When we think of jeans, we often think of classic American brands, but before jeans were developed as workwear by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in 1873, denim itself was invented in Italy in the 16th Century and made in Nîmes, France.
The words denim and jean are derived from the origins of the material. ‘Denim’ is a contraction of ‘de Nîmes‘ or from Nimes. Similarly, the denim cloth imported from Italy was marked as ‘cloth from Jeane’, an anglicised spelling of Genoa which subsequently became the name for jeans.
Denim involves more than just material production; the dying process is vital in creating the iconic blue denim jeans we wear today. Indigo dyes have been used since Egyptian times and are commonly used in South East Asian batik designs. Whilst many plants produce indigo, even plants like rhubarb and cabbage, many synthetic alternatives are used today.
Japan is renowned for its knowledge and expertise in the use of indigo dyes. In the Edo Period (1603-1868), common people were banned from wearing bright colours, so they were often limited to blues, greys and browns. The indigo dye produced here is known as Japan blue, and to this day, Japanese indigo is renowned for its quality. It is little known that indigo dyeing makes the cotton fibres in jeans stronger and has insect repellent properties!
Today, jeans are commonly produced in China, India, Turkey and Brazil. But if you’re looking for something made closer to home, YouK offers a few brands who have brought the industry to the UK.
Hiut Denim Co
Cardigan is a small town on the west coast of Wales which used to produce over 35,000 pairs of jeans a week. For three decades, the industry supported a workforce of 400 until it closed down in 2002.
In 2011, that changed and the Hiut Denim Company brought jeans back to the town. Their Grand Masters produce up to 100 pairs of Hiut’s a week from the best quality denim. This June, after several years of steady growth, Huit Denim came full circle and moved into the old denim factory which closed in 2002.
Based in a from their specialist workshop in Brighton, Dawson Denim have been building a collection of denim workwear using traditional techniques since 2012. The founders, Kelly Dawson and Scott Ogden design, cut and sew each product themselves, with personal attention to detail, giving a unique experience far removed from fast fashion to anyone buying a pair of their jeans. They source the highest quality denim from Okayama, Japan where it is woven and dyed.
Finally, we move on to Sheffield-based Forge Denim which was founded by Richard Mappin and Alex Mir. With a wealth of experience in retail and an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things denim, the pair were well equipped to start their venture. Forge Denim pay attention to the details and believe that bringing manufacturing home means sourcing as much as they can from the UK; the branded steel buttons for Forge Denim jeans are also made by a company in Sheffield and the pocket linings are made in Lancashire.
Across these brands, we see a strong sense of the values we believe in at YouK, from a reduction in product miles to building a sense of community around a British workforce. Delving into the history of the products you wear gives you a greater appreciation of the heritage and the processes behind products we take for granted as a wardrobe staple!