An Introduction into the world of Raw Denim by Jay Doughten
If your thinking about dipping your toes into the world of Raw Denim you should read this interview with Blue Owl owner, Jay Doughten. In this interview Jay gives you detailed knowledge about premium denim and what you should be looking for.
Who are you and how do you know so much about raw denim?
My name is Jay and own Blue Owl. When we first started my vision was working with 100% Japanese labels. The Japanese are simply more meticulous about details. When it comes to denim making the construction, types of fabrics they produce, indigo dying methods, and care given into every step of production…their craftsmanship is hard to beat. When Lehman Brothers collapsed the Japanese yen sky rocketed against the USD thus making Japanese made products much more expensive. We adapted by incorporating a lot of North American made brands and focused more on small independent craftsman as well as labels who shared our obsession with quality. Now 8 years later we have a great mix of some of the best USA and Canadian made labels which compliment our Japanese made brands.
I would never consider my self an expert, but I have been obsessed with denim for the past 8 years and have been lucky to work with a lot of great people who have shared knowledge. I like to learn as much as I possibly can about every item we carry, and I probably ask way to many questions. I just feel fortunate that we have built great relationships with all of our brands.
What’s so special about Raw Denim?
Raw denim is a very simple and pure fabric. Raw denim is denim which hasn’t undergone any treatment, washes or pre-distressing. This means the denim fabric will be much more durable long term and essentially a blank canvas for your body. Because of the lack of treatments the fabric goes through as well as the indigo dyeing process involved called rope dyeing, the jeans will constantly transform in color, aging and fading with the wearer’s body. Through natural wear, patterns form in all areas of the jean wear tension and creasing happens. Over time the wearer’s body will essentially be imprinted into the jean creating a fade which matches up perfectly with your body. No pre-distressing can ever replicate or look as good as a naturally worn in pair of jeans.
When you look at mall variety pre-distressed jean there is a lot of labor involved with washing and distressing, this adds to the overall cost. Furthermore the acids, stones, sandpaper and everything else used to distress a pair of pre-distressed denim breaks down the cotton making the fabric a lot less durable and basically at the end of its lifespan. Thus raw denim tends to cost less and last longer.
There is also a nostalgia factor involved with raw denim as this was the way jeans were worn from the very beginning all the way up until the mid 1970’s when washes took over and denim became more mainstream due to many factors, some being the counter culture revolution as well as the baby boom generation.
What is Selvedge Denim?
The term “Selvedge” became slang for “Self Edge” denim. Selvedge refers to the edge of a woven fabric finished in a way which prevents unraveling. This can be seen on the outseam of a selvedge denim jean. Selvedge denim is woven on machines called Shuttle Looms. There are modern shuttle looms in production today however the more expensive and Japanese companies will a lot of times be using vintage shuttle looms, some dating back from the early 1920’s. These old shuttle looms were invented in the very late 1800’s and were able to produce tightly woven and heavy denim in narrow strips about 3 feet wide. In order to maximize the use of the narrow fabric the manufacturer had to weave the fabric all the way to edges, creating the self edge or “selvedge.” The manufacturer add the colored thread to the selvedge (most common being red) to differentiate between fabrics.
These shuttle looms pump out fabric at an extremely slow pace compared to modern day projectile looms, they couldn’t keep up with the demand of production and subsequently became obsolete. Today, there aren’t a whole lot of these old shuttle looms left in existence and there aren’t many people who know how to properly operate or fabricate parts when they break down. Unfortunately this level of quality which used to be the norm is now a luxury.
If I was purchasing my first pair raw denim jeans, what should I be looking for?
The most important aspect will be determining the fit. These raw denim brands are so small and very specific not everybody has the privilege of trying them on in store so they will have to buy online. What we do here at Blue Owl is try to make this process as easy as possible. We have a measuring guide available on our website which shows in detail how we measure every article of clothing so it’s really easy to compare to your favorite fitting pant you already own. Comparing measurements side by side will help you visualize the fit and determine what size you need. It is very important to always ignore the tag size and go by the actual listed measurements. We also take individual measurements upon request for anybody who is unsure about sizing or has questions about the fits.
I also recommend that somebody who is just curious about raw denim and want to try it out stay under $200 for their first pair. There is a lot involved with these artisinal brands and not everybody will care about the heritage aspect. By heritage aspect I mean that some companies will have every stitch be totally time period authentic; using all vintage sewing machines and button presses for making every aspect of the garment. These are some of my favorite details but not everybody necessarily cares about that, or would understand those details when looking for a first denim. There are a lot of companies which aren’t able to do this but still create a beautiful fabric with sturdy hardware which won’t fail and will be far superior to other companies which focus on advertising instead of quality of construction.
Is there anything else first timers should know about Raw Denim?
Research, research, research. Raw denim can really open up your interests into how clothing can really be made to last. There is a lot to learn about history and textiles which can all start with being interested in raw denim.
There is such a wealth of knowledge and resources available today which weren’t here 10, or even 5 years ago. There are great websites, forums, reading and reference material available. There is a vast wealth of information, pages scrolling back 8 or 9 years which can answer almost any questions someone has. That being said there is a lot of false information about when to wash, how to care, etc and I encourage people to email us as well about anything they may have a question about.