Yes, that’s me up there in the classic indigo dungarees. I was eight years old when that picture was taken. I loved denim then and I love denim now. Truth be told, I’ve probably worn denim pretty much every day since.
My love affair started at a very young age and over the years my passion has never waned. For the past 12 years I’ve pursued a dream that many people said was crazy – to make my own selvedge denim here in the UK. It all started with a simple question: how do you make the perfect pair of jeans? I’d always been fascinated by design and fashion, especially vintage clothing and fabrics. I started collecting vintage denim and clothing when I was just 13 and by 2002 I was buying and selling vintage English and American workwear online. This developed into a successful company called Somebody & Sons but by 2007 I was ready to branch out and fulfil a life-long ambition: to design perfect-fit jeans made out of the highest quality fabric. However I soon learned that setting up a denim business was harder than I thought. The first issue was where to find first class selvedge denim. Not only did I want exceptional fabric but it had to be environmentally friendly and sustainable too.
I started contacting denim brands, asking where they sourced their material but heard nothing back. After six months of drawing a blank I had a breakthrough when I got in touch with Ralph Tharpe from Cone Mills, the company that produces denim for Levis. Ralph is the king of denim, there is nothing he doesn’t know about the business. I flew from my home in London to Greensboro, North Carolina to meet Ralph at the infamous White Oak Mill. I’ll never forget the moment I walked into the weaving room. It was the size of a football pitch and my heart soared as I felt the rattle and hum of the looms beneath my feet. Watching huge coils of roped yarn as they were dipped into indigo baths was mesmerising. Ralph then led me into the archive room where my jaw hit the floor and butterflies began to flood my stomach. We sat around a big table and chatted for a couple of hours surrounded by every piece of clothing Cone denim had been made into, from the 1920’s to the present day, for a collector it was like being in heaven. In one afternoon a lifetime of misunderstood, obsessive collecting had been validated in one fell swoop.
I arrived back in London, determined to get my business off the ground. I started speaking with denim mills all over the world, from Europe to Japan. I found some beautiful fabrics dyed with natural indigo but they were too expensive to make them viable. After a couple of years I started to feel disheartened. Was I going to have to say goodbye to my dream? Then one day I read something that stopped me in my tracks. In the mid 19th century, 75 per cent of the world’s fabric was produced in the north of England. I was astonished and it got me thinking. What about making my denim in the UK? What about creating a beautiful high-end fabric that was locally sourced, sustainable and kind to the environment?
I spent two years looking for a suitable weaver and it took another two years to secure my yarn supply. It’s certainly been an adventure. In that time I’ve talked to many people who still think what I’m doing is crazy. However I’ve also met a growing number of people who don’t, people like me who are dedicated to producing fabric locally and sustainably. People who are passionate about British craftsmanship and want to create a future for our manufacturing industry.
The family company in Lancashire that weaves Hewitt Heritage denim has been in the fabric business for more than 100 years. When I first met them in 2009 I was immediately impressed by their history, dedication to the craft and their passion for British manufacturing. It was then that I knew I’d found a home and a partner for my denim project. So where am I now? Well, we’re just about to launch our year 2 denim range, allowing me to still say “we make selvedge denim in the UK”. I could not be more proud – it really is a dream come true. I’ve dedicated the last 12 years to developing a fabric that I know will make the perfect pair of jeans.
If you love denim and British manufacturing and are looking for a strong and beautiful fabric that will last for years, then please do get in touch, as it would be great to meet you.