Friday, 28 March 2014

Shop Review - A Small Jeans Company

A Small Jeans Company
Carsten outside ASJC HQ.
Some of the more high end denim stores, complete with standard issue hipster scowling at you from behind a counter, can feel a little unwelcoming when you go in.

Not so Copenhagen's newest denim shop A Small Jeans Company (ASJC). Tempted by the offer of coffee and obligatory Danish pastries I met up with owner Carsten Frederiksen for an interview.

ASJC is a very personal project for Carsten. As its name suggests ASJC want to keep things, well, small. His background however is working in sales for large brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Tiger of Sweden in the more formal tradition of gents' tailoring. As Carsten admits though,
"It makes no sense for a denim-head, but when working with formal wear I started realizing that clothes go way deeper. Suddenly I found myself much more drawn to denim. Most end-consumers know that tailoring, the combining of fabrics and fits, is a sort of science. The same counts for denim in general. But what really triggered it was longevity. In this case denim beats formal wear any day. Personally I prefer a mix of denim and formal wear. Add a leather jacket and I'm a happy guy"

A Small Jeans Company

Indigo, Craftsmanship, Stories

Talking to Carsten it's clear he applies formal tailoring's high standards to what he stocks at ASJC, yet this as much as his relaxed attitude informs what he wants to achieve with the shop,
"We have no ambition of becoming a big jeans company or getting rich and famous. We focus on providing good, long-lasting stuff for customers. We prefer products before branding. When I opened up I thought well known commercial brands were important. Luckily they are not. The end-consumer has become much more aware of what they're buying. Therefore we focus on production, country of origin, fabrics and brand DNA." 
 This means brands such as Tellason, Pace Jeans, Tanner Goods and Lewis Leathers take precedence over more commercial fodder. ASJC's motto is Indigo, Craftsmanship, Stories. The provenance and quality of a garment is more important than than the branding it carries - perhaps a surprising approach for a shop only a stones throw form Copenhagen's main shopping drag Stroget.

To his credit Carsten is not interested in compromising on the quality of what ASJC stocks,
"Quality denim is for me a solid and clean product in every detail. With this I mean what is the purpose of making a fantastic heavy ounce denim then putting in cheap buttons or compromising on pocket lining or rivets? In general I prefer American or Japanese raw denim made with a clean look. Tellason is a good example. Even if you are not into denim you can see that things have been thought heavily about."   
Starting any new business is hard and mistakes are easy to make. Despite the shop's central location traffic flow has been one of ASJC's biggest challenges,

"Copenhagen is a big city and knowledge (of us) is still small. We are growing every day and becoming more settled. Customers come back and that is a good thing!" 

Carsten is candid about the initial difficulty getting the mix of brands right, but argues the shop will benefit from it in the long run,
"A Small Jeans Company will only get better and more interesting for denim orientated guys."
A Small Jeans Company

A Small Passion

Despite these challenges, after working for the big boys A Small Jeans Company represents a refreshing change, with Carsten's motivation stemming from doing something he genuinely loves,
"I'm doing this now and hopefully for the rest of my life. I have had good jobs and been happy about them but this career choice is by far the best decision made."
So what brand is he most proud of? Carsten acts as an agent for the Swedish brand Pace Jeans, so they're perhaps not a surprising choice. However, I get the sense he means it,
"I love the way their denim are ages and they don't compromise on quality. The philosophy of keeping pace and moving on is fantastic. On a bad day I would prefer a less visible stitching on back pockets. But that's how it is with visual branding I guess. At the moment the PX-04 from Pace is keeping my legs warm."
ASJC - Pace Jeans

With regard to breaking his own jeans in Carsten doesn't have any special routines, preferring to simply break his jeans in from dry,
"for me it's all about getting them on and when they don't work anymore it's time for a change. For customers I recommend they have patience and simply just wear them whatever they are doing. I think it is up to the single person if they want to rub their dirty hands in them, work in the garage or garden - or even wash them (always inside out) because they have an office job. I think the journey starts when they buy a pair of dry jeans and they will find out what works for them."
Carsten brings a life-long passion for clothing to ASJC, and it seems to be working for him,
"My motivation definetly comes from doing what I really love and am passionate about. I am doing this now and hopefully for the rest of my life. I have had good jobs and been happy about them, but this career choice is by far the best decision made. It is hard, but I love riding my bike to the store in the mornings and developing the business. Furthermore Copenhagen Center needs this kind of shop. Period!"
A Small Jeans Company

Copenhagen shops are not known for friendly customer service, so this attitude is good news for Danish denim-heads. As Carsten says,
"I don’t expect for people to be blown away but if they don’t find it relaxed and feel welcome for shopping or hanging out - then I am doing something wrong. "
There's normally always a pot of coffee on and regular beer evenings, so if you're after some new denim why not pop for a chat?
If you can't make it the web-shop will be up and running very soon. Check out ASJC here.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Brown-Duck & Digger - Jeans Just As They Ought To Be

Brown-Duck & Digger
BD&D's line up of jeans at Bread & Butter in Berlin.

Japanese denim brands had a strong presence at Bread & Butter in Berlin in January. The stand out for me was Brown-Duck & Digger (BD&D) - the new sub label by Warehouse & Co specialising in authentic workwear jeans from 1900 to the 1960's.

The jeans lineup consists of four fits, the 12.5 oz Rough Rider Trousers, the 12.5 oz Big Bill, the 14 oz Golden Straight and the 14 oz Ivy, the fits getting gradually more modern (read slimmer and lower) as you go.

Brown-Duck & Digger 12.5 oz Rough Riders
The 12.5 oz Rough Riders

Predictably perhaps I immediately got exited over the earliest pair in the range - the Rough Riders. 
Named after President Teddy Roosevelt’s volunteer cavalry unit that fought in the Spanish American War of 1898, in terms of fit they are are entirely accurate for jeans of the period - with an uber high waist, wide leg, brace buttons, cinch and single back pocket.

The back pocket has been placed close to the outer seam - a throwback to a time when workmen needed easy access to the tools they kept there. The yolk is so deep that it goes through the inside top corner of the pocket - giving a very high back rise.

Brown-Duck & Digger 12.5 oz Rough Riders - cinch back and brace buttons
Cinch back and donut brace buttons. Two of my favourite things to see on a pair of jeans.

Detail Is All

Befitting their rugged name these jeans have been robustly constructed.  As you would expect from a Japanese brand immense attention has been lavished on the detailing. 
Unusually the outer seam is felled - essentially the two seams are interlocked and top stitched, giving a much stronger result - a technique that would have been widely used on denims and other workwear of the era.

Brown-Duck & Digger 12.5 oz Rough Riders - felled seam detail
The felled seams in all their glory - a much stronger seam historically used on work wear, it makes for an unusual single selvedge edge.
The same can be said of the beautiful single needle stitching, the lock stitched hem on the leg and donut buttons.
Another detail that stood out is the single piece selvedge edge fly. Sturdier than a crotch rivet, it’s a feature that BD&D have replicated throughout the entire range.

Brown-Duck & Digger 12.5 oz Rough Riders - fly detail
Continuous selvedge fly and green button hole stitching. Commendable detailing.
A core part of the brand's identity is the indigo leaf - a theme that runs throughout the line-up from the painted & stitched leaf arcuate, the green button hole stitching to the deliberately aged copper rivets that show a slight green oxidisation. 
On the more contemporary models green thread has been used to bar-tack the belt loops and pockets too. 
Painted arcuates are not normally my cup of tea, but they're something of a Japanese tradition and it will be interesting to see how it ages.

Brown-Duck & Digger 12.5 oz Rough Riders - arcuate detail
I'll be honest, I wasn't sure what to make of the painted arcuate when I first saw it, but it's growing on me. 

The Jeans In Hand

The fabric is beautiful. The Rough Riders and Big Bills are 12.5 oz 3x1 twill - denim of the time was usually 2x1. When I spoke to Keita Senzaki at BD&D he said he preferred to adopt 3x1 twill for these two models “to stress the thickness and stiffness of the fabric.” 

And the fabric on the Rough Riders is quite slubby, giving the denim a wonderful texture. Again this would have been a feature of turn-of-the-century denim - a characteristic BD&D have reproduced by tweaking the tension on their vintage looms. I’m excited to see how the these jeans will fade.

Brown-Duck & Digger 12.5 oz Rough Riders - rivets and donut buttons
Beautiful period donut buttons and deliberately aged copper rivets. Note the slight green oxidisation, consistent with the indigo leaf theme. Other brands should take heed - that's how you do detailing. 
Even the pocket bags are denim. The back of the cinch has also been lined with blue &  white hounds tooth cotton. Rather than leather, BD&D have plumbed for an unbleached cotton patch, maintaining the eco friendly feel of the natural indigo leaf.

Brown-Duck & Digger 12.5 oz Rough Riders - denim pocket bags
Heavy duty denim pocket bags - I'm expecting to end up with indigo stained boxers whilst I break these in!

Billiken Man - Success Is Sure To Follow

BD&D use Billiken as their brand icon -  a good luck charm that was hugely popular in both America and Japan in the early Twentieth century. Largely forgotten in the US now, it was even used as a mascot for William Howard Taft’s 1908 presidential election campaign - the name for BD&D’s Big Bill jeans was Taft’s nickname. 
Billiken hit the shores of Japan that same year in the form of a huge statue in an Osaka amusement park and the figure remains popular today.
As Keita says, “we think Biliken and B&DD have something mutual in common - American culture, forgotten history.” 

Brown-Duck & Digger 12.5 oz Rough Riders - Billiken
The Billiken icon - on the patch, and here tucked away in the back pocket.
Others have characterised Biliken as “the God of things as they ought to be.” For me this is perhaps the more relevant link to BD&D. They produce jeans as they ought to be. 
Whether you’re in to historically accurate garments or not BD&D simply make beautiful jeans as they ought to be made.

As you'd expect from Warehouse & Co painstaking research has gone into the BD&D range and it's clearly been crafted with uncompromising attention to detail. What more can you ask for in a pair of denims? 

Some Japanese brands can be hard to get hold of in Europe, however BD&D intend to distribute globally. With more of the range waiting in the wings to be released soon, these are exciting times for fans of Japanese denim. 

Check out Brown-Duck & Digger here.