The Story of Selvedge Denim

 

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I will never touch that thing.

I remember the comment Ryo made on the pair of inexpensive jeans he picked up from the meeting room floor. As a proud Japanese denim designer, he had no respect whatsoever for what he was holding in his hand. I scanned the room packed with other designers and all of them were equipped with jeans I could only describe as ‘beautiful’ (not to mention the combination with the latest Nike AirMax trainers released a week ago!)

Then I looked down to mine in embarrassment: a £49 pair of Cheap Monday indigo denim with nothing to offer.

To most, the most common question is of course ‘why am I paying so much for the same pair of jeans from Diesel when I can find similar ones from Urban Outfitters?’

Again, to most, finding a pair of denim jeans that fit well is already an ordeal; few come to debate the value of them. It is a shame considering that denim is one of the most sophisticated product groups in terms of design and production, and I can guarantee that the same could not be said about the making of a shirt, a coat or even a formal blazer.

That doesn’t answer the question. Where does the money go and why are they more fashionably prestigious? There are many different answers, even if you are asking specifically about denim products. I would be inclined to say ‘quality’, but then it is not an easily graspable concept. Although I must say that quality is definitely on the list, given I have torn three pairs of Cheap Monday jeans just biking around in Amsterdam over three months and my pair of Diesel from Diesel’s early days were almost unmarked by the day-to-day wear-and-tear.

My other obvious answer is ‘selvedge’. Below is a picture of selvedge denim, before the why and how:

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Selvedge used to be such a niche in Europe – only high-end European brands like Paul Smith would offer them in their denim programs. The beauty of selvedge is more than the neat, almost architectural outlook – it is a definite signature for elegance in the language of denim. They are almost certainly more expensive than non-selvedge jeans, and the reason behind it is the manufacturing process. A roll of denim fabric is usually around £7.00 per meter, and it comes with the width of 150cm. But selvedge denim are made by rolls of fabric almost half the width – and they are priced pretty much the same as the normal ones. This is to ensure both edges of the fabric are made into the same piece, thus constructing the edge seen when you roll your jeans up.

Why is it elegant and more desirable in the eyes of a knowledgeable consumer?

Not every loom around the world could produce denim fabric of such width. In fact, such a production method is so wasteful when it comes to patternmaking thus being such a niche. They are mostly manufactured in Japan today, and that is a guarantee of fabric quality. Shuttle looms – the machines used to make selvedge denim fabrics – weave in a way called ‘ring-ring’ that construct the fabric in an uneven way, which gives your selvedge denim jeans much character and originality.

Workmanship of selvedge denim is usually better too. Given the scarcity of the raw materials, it is rare for the product developers to choose factories in Pakistan, Mauritius or Tunisia to assemble the jeans. They tend to pick up factories in Turkey, Romania or Egypt, where workers are better at sewing your jeans together: threads won’t be sticking out, they fit you so much better, and most importantly they tend to last longer.

But don’t sweat, selvedge is gaining momentum as they are getting more popular. You don’t necessarily have to go to Acne, Hugo, Ralph Lauren Paul Smith stores for these wonderful pieces – as far as I know they are offering Japanese selvedge denim jeans in AllSaints in town for £110 a pair now. So next time when you are on a mission to look for new jeans, roll them up and see what the seemingly innocent pair have to offer you for your hard-earned money.

by Justin Chan, Razz Fashion Correspondent

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