With the comeuppance of so many new denim companies over the past decade, it led me to write an informative article about the on goings that have made the history of denim so rich in culture.
The denim fabric was reputedly first produced in the 16th century by the French as a rugged cotton textile called serge de Nîmes, which was a wool blended fabric dyed in natural indigo. In the 18th century, the Italians made the first pair of denim trousers called Gênes, named after the the city of Genoa. In 1873, Levi Strauss received a U.S patent to make the first pair of riveted work pants out of denim. Denim overalls were produced in the 1870s and the signature 501 cut was produced in the 1890s. Cone mills became a fabric supplier to Levi Strauss in 1915, bringing a whole different level of quality to the brand. Since then, Cone denim has been synonymous with Levi’s, despite many other brands like Left field, Roy and Rail Car producing denim made from Cone Mills, Levi’s is still a gigantic market mover and it is most consumers’ staple brand.
In Japan however, the technique behind cotton weaving started in Okayama, during the Edo period which is in the 15th Century. During the industrial revolution in America, the local culture started obsessing over authentic American made denim. This prompted local cotton mills to replicate and improve on the quality of existing denim, to feed the increasing demand domestically. This eventually resulted in cotton mills setting the bar very high. It was during the late 1980s, the Osaka 5 came to be. The Osaka5 consisted of 5 companies, namely: Denime, Evisu, Fullcount, Studio D’artisan, Warehouse. They paved the way for hundreds of brands to come, producing very close replicas to the vintage world war era denim so sought after, even today. Hundreds of brands copied what the Osaka 5 did, but yet, the original 5 are still in existence, and still major market players.
Fabrics, designs, cuts, hardware, even techniques have been shared around the world, with few companies claiming exclusive rights to a particular fabric. Having exclusive rights to a fabric is simply ridiculous. Imagine a world where all cotton T-shirt manufacturers having to pay the first person that made them royalties! Or having one brand monopolizing the use of Pima cotton! To give a more recent example of this, would be the use of Kaihara denim. Kaihara denim became sought after with the popularity of Sugar Cane denim. After which, many other companies started purchasing fabric from the Kaihara mills. There has been no dispute, because despite the fabrics either being the same or similar, the actual product was different. Wouldn’t you as a consumer like to have a product designed in a different way but with your favourite fabric? If Samsung monopolized the use of MP3s would your beloved iPod exist?
There are many ways products can differ from each other, but lets use jeans for the sake of argument. Jeans can differ from each other by cut, sewing technique, construction, hardware (buttons, rivets and zippers), details and design. If one denim company used just one similar factor to another company’s, does that make the denim produced an imitation?
Let’s say hypothetically, a company did have exclusive rights to a particular fabric from a specific mill. If the mill sold the same fabric to another company, wouldn’t that mean the mill itself was at fault for breaking it’s agreement to the first company? And if the second company procured the fabric by all legitimate means, isn’t it their choice to work with the fabric as they see fit, especially if their design is unique in it’s own right?
All this big hoo-hah I’m witnessing around the community, has been nothing more than businessmen trying to claw at the shrinking market share. Us consumers have a lot to celebrate about actually! With more brands popping up every year, offering either new or existing fabric in a refreshed design, we’re so spoilt for choice it makes little sense to believe in “brand loyalty”, especially brands that do not reward their followers. We should be smart consumers and be not just accepting but encouraging new innovations, that can only improve the current standard in the market, and expand the community as a whole.
Think harder, buy smarter.
Image sources: ok-ni, nordic denim house, formfollowsfunctionjournal.tumblr