Raw Denim, Heritage Fashion and Anti-Throwaway Consumerism Is Changing How We Repair Our Jeans
Denim is like wine and cheese; it gets better with age. We like our jeans more as they get broken in. Not only do we consider denim more beautiful as it wears in; many are happy to pay more for jeans that are worn and torn.
This is where repairing enters the picture. Denim is easy to repair, and when done right, repairs can make your jeans look even better. Another obvious benefit is that it saves you money! Yet it seems many consumers (still) don’t consider repairing a real option.
This article is the last in the series about buying jeans. In it, I take a look at how you can extend the time you can enjoy your jeans, you’re saving money, and you’re lowering your environmental footprint. All by repairing them!
The four episodes of the series about buying jeans are:
Why We Repair Our Jeans
Fading and repairs are part of the language of jeans. It’s a different story with for instance suits.
Suits we want it to look like new. That’s why we press, iron and dry-clean them: to retain the newness of their appearance. Shabby, worn-out suits don’t communicate authority and professionalism; repairs and wear are not part of the language of suits.
Then look at jeans. It’s usually perfectly acceptable to wear worn-out and repaired jeans, even for semi-formal occasions. Jeans are universally appreciated for their toughness and faded look.
There’s no other fabric that universally gets so much more love when it’s worn. Just think about the auction prices of century-old jeans—we probably won’t see that in 100 years with polyester yoga pants.
But getting your jeans worn in—whether you do it yourself or let someone in a factory do it for you—is only half of the story. Once they’re worn, you want them to stay wearable for as long as possible, right? That’s why you should get them repaired. So why don’t we get it done then?
You might have traumas from the less than professionally patched up jeans your mum made you wear as a kid. Or maybe you don’t really know where to get your jeans repaired? Maybe you have an idea that repairing your jeans is too expensive?
These days, repairs are cool (although soccer ball knee patches still have to make their fashion debut).
A Unique Bond Between Garment and Wearer
One of the key reasons for raw denim’s revival—and the following revival of repairing jeans—is that breaking in jeans that aren’t pre-washed and -distressed creates a unique bond between garment and wearer.
Being that I don’t sew my own jeans, it’s nice to get your hands dirty every now and again at a machine. I often tell people that it helps me feel more connected with the product we make when I’m able to fix an old pair of 3sixteen jeans that have served their owner well over the years.”
The objective for many who wear raw denim is to get ‘great fades.’ As your jeans break in and start fading, they become yours. They also start falling apart. That’s why we denimheads rather repair than throw our jeans out. But the breaking in can happen with other garments too.
This makes me think of photos I’ve seen of Prince Charles’ insanely worn and extensively repaired (and even patched) John Lobb shoes,” Tyler Madden (formerly of Indigo Proof) tells me.
The reason a pair of heavily repaired 40-year-old shoes makes the news probably has something to do with the fact that the owner is the Prince of Wales, the repair specialist reasons.
Yet it highlights a less-discussed aspect of choosing to repair something; that we deeply value and don’t want to stop wearing the item. “We repair the garment because it’s exactly right, because it’s ours,” he says, “so it only makes sense to keep it going as long as possible—otherwise we would just have something else.”
While most of us don’t have the cachet of Prince Charles, the principle stands no matter who you are. Beyond the comfort and personalised aspects of having something properly broken in, clothes that develop patina over time become imbued with the characteristics of time itself.
Prince Charles’ shoes are irreplaceable not specifically because they are 40 years old but because they’ve been worn, shaped and formed over a 40-year period by him. “Same as one might be able to say about their grandfather’s old work boots or jeans for instance,” Tyler Madden adds.
Why We Stopped Repairing
When your grandfather’s generation, and the generations before that, wore jeans as workwear, they needed pants that would last for a long as possible. So when the darn things ripped, your old man’s old man (and the old men before him) would get them fixed.
The same goes with your raw denim jeans today. To make them last as long as possible, you do what you can to prevent crotch blow-outs and rips. When the inevitable rips do come around, you get the jeans repaired.
But in a 50-year gap between the birth of designer jeans and until only a few years ago, repairing jeans wasn’t something many considered an option. As jeans became a fashion item, the need and desire to repair changed. Consumers have simply been buying new jeans instead of repairing them—and many still do.
For decades, the denim industry has been selling us jeans that’re ripped and repaired in a factory. With the growing popularity and mainstreaming of raw denim, many are now ripping their raw denim jeans themselves. But it’s still far from everyone—even those who’ve jumped on the raw denim bandwagon—who also thinks to get their jeans repaired.
That said, it seems the repair philosophy is slowly taking root in the wider part of the jeans market. With the recent 90s-inspired trend of ripped knees, some consumers are also starting to think about what it means to repair their jeans, the processes behind rips and repairs, the value it adds, and how cool it looks.
How to Repair Jeans
The most common places for jeans to wear out is around the knee, the crotch area, and essentially anywhere the denim creases.
It’s usually the warp yarn that breaks first. That’s because denim is warp-faced, meaning the warp yarn is worn the most. The wearing out is also accelerated as the warp stretches with wear. You can repair your jeans with darning, sewing or ironing on patches, or even with special fabric glue (something I wouldn’t recommend, though).
Some take repairing to the next level and turn it into something that resembles denim art. Using antique methods such as Japanese sashiko stitching, enthusiasts are mending their jeans by hand (or paying someone like Luke Deverell from Darn and Dusted to do it for them). A good hand-made repair can transform an otherwise unattractive rip into a thing of total beauty.
Machine darning is a strong counterpoint to an esoteric, yet historically based, repair technique like sashiko,” Tyler Madden says in Blue Blooded. He calls this kind of repair ’expressed,’ in other words decorative.
Tyler explains that the machine darning his former partner at Indigo Proof, Rain Delisle, uses is, in fact, a descendant of old-fashioned hand-mending. “It grew out of the nineteenth-century frenzy for using machine technology to improve the efficiency of all means of work previously done by hand,” he elaborates.
The goal with their way of repairing with a machine is to make the repair an almost invisible part of the jean rather than making it something with decorative value.
That being said, if you ask me, the repairs Rain at Indigo Proof do are absolutely beautiful too!
In the end, it’s still mainly raw denim jeans that we get repaired. But pre-washed ones often end up being in just as much need for it, and often quicker as the denim is already distressed at the time you start wearing it.
Why You Should Repair Your Jeans
So, why should you repair your jeans? The short answer is because repairs are cool!
But repairs are obviously also a way to make your jeans last longer, which means you’ll be saving money in the long run—even when you’re paying for quality repairs.
And as you’re wearing your jeans longer, you’ll be leaving a smaller footprint on the environment.
How Repairs Save You Money
Although the average price of a jean is still shockingly low, some consumers are willing to pay a fair price. And that usually means they’ll want them to last.
But we often wear our jeans far beyond the realities of what they can sustain without repair from time to time.
Especially if you start wearing them from their raw state, not even the best production can prevent holes, tears or broken stitching.
The only real way for jeans to realise the “potential” of the jeans is with capable repair, executed on par with the production that goes into these special jeans,” Tyler Madden argues.
Of course, you would expect someone who’s doing denim repairs for a living to feel this way, but he’s absolutely right!
The reality is that if you’re committed to wearing a single pair of jeans for let’s say three years, and you’re wearing them hard, you’ll easily end up spending at least the amount of money on repairs that you actually paid for the jeans. And that’s something some consumers get upset about, Tyler Madden tells from experience.
What you need to realise is that even though you might be paying, for instance, $50 for a repair, it’s still in most cases less than a new pair of jeans would cost. Essentially, you’ll be able to stretch your jeans budget.
Unless you insist on rating the cost of wear time as 0, it’s easy to justify the cost of repair of almost any jean that fits well and are properly broken in,” Tyler reasons.
The point is that repairing expands the expected lifespan of your jeans. And they also significantly reduces the impact of the purchase price on the total cost of ownership. This makes it easier to justify purchasing a pricier pair in the first place, as you can expect to wear them for a longer time.
Repairing Your Jeans Is Anti-Throwaway Fashion
Repairs are like scars for your jeans; they’re connected with memories. But not only do repairs add character to your jeans, they can be a way for you to consume less, as part of what’s sometimes called the slow fashion movement.
We’re increasingly filling up our closets—and our planet—with clothes we don’t really wear. When we’re done with them, sometimes after they’ve only been worn a few times, we dump them in landfills or third world countries.
Before the wheels of big consumerism started turning, we’d repair our clothes. And we would only buy what we really needed. Just ask someone who lived in the 1940s how often they threw away clothes.
With the throwaway economy, buying new stuff became the way to express who you are and your status. It started with the economic boom of the 1950s, which speeded up fashion cycles while quality started going down. After all, how long the clothes lasted wasn’t that important anymore as they’d be out of fashion soon anyway.
With the global recession that hit in the late-2000s and the growing concerns for how our behaviour affects the environment, a new paradigm of consumption has slowly but steadily started emerging. It’s still far from being the norm, but quality is once again becoming more important than quantity, for some consumers at least. And that’s a reason why we’re now, once again, repairing our jeans.
The slow fashion philosophy is ingrained in the very core of heritage and raw denim fashion. For most raw denim brands—who tell you to wear their garments for as long as possible—consuming less is key.
For brands like Nudie Jeans, repairing is part of the company core values. Nudie’s own retail outlets are even called ‘Repair Shops,’ and you can have your Nudie jeans repaired there for life, no matter where you bought them.
This means that repairing your jeans can, in fact, become an anti-statement of throwaway consumerism, which has (sadly) become the norm in the fashion industry.
The shift in consumption patterns still hasn’t broken through the mainstream. “Few of us are willing to trade in the comforts of our lifestyles, which depends on consumption,” Tyler Madden argues.
Who is actually willing to only buy local food all year around, eat less meat, don’t travel as much, freeze in the winter and sweat in the summer or not wear jeans that are made in Japan, sold in the US and worn in Europe?!”
These are the sacrifices the individual has to make. At least that’s the pictures that the proponents of consumerism are trying to paint.
Raw and selvedge denim jeans have also proved to not be immune to the forces of fast fashion. These days, you can buy raw denim jeans that cost the same as a repair at for instance Indigo Proof. And that might be one of the reasons many don’t consider repairing an option, even when they’ve broken in the jeans themselves.
The argument I have against $50 raw denim jeans is that once you’ve worn them for a year, they probably are worth paying $100+ to repair, despite the fact that they started out as being quite appropriately priced at $50,” Tyler argues.
The featured image is from Indigo Proof.