Recap of the 2-Year Artisan Challenge Between Jeans Makers

On May 1, 2017, after a two-year journey, the Artisan Challenge reached the finish line.

It started with the goal to find the best jean maker, and passionate artisans from all over the world participated and showed us their views on jeans, innovation and ‘how it’s made.’

In this blog post, I look back at the journey, the successes and bumps in the road, and of course the final outcome of the Challenge (and who won it!).

The Spark That Ignited the Artisan Challenge

When we started the Challenge as a sideshow of the Denim World Championship, our aim was to shine a light on the artisanal crafts of jean-making.

We felt this particular subculture was undervalued by the masses; those who seek fast-fashion trendy jeans made by big names or endorsed by celebrities.

With the Artisan Challenge, we wanted to show the denim community—and the fashion world in general—that there still are loads of one-man brands that strive for quality above all.

Creating a transparent platform, supported by frequent media coverage here on Denimhunters, we were able to reach out to the public.

Artisan Challenge third place Benzak Denim Developers faded raw denim jeans
Benzak Denim Developers created a new 16 oz. denim for the Artisan Challenge! And (of course) it fades awesomely!

In the past two years, we’ve seen some great work being done by the participants; whether it was their detailed information on how they constructed their jeans, their determination to test new fits or fabrics, or the insane wear-and-tear shown in some pairs of jeans

But it hasn’t all been uphill and pleasant.

The Challenge Saw Artisans and Observers Voice Their Opinions

Unfortunately, a few participants started using the forum as a sales platform, while others simply just disappeared from the playing field. As a result, we had to exclude them from the Challenge. It was a little disappointing that some clearly didn’t understand the purpose of the Challenge.

There have also been some complaints about us being too lenient in the sign-up criteria. While our initial goal was to only follow artisans who make the jeans themselves, we ended up accepting artisans who don’t.

We felt it would be interesting to add players to the game that have the creative wit to find new fits, details and so on when designing jeans; artisans who collaborate with highly-skilled artisans to make the end-product. This clearly didn’t go well with some participants and their social media ‘groupies.’

Seeing comments such as the Challenge being a “hoax,” or people having narrow-minded views by shouting out that their favourite one-man brand was the only real artisan in it, well, it quite disappointing and laughable at the same time.

If we would limit ourselves when promoting ethically made, artisan-made and quality made jeans, we would never be able to get the message across.

There are many stages of artisanal craftsmanship, and it is not exclusive to working with your hands. If a major fast-fashion brand would want to enter to promote their new luxury denim, of course, it wouldn’t be possible. But claiming someone doesn’t develop artisan made jeans because they don’t do the stitching themselves but do create all the designing and other necessary steps, is just ridiculous.

Artisan Challenge second place TheConcrete faded raw denim jeans
TheConcrete from Madrid took most of us by surprise.

Reaching the Bumpy Finish Line

When the end of the Challenge came around on May 1, we had to alter the voting system, which again caused some protests.

Initially, five judges were to review all the artisan jeans, and vote for certain criteria, which would give a final result. However, when two of the five judges didn’t reply to us, we had to come up with an alternative.

Instead, we opened the voting polls to everyone, with overall votes and specific criteria, including construction, wear-and-tear evolution and more. This gave us a proper and democratic result. It actually made a lot of sense considering the goal to reach out to the public.

As expected, this resulted in some protests, as the artisans with the biggest social media network would likely get the most votes, and some people have since claimed this was an unfair turn of events. In our defence, we didn’t really have any other options, as it was impossible to get new judges in only a couple of days and have them review a two-year journey.

In the end, it was a close race up to the final voting day.

Artisan Challenge winner W.H. Ranch Dungarees label
The unique label on the left back pocket of Ryan Martin’s Artisan Challenge jeans.

… And the Winner Is …

With polls closing on May 14, and after the counting thousands of votes, we are very proud to announce W.H. Ranch Dungarees as the winner of the Artisan Challenge!

Congratulations to Ryan Martin, the founder of WH, who constructed a very solid, true American pair of jeans that saw some pretty heavy wear-and-tear. His passion, vision and methods proved to be the most popular to the community, followed by TheConcrete as runner-up, and third-placed Benzak Denim Developers.

Three guys that have three very different ways of working; look at things very differently, but with same purpose in mind: to create the best possible garment they can imagine.

The good people at Berto Industria Tessile are offering a selection of their premium denim fabrics as a prize to these top 3 artisans.

And the guys at Denim Boulevard gave a major prize, with the top 3 artisans getting a booth at the show on June 17-19, 2017. A great environment to showcase goods and craft, which will hopefully help build a bigger platform for the artisans themselves and the whole artisanal denim community.

Epilogue

In the end, I feel we can be very proud of what took place: A journey that showed innovation, skills, commitment and passion. These are elements that are missing in the fast-fashion market. Hopefully, the Artisan Challenge has inspired hobbyist makers to kickstart their own brand.

But most of all, I hope the consumers out there will start realising that there is so much more than what meets the eye. That they start appreciating the skills and the quality that artisans bring to the denim industry; because without artisans there is no progress. They are the future of history.

In a side note, we’re happy to announce that the Denim World Championship, which also ended on May 1, will have a successor; the DWC2.

You can read more about it in founder Gavin Smith’s announcement post over on Superfuture.

What to Learn More About How Jeans Are Made?

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