How I Went from Denim Enthusiast to Published Author and Denim Educator
“Why denim? What’s so special about it?” If you call yourself a denimhead, you’ve undoubtedly been asked a question like that before. Many times, probably.
My romance with denim started by chance. Being curious and inquisitive by nature led me into what some would call an obsessive search to understand what denim is, how it’s made and why it fades.
Five years of blogging on Denimhunters later and I’m a published author. My first book, Blue Blooded, has been well-received by the press, the industry and, most importantly, by denim enthusiasts all around the world. Some have even gone so far to call it a “denim bible” (Christopher Danforth of Highsnobiety’s words). Being raised on plenty of Jante Law, I wouldn’t go that far myself.
Just before Blue Blooded was published, I met Kristian Keller from Soundvenue, a Danish music and pop culture magazine, to talk about what it’s like to be a denim enthusiast and, now, an author.
The interview was originally published in Danish, but I feel that the discussions that Kristian and I had deserved to reach a wider audience. So, without further ado, here is my translated and, slightly, modified version of the interview.
Raw Denim, Always!
I met Kristian at his office, which is right smack in the centre of beautiful, old Copenhagen.
Summer was just around the corner, and the temperatures were climbing. But, of course, I was still wearing (a lot of) denim. Too much, I guess.
As I recall it, I wore a pair of raw denim jeans (duh!), a striped long sleeve T-shirt, my Forager denim vest, a denim jacket, one of my denim caps and a pair of Red Wings. Imagine how I was sweating when I got off my bicycle, arriving a few minutes late.
Kristian opened his article with an intelligent observation of my outfit and how I quickly dropped the jacket.
Thomas is, of course, dressed in denim. Dark blue and relatively unworn. It’s unworn because Thomas is particularly fond of the so-called raw denim. It’s not that he doesn’t like the worn look, he just prefers to wear in his jeans himself,” Kristian wrote.
He then went on to quote me as I discussed why denimheads so often have wardrobes full of more or less identical, dark blue jeans. (And this is where it gets a little meta as I quote myself being quoted in the original article.)
Universally speaking, I think we can all agree that denim looks great when it’s worn. Raw denim geeks just prefer to wear in their jeans themselves. And we like to try new jeans all the time, which is why many of us have wardrobes full of more or less unworn jeans.”
This quickly led me to a discussion about the environmental and human costs of making jeans, particularly factory-distressed ones, and why I believe we should only buy raw denim. Heavy stuff.
It requires a lot of resources to make the distressed, worn-in look in a factory. In recent years, insiders of the denim industry have been talking a lot about how much making jeans pollutes.
Consumers need to start thinking about how the jeans they buy with a worn-in look were made. With chemicals? Were they made a place with poor working conditions? Or, God forbid, with child labour?
Still, it’s not the individual consumer’s responsibility. And it’s probably not something they think all that much about. The industry, brands and retailers need to lead the way.”
I’m not out to demonise your jeans, but there’s more to it for me than my favourite brand, the perfect fit, gorgeous fades and all that stuff we consume daily like denim porn.
But as I’ve gotten deeper into the industry, attending supply chain trade shows several times a year, visiting mills, consulting for brands and, not least, writing a book, I’ve realised that there’s much more beneath the surface than cast and hues.
My Journey From Enthusiast to Author
I started my deep-dive into raw denim almost ten years ago, in 2007. Back then, I lived in Aarhus, Denmark second biggest city, and I had landed a part-time job in the fashion store [ei’kon], which has since been closed.
At [ei’kon], I was inducted into the world of indigo and selvedge, selling and wearing jeans from A.P.C. and Edwin. Pretty soon, I wanted to know more about how the garments and fabric were made, and why the colour changed with wear and wash. I guess I mainly wanted to know because customers gave me a funny look when I told them not to wash their jeans. Some even walked straight out of the store, probably thinking I should be in a mental institution.
In 2010, I moved to Copenhagen and took a sabbatical from my studies, working full time as the men’s buyer in the Samsøe & Samsøe store in Vesterbro. It’s a small store located right on the border to the neighbourhood Frederiksberg where you’ll find a lot of prime real estate owned by men (and women) in suits. In other words, we sold more chinos than jeans.
Within long, I found myself spending a lot of time escaping reality into the virtual world of denim knowledge.
Although I initially didn’t like my sister-in-law’s idea that I should start sharing what I was learning on a blog, Denimhunters was soon born. The idea was to create a place where denim enthusiasts and “blue-blooded fashionistas,” as I wrote on the About page, could learn about denim, in Danish.
The first blog post was published on January 31, 2011, if I recall correctly.
Since then, a lot has happened. Around Christmas time that same year, while I was on a skiing holiday with my wife’s family in the French Alps, the blog became international as I posted the first article in English.
Fast forward to my talk with Kristian back in May this year, I explained how relatively small the community is and why I had to start blogging in English.
There are not that many people who do what I do. Even globally and in relative terms, there aren’t that many with the interests I have. It is a small community, although it’s growing in places like Southeast Asia,” I told Kristian.
Nevertheless, there’s clearly a demand for knowledge about denim; Kristian observed as he reasons he’s way to how I ended up as a published author.
Proof of foreign interest was published earlier this year when the Berlin-based international publisher, Gestalten, contacted Thomas last year because they wanted him to write a book about denim. Blue Blooded, the result of that engagement, mixes Thomas’ vast knowledge of denim and portraits of some of the most influential brands and people in the raw denim business,” he wrote in the original interview.
The Three Things About Denim That Fascinate Me the Most
After I’d been going on for a while about how I got bitten by the denim bug, and how it shaped my life, Kristian asked the inevitable question: “What is it that’s so fascinating about denim?”
It’s a tough question. It’s like asking a car enthusiast (or a BMW fan, like yours truly) why he loves cars (or, in my case, BMWs). You’ll say it’s because of the way it drives or where is built. All sorts of arguments about what it is or does. You can feel it, but you can’t articulate why you get that feeling.
The question is tough because it’s about feelings. And as Simon Sinek, the father of the Golden Circle, argues; feelings happen in the part of the brain that doesn’t control language. So we often resort to rationally explaining what it is we love about cars or denim. So did I.
Denim is woven into Western culture; all the way back from European merchants out at sea and the earlier American pioneers who travelled west in search for happiness. And denim is one of the most masculine fabrics. Like a tailored English suit, but that was never really my style.”
But, of course, it’s not only history that makes us wear jeans today. It’s the colour and the way that it changes.
Denim wears in beautifully. There’s just something fascinating with the indigo colour. No matter how much you wash and wear indigo-dyed denim, it retains a nice hue. That doesn’t happen with a black T-shirt.
I sometimes catch myself falling into reveries about the denim I’m wearing if the sunlight hits it just right and it looks more worn than it actually is.”
After my rant about day-dreams of worn denim, I arrived at three of the most fascinating things about denim:
- it fades;
- it has a history; and
- it’s masculine.
Levi’s, Japanese Replicas and Why I Prefer Looser Fits
Next, Kristian wanted to know about my favourite brand, another common question we denim geeks often hear.
Levi’s is probably my all-time favourite brand. No brand has been more influential on the jeans we wear today than Levi’s. If you look at what comes out of Japan these days, and all those who are inspired by what comes out of Japan, it all references Levi’s heavily, whether it’s the fit, the details or branding.”
But I wasn’t done ranting. Next, without any provocation, I ventured into a monologue about why Japanese brands often replicate Levi’s.
The Japanese don’t imitate to steal. They do it because they have so much respect for the original. To them, it’s perfect, so why change it?”
Of course, Kristian then wanted to know more about why the Japanese make so darn great jeans.
In the heritage denim, Japan is the benchmark, and has been so for some years. I’ve been there once, and what I observed is that, in general, the Japanese have a lot of pride in everything they do. If you are a street sweeper, you want to do that properly because doing a good job is honourable.
Translate that into jeans, and you have a nation of craftsmen that care about the thickness of the thread they sew with and the stitch per inch; details that other Asian jeans-producing cultures might be indifferent about. There is a careful industriousness to the Japanese culture, which works very well when mixed with reproduction of authentic denim and jeans.”
To bring me back to earth, possibly regretting his previous question, Kristian asked me about my favourite fit.
I prefer straight and slightly wider cuts. If you wear slim or skinny jeans, you get more horizontal whiskers, whereas if you have slightly wider jeans, they’ll get more diagonal. How a fit fades can sometimes feel more important than how it looks and how it feels. It’s more important what the jeans look like a year than what they look like today.”
The interview ends with yet another common question; “how many pairs of jeans do you own?” The correct answer is around 25 pairs (and not 20 pairs, as I stated in the original interview). To some, that’s a lot, but the most striking thing, I guess, is all of the jeans look in my wardrobe are identical, a non-denimhead would likely say.
And with that, going full circle back to his initial observation of my outfit being all raw denim, Kristian ended the interview.
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