The Livelihood Of Washed Premium Denim

Is the trade-show trend of washed premium denim embraced by retailers and brands alike? 

We all love raw denim, for various reasons. We cherish the heritage of a certain fit or the mill where the fabric was woven. We enjoy its ruggedness, that raw look and feel. And finally, we are most passionate about how the fabric evolves over time and the wear and tear kicks in.

And it’s that final stage of wear and tear that is now resulting in certain mills and brands offering some new, premium, washed selvedge.

The past year I’ve been visiting quite a few trade-shows such as Jacket Required, Kingpins and Denim Boulevard and interestingly so, I’m starting to sense that the premium denim market is allowing some washed fabrics into the ring. Whether you like it or not, similar to your raw denim, the market and consumer demand keeps evolving. But is there truly any livelihood in it?

TRUE DENIMHEADS SEEK FOR VERY ACCURATE REPLICATIONS

Rudy Son of a Stag 2
Rudy Budhdeo, owner of Son of a Stag (UK)

“I think that the trend of washed jeans can almost be sectioned to price markets” as Rudy Budhdeo of UK denim retail heaven Son of a Stag explains:

The low to mid markets have always followed washes but the supply chain up in the high end/denimhead segment is much more selected. They want very accurate replications.

Developing a perfect washed selvedge isn’t something one can take lightly. The cost to achieve the correct wash by using of particular yarns, particular looms and dyes/ indigos can sometimes mean that the prototypes do not go into production. Each fit should have it’s own unique fade or wash pattern and therefore often many washes are mismatched.

RB: “Our client base in general want the blank canvas of Raw Selvedge denim where these mis-matches do not exists. It is not to say that we do not sell washes but the washes we sell have to be as close to the real thing as humanly possible. There has always been a small demand for these very hard to source special ‘accurate’ washes as so many examples fall short of been accurate somewhere on the jeans. It is rare to find a pair of pre-washed denim that is correct not only at the front and the back but in particular the side of the jeans where the front and back detailing (wash) meets.”

MORE WASH, MORE WORK, MORE COSTS

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Brave Star Selvage, Raw Denim

Not only is there a difficulty in finding the perfect washed pair of jeans, but considering the fact that it takes so much extra time and effort to develop these patterns, one might start wondering how it influences price levels in general. Known for their affordable premium raw denim jeans, we pitched this dilemma to Mik Serfontaine, owner of Brave Star Selvage:

MS: “The minimum cost for a good premium wash is $16 which is about double it was a few years ago. A lot of wash houses have shut down in LA over the last 5 years so this won’t change anytime soon. We have been thinking about expanding our denim offerings however I don’t think we would offer washed selvage as this would pollute the core principles of what the brand was built on and really drive up the prices as processing denim in the US is very expensive now.”

Portrait_Mik_Jan_2015
Mik Serfontaine, owner of Brave Star Selvage

So we’ve discovered that there probably is a market, but on another level than in which the premium washed operates. Consumers often don’t realize that the more distressed a fabric is, the more effort has been put in it. Actual, often, manual labor. Consumers might seek for washed selvedge, but on an affordable price level. It seems merely impossible to offer an affordable and well washed premium denim, so is it worthwhile to have brands and retailers trying to supply consumer demand?

RB: “There is definitely a market for premium washed jeans – it just won’t be in huge volume. It almost takes the fun away from creating your own unique fade which happens when you buy a pair of Raw denim. I think there are some retailers who hold no ties in regards to the denim and work wear mould and are a little more fashion orientated, but want decent qualities. These are the retailers who may try and pioneer this trend but the value ratio is lower as an unwashed garment will be cheaper and probably be better quality since less chemicals have been used to process the garment.”

CAN YOUR CHOICE BE THE BIRTH OF A NEW DENIM MARKET?

I strongly believe that, even though many might disagree, a new market is opening in premium denim. With all the current technologies and thus possibilities, mills will keep offering new fabrics. They need to, in order to survive. Progress and evolution go hand in hand, and we might be witnessing the birth of a whole new denim market which eventually will do the raw denim world just as much good. It’s an extra tool to show consumers how raw denim can evolve, and it creates options for retailers. Either you get a raw denim selvedge or you get a washed denim selvedge. The choice is yours.

Perhaps Mik says it best:

“I think that when people are first introduced to wearing raw selvage and they go thru the personal experience of breaking in their first pair from rigid all the way to worn & faded why would they ever want to buy pre washed? That’s taking all of the mystique and adventure out of jean. Remember you sell people experiences not products.”

So what are you buying? An experience or a product?

bravestarselvagewearandtear
The experience, Brave Star Selvage evolution, formerly known as a raw denim.
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