pricing, and I have not changed my position on Viberg, but happy circumstance lead me to be able to pick up a pair of Viberg boots which were pretty damned close to the design I wanted for a relatively small amount of money, so let’s see what all the fuss is about, are they really that much better that it makes spending an extra few hundred dollars seem ok?

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The circumstance which lead to my purchase were brought about by a Japanese lady, the owner of Iron Heart UK, and Wesco boots rather than Viberg. Sarina, who works for Iron Heart in Japan, had a pair of short Wesco Boss boots made for her with an Armortred wedge sole and a short shaft, I loved them, my wife loved them, neither of us could afford to buy a pair so I set out looking for something similar and on eBay I found the Vibergs. These boots were originally retailed by Oki Ni for £600, I paid significantly less than half that price which was a major deciding factor in buying them, they are made from Vibergs smooth leather (their equivalent of White’s dress leather) and rough out with a Vibram 2021 wedge sole and nickel plated roller buckles. They are substantially heavy despite the presence of the sole which Giles Padmore affectionately refers to as “the mattress”, I must confess that aesthetically the sole is not the most pleasing, but I cannot deny its comfort and flexibility and as I plan on wearing these daily for work, comfort is king. The edging is natural and the toe profile is not as sleek as many other Viberg boots I have seen, which suits me.

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The first thing I noticed when removing the boots from their box was that 99% of the stitching is flawless, which is disappointing as I had heard Viberg owners proudly proclaim that the stitch regularity and quality was unparalleled. The flaw in these boots is a loose/ snapped stitch near the toe of the left boots, not a huge deal at all but as there are no other marks around the stitch to denote damage I can only assume that it is a manufacturing error, which is not what I expected. The rest of the stitching is indeed uniform and gloriously spaced and most importantly it is intact, the hide is perfect and blemish free and the edging is considerably smoother than I have experienced on old pairs of White’s boots which I have owned. Overall, apart from the left toe, the finish is a level above White’s and Alden, and many levels above Red Wings, Wolverine, Thorogood and similar brands.

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In terms of fit, they are comfortable and supportive in all the right places with only one minor complaint, they slip on my right foot only and this has caused some skin to be rubbed off, pretty painful but not uncommon it seems. I asked for advice in alleviating this problem in a Viberg discussion and found several other people had the same issue, they did all assure me that it will be resolved with wear and they will then become my most comfortable boots, time will tell on this but I hope so as they were bought for the specific purpose of being my daily work boots. Something else I have noticed is that the wedge sole feels much stiffer on these than it did on the White’s oxfords which I had with the same sole, whether this is a batch issue or whether the construction of the boot holds things together, including the position of my foot, in a much more rigid position is difficult to say, but it is noticeable.

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What I like about these boots is their convenience, they literally slip on and off in seconds which makes a refreshing change from spending time messing around with super long boot laces and speed hooks (a counter intuitive name if ever I’ve heard one). This makes them ideal for casual wear, and the name I heard for them from a friend the other day of “Uggs for thugs” seems quite appropriate to their aesthetics. The remaining question is how do I feel about Viberg after finally putting a pair on my feet? Well, in comparison to the other brands I have tried over the years (White’s, Alden, Red Wings, Thorogood, Wolverine and Timberland Abington) they are certainly a cut above in terms of finish, though not as immediately comfortable as any of the pairs of White’s which I have owned and also not as comfortable as my Aldens, which were admittedly well broken in when I got them. I have been assured by other Viberg owners that they will meld to my feet and will surpass the other brands in terms of comfort too, we will see. The only one of the big North American work boot makers I can’t make a comparison with is Wesco, who are the company which is reputed to make boots on a similar level of quality to Viberg, I do have some Wesco on order, and once they arrive I will also review them and hopefully answer the question. In summary, these boots have not made me like Viberg the brand any more, but I do really like these boots.

Denim HQ – Question What You Know

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I’ve been reading a lot of talk recently around various forums and discussion boards about the pricing of premium denim, people are rightly questioning why certain things costs so much and where their money goes. The most popular questions which are being asked seem to be…

Why can I buy my favourite Japanese brand X for so much less on Rakuten than I can from retailers?

Why is brand X from Japan so much more expensive than brand Y from Malaysia if they both use the same Japanese denim?

Why are some Japanese and American brands more expensive than other Japanese and American brands?

I think that these questions deserve answers, it is a subject I have tackled before on DHQ but it is also one well worth revisiting as there are many assumptions made and a lot of false information which seems to take root in the absence of fact. I am acutely aware that my work in retail and my association with certain brands might give rise to some people questioning what I say here, but trust me when I say that the answers I give are 100% honest and accurate. I am happy to hold this debate with anyone who wants to fact check me. So lets begin..

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Why can I buy my favourite Japanese brand X for so much less on Rakuten than I can from retailers?

Rakuten, Yahoo.jp auctions and other sources of acquiring Japanese denim are undoubtedly cheaper than Western retailers, there is no way to deny that. The cost comparison, and I have seen this worked out in black and white, is that in the west you pay between 125% and 165% of Japanese retail price, which is wildly different to some of the figures I have seen quoted of over 200%, I have yet to see an example of this. To answer why you have to understand a few things about the way Japanese companies work, what the associated costs are with retailing denim, and the true value which western based retailers offer to the denim community as a whole.

Fact 1, Japanese companies have a higher wholesale cost than just about any other companies in the world, what a foreign retailer pays for Japanese clothing is not a million miles away from Japanese retail price, and certainly not when compared to wholesale pricing on goods from other countries, additional to this most Japanese brands offer a cheaper wholesale price to domestic retailers than they do foreign, for reasons which I cannot fathom. This has an immediate impact on the pricing of any retailer as it squeezes the margin for their associated costs and opportunity for profit by a serious amount. The retailer is also subject to paying the shipping costs, import taxes, their shop rent (if they have one), advertising, photographers and a hundred other costs, some of which you probably don’t even realise, and all this before they can even think of making a profit. In retail they say that you should aim to make around 60% margin on everything that you sell, believe me when I say that no denim slinger is making anywhere near that amount which is why some may get sensitive when they are accused of ripping people off. Trust me when I say that if making huge amounts of money was all that retailers of Japanese denim were interested in then they have chosen possibly the stupidest way to go about making it, this is how I know that most denim retailers genuinely love what they do.

Fact 2, western retailers stock items and sizes for their customer base, Japanese retailers stock items and sizes for their customer base. You will find that many western retailers stock sizes and even items which are not available in Japan, and consequently not from Japanese retailers. This leads into the whole mess of attempting to return and get refunds on your purchases if they don’t work for you, not an easy thing to do and I speak from experience. Just about every retailer in the west has a clearly defined refund and return procedure which is easy to follow and gives you peace of mind that should something not fit you will not be left out of pocket. Foreign retailers, their customers and the community help to drive the innovation of the companies we love with their demand, without that there would be far less choice.

Fact 3, Unless you are supremely confident that your purchase will not only fit, but suit you and be of the standard you expect of it, isn’t it nice to have actual stores to go to and lay hands on these things to assist in your purchase decision? Sure you can research on the internet, get peoples opinions and study macro detail shots, but being able to either walk in and touch something, or have a retailer send you something to try is worth its weight in gold.

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Why is brand X from Japan so much more expensive than brand Y from Malaysia if they both use the same Japanese denim?

Cost of supply and manufacturing in some countries is far more expensive than others, whilst jeans companies from other countries can import their denim from Japan they cannot import the skilled labour which has produced jeans in the Japanese sewing factories for generations, that is not to say that the skill level elsewhere cannot be as good as Japan but it is to say that currently there are not many places where you will find the wares as uniformly exceptional as you will Japan, it is a craft and they have honed it.

There is also the relative expense of manufacturing in Japan when compared to other countries, the cost of living is higher, material costs are higher, design and print costs are higher so therefore it costs more to make jeans in Japan than it does elsewhere, but you do get a better (in my opinion) product. This will only become an issue if and when companies from countries who also produce jeans are able to attain the same standard as those from Japan consistently, and gain market acceptance (not easy).

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Why are some Japanese and American brands more expensive than other Japanese and American brands?

The answer to this is the same as it would be in any other industry, costs. Some brands invest in proprietary materials, some don’t, some design their media and patterns in house, some don’t, some outsource weaving and production to trusted collaborators whilst some prefer to manage every part of the process themselves. All of this leads to cost variation, which leads to price variation, all jeans are not created equally and therefore are not priced equally.

Every so often this issue of price and cost is brought up, usually by people who believe that they have found the answer to all their denim dreams in Rakuten sellers. I have bought from Rakuten before and had good experiences, I have also had bad experiences, the function of the retailer is take away that risk of having a bad experience by knowing their products intimately and provide safeguards to ensure that the customer is happy with what they receive. There is a price for this safety and convenience, along with the innovation it drives, whether you think that is a price worth paying is up to you but I would ask you to imagine a denim community without western retailers of Japanese brands, it doesn’t look good does it?

Denim HQ – Habits, Superstitions and Rituals.

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I can’t help but notice that many of us denim lovers do our damndest to over-complicate the simple pleasure that is wearing great denim, I do it myself so I am one of the guilty. We all seem to have, need or want the esoteric knowledge for making the denim “ours”, to have the experience of great jeans on our terms, through our indigo uniformity we establish individuality. This thought started a couple of days ago as I was sat wearing my new, damp Samurai’s at the dinner table (much to the amusement of my 8 year old). “Why are you wearing wet jeans?” he asked, “I’m setting the creases on the back of my knees” I replied in total earnest, he collapsed in laughter and rightly so….it was a ludicrous scenario, a grown man sat wearing wet jeans in attempt to put creases in the right place because I was determined to finally experience defined combs so that I could show people on the internet, bloody ridiculous.

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I suppose that what we do is just as strange as many other hobbyists with their quirks and behaviour patterns, but in denim it really becomes apparent when you try to explain to someone not part of this scene why you are doing a certain thing. Recently I have been explaining to many of my friends and family about denim contests, due to the impending DWC launch. Most people get it, some of them even like the concept and think it sounds like a lot of fun, but most of them also think it’s an odd thing to do and the thing is they are right. It is odd, but it is also what makes us love denim so much and I’m not just talking about contests I am talking about the practicing of our own rituals to attain our own distinct results from our chosen denim, of which things like contests, forums and social media groups are an extension of the sharing process.

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The rituals extend beyond wear and share though, there are a plethora of view points around denim cleanliness from whether to soak, to when to soak, when should the first wash be, should it be a machine wash, how to dry and should a tumble dryer be used? Everyone has their own opinion, everyone swears that theirs is “the” way it should be done from the super anal to the super casual and every degree in between. The same goes for setting the creases (to do or not to do), hem or cuff, where and how to store your mobile in your jeans (if at all) and even how your jeans should be stored. I find this subject and the reasons which people give fascinating yet at the same time they definitely make me quite self conscious of my own lunacy when it comes to ritualising clothing.

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My own rituals don’t seem all that strange to me, certainly not when compared to some of the things that I have read others doing, but the very fact that rituals around clothes exist at all is strange in itself. I soak every pair of jeans that I get, raw or not, to remove starch and chemicals from the processing and storage of the fabric, if this isn’t enough to get the required shrink I machine wash them with no spin and drip dry until damp, then finish them in the tumble dryer (all turned inside out of course). I cuff my jeans rather than hem, I always keep my mobile in the front left pocket, always in a soft case to minimise damaging the denim and my jeans are folded and placed on shelves rather than hung. In terms of washing I don’t believe that less is more, I wash my jeans when they are dirty, always inside out, always on 30 degrees and with a 400 rpm spin cycle, and I use regular detergent. These are my basic rituals, and I’m going to change a few of them to see if I have been wrong all this time.

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My new Samurai 710OG’s were a pure vanity purchase, I didn’t need them but I wanted them, I sold on an older pair of jeans to make room for them, and I am going to treat them differently. I have no pressure to do anything in any time frame with these jeans, so I’m going to wear them for pleasure and (barring accident) try not to wash them for as long as possible, I’m hoping for a year as this is (believe it or not) something I have never done as I think it’s a bit stupid, but in the name of denim science I will give it a go. I’m intrigued to see if doing this will make any difference to my normal wear pattern at all and finally give me those defined combs which have eluded me all through my denim wearing days. There are so many people out there managing to constantly achieve magnificent defined fades, who have worn jeans similar to mine and are built similarly to me with similar levels of wear and activity, so I can only assume that the variation in results is because we treat our denim so differently. Perhaps it is time to break my habits, challenge my denim superstitions and learn some new rituals?

Denim HQ – Impossible Originality

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New brands are cropping up everywhere right now, many of them through various crowd sourcing web sites which I covered in an earlier piece, which on the surface of things brings much more choice to the market. However, if so many of the new brands use the same kind of denim, make basic five pocket jeans and publish a back-story which looks like it has been created by an Americana heritage blurb generator (I wish such a thing existed), are they really bringing choice or is it just more of the same? Perhaps this gives rise to the more difficult question of just how difficult is it to maintain originality when what you produce is the most ubiquitous garment in the world ?

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There are many ways which some of the new brands don’t help themselves, using the same materials is one and producing a brand concept text full of buzz words are the most common, but there also seems to be a tendency to overstate the “manliness” of their products too. Pictures of men with beards performing manual labour in a rural setting, wearing their 13oz Cone Mills denim, American made, badass denim is getting a little old and tired, as is the model of the urban hipster and his ironic recreation of the bearded working man but wearing more fitted denim and ballet plimsolls…perhaps with an uber cool band tee under his flannel. In my experience, these are not denim customers, these are denim stereotypes.

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The problem for companies new and old is that today’s denim customer wants many contradictory things, all presented in the same product. They want traditional styles inspired by vintage jeans, but they also want contemporary cuts with vintage detailing, they want something familiar and dependable, but they also want something a little different and innovative, they want their jeans to be the finest quality, ethically produced and made using the finest materials but they also want them at a (perceived) good price point, this is a tall order to achieve for anyone but it isn’t the biggest issue. The biggest issue arises when you try to give the customer what it is that they say they want and you find that you don’t really want it, what a customer says that they want and what they actually want does actually wildly differ.

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At NoKipple we produced a jean which ticked all the boxes of what the customers told us they wanted, we expected it to be a runaway success, it wasn’t. The reason that it wasn’t a huge success was very simple, it lacked familiarity in terms of what it was, where it came from and who it was made by, and familiarity is a much underestimated commodity. I am actually a big believer that as much of the early success of Japanese jeans came as much from the fact that they looked exactly like Levi’s as it did from their quality, it’s not enough to give the customer exactly what they say they want, you also have to make them feel like it’s something familiar which they have always wanted and can now attain, but better, this is the essence of what drives product innovation.

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It’s a very human feeling to want what we have to be better than what we used to have, whilst still holding onto a sense of nostalgia for the past. Would anyone trade their Playstation 4 for a Sega Master System? Would anyone Trade their 60″, ultra slim LED television with built in Freeview and Netflix for a 14″ black and white portable television with no remote control? Of course you wouldn’t, so why do we hark back to the past with our clothing? Well, there is a saying of “they don’t make them like they used to”, and with jeans that is distinctly true as the older looms and sewing machines, plus the highly skilled machinists of yesteryear produced a far more robust product. However, it is exactly this nostalgia which limits exactly how creative you can be with making jeans and it is this limiting which leads to the uniformity of so much denim produced today. In short, constraints imposed by what is considered desirable in denim are the cause of lacking originality. So the next time you hear someone (probably me), complain about new brands all looking the same you need to ask that person what they would do differently, and then point out that if they did that then no-one would buy it anyway.

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