The Indigo Invitational Puts 3 Myths About Wearing and Washing Raw Denim Through the Wringer
This post was written by Bryan Szabo, co-founder of the Indigo Invitational.
When it comes to wearing and washing denim, we denimheads are an opinionated bunch. Recipes for top-shelf fades are like bellybuttons—we’ve all got one, and they’re all slightly different.
As well-informed as we are on the subjects of wearing and washing denim, there are certain things we leave unexamined. For instance, we take it for granted that we should wait at least six months to wash our denim. This is fade-culture dogma, but is it fact or fable?
Follow the competition
The Indigo Invitational is a year-long fading competition. It’s free to join, and all brands and weights are welcome. All you need is a brand new pair of raw denim jeans, and the best fades win! Oh, and the prizes are insane!
Your jeans can be unsanforized or sanforized, as long as they’re raw (factory one-washed jeans being the only exception). Year 3 of the competition runs from April 2022 to April 2023.
The Indigo Invitational Fade Competition is rigorously testing some of the more pervasive denim myths, and we’re putting most of them to bed.
In the last myth-busting post, we looked at myths 1-3 (the ones that influence what we buy and how much we pay for it). This week, we’re looking at myths 4-6 (the ones surrounding wearing and washing raw denim).
Denim Fading Myth #4
Dry > Wet
This is one of the first things people hear about raw denim—mostly because the first thing denim heads tell the uninitiated is that raw denim should be kept bone dry for as long as possible.
Unsurprisingly, new members of the raw denim community are often confused about how long they should wait to wash their jeans and how they should wash them when that time comes. These questions can never be answered definitively because there are as many different opinions on the subject as there are denim brands.
You can learn much more about washing raw denim (and why you should!) in Thomas’s blog posts and videos on the topic right here.
My first successful fades were the result (I thought) of this kind of marathon break-in period. By the time I washed my first pair of Naked & Famous (after a year of constant wear), you could smell me coming before you could see me coming.
Was this necessary? Would a wash or two have interrupted my fade progress?
What we’ve seen in the first half of the competition is that the answer to both of these questions is a qualified no.
Quite a few of the competitors are holding out, refusing to let their denim see the inside of a washing machine until they’ve crossed at least the six-month mark. Some may push it even further than this.
Maine’s Chris Paine has kept his 15 oz. Naked & Famous Deep Indigo entirely dry, and, after more than 100 wears, they show all the hallmarks of dry denim after 100+ wears: shiny thighs and seat and deeply set whiskers and honeycombs. He says he’ll wash them when it becomes absolutely necessary, and not before.
Just down the road, in Wisconsin, there’s another Chris, also wearing Naked & Famous (22 oz. Elephant 2), and he washed his jeans after only three months.
Chris Clark’s pair might not have that trademark unwashed sheen, but nobody would call his fades soft. His creases are set firmly enough that they’re not going anywhere, and his wife isn’t complaining daily about the smell.
Of course, if you want high-contrast fades, you’re definitely going to have to be patient and wait for the creases to really set in deep before you wash them.
If you’re only kitting out with denim on weekends, yes, this might take six months or even longer, but if you’re subjecting your pair to daily wear and abuse, the creases should be set by the time you’re crossing the 100 wear mark (perhaps earlier).
If your creases are fully set and you’re still holding out for a first wash until you’ve crossed that magical six-month mark or one-year mark, you are probably a walking petri dish of funk.
Do your loved ones and colleagues a favour: wash your jeans. Your fades won’t be any worse for wear.
MYTH STATUS: BUSTED
Denim Fading Myth #5
Dirty Work > Office Work
The world’s most dedicated denim faders push their denim to its limits, wearing clean through a pair in the time it takes others to set their creases.
They work in garages, in mines, in breweries, on construction sites, or in other places that lend themselves well to the workwear ethos of rough handling. They pack their denim with their lunchpails. Their jeans live fast and die young (but at least they leave a good-looking corpse).
Then there are the rest of us.
We might have managed, with diligent effort, to produce some excellent fades, but it’s a slower process because we don’t come home at the end of the day covered in grit, sawdust, or motor oil. We love fades as much as the mechanic or mill worker, but, for us, the dirty work of fading is a part-time job.
Does this mean that, all else being equal, white-collar faders produce fades slower than blue-collar ones? Yes, it does.
Does it mean that rat racers are doomed to sub-par fades? Absolutely not.
We’re seeing the proof of this every day in the competition. Blue-collar faders definitely jumped out to an early lead in the competition, but the white-collar faders are prone to intense periods of acceleration—when they play, they play hard.
It’s a solid general rule that if you’re heading straight from an office chair to a leather sofa, your fades are going to develop at a snail’s pace (especially if you’re wearing stubborn faders like Iron Hearts, which seem to be the go-to brand for the office set).
If, however, you bike to work every day, rain or shine, or if you seek out opportunities to get as filthy as humanly possible in your jeans (like Thailand’s Mongkhonphon Sirisopon in his 16 oz. Amory Jeans), you’ll be nipping at the blue-collar faders’ heels.
Yes, working 40 hours per week under fluorescent lights will put you at a disadvantage, but that leaves you 144 potential fading hours per week. Exceptional fades are yours for the taking if you head into the great and gritty outdoors.
Here’s some tangible proof that this can be a winning strategy: white-collar fader Alex Swords won last year’s PBJ x Blue Owl Workshop fade competition. He got a late start in the contest, but he still managed to pull ahead of the pack and come out on top thanks to his diligent off-hours effort.
Alex sits in an office chair for most of the day, but in his spare time, he’s out of doors, chasing the sun and his dog, and fading his denim in the process. He’s proof that, while office workers are at a disadvantage, winning fades are still within reach for determined faders.
Remember, white-collar faders: Opportunities to beat the blue out of your denim won’t come to you—you have to go to them.
MYTH STATUS: CONFIRMED
Denim Fading Myth #6
Hotter Climates > Cooler Climates
When the Indigo Invitational began, there was some concern about the competition’s mix of international faders. Would faders who live in hotter and more humid climates have an unfair advantage over those in more temperate parts of the world?
For some, this turned into outright panic when some of the Thai competitors (in a brilliant strategic move) started sharing pictures of their past fade projects. Their high-contrast fades looked unbeatable, making the contest appear (at least for a moment) unwinnable for the Western competitors.
But, as the contest progressed, it became clear that the heat and humidity in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines don’t count for as much as we thought they might.
Just as in the rest of the world, some Southeast Asian competitors fade slow, others fade fast. Like everywhere else in the world it comes down to commitment.
Some of the Thai, Indonesian, and Filipino faders dabble in denim; others live for fades. The latter are gluttons for punishment, wearing heavy denim in temperatures regularly well north of thirty degrees.
Thailand’s Kang Jantrasri is one of these. Even when the temperature soars, he wears two pairs at a time—one looser pair over his competition pair (18 oz. MC Jeans Heavy Selvedge). What’s more, he wears them 24 hours a day—yes, he sleeps in his denim.
At the one-month mark, Kang already had deep-cut creases behind the knees and a sheen on his unwashed denim that would take most people months to develop.
Are his fades a result of the climate in Thailand? The heat and humidity can, at most, take only partial credit.
The real driving force behind his fades is his undying commitment to denim evolution and his willingness to do what others won’t—to sacrifice his comfort in the name of incredible fades.
To drive this point home, we need only look up—way up. Stephen Snider lives on the edge of the habitable world, not far from the Arctic Circle in Alaska, and he is living proof that we don’t need sweltering heat and stifling humidity to produce winning fades.
Snider started the competition late (he had to wait for the OD x PBJ Kakishibu denim to be released), but he quickly made up for lost time, throwing himself and his jeans headlong into the adventuring life.
In a matter of weeks, he’d raced through the field to join the leaders at the head of the pack.
His jeans regularly freeze while he’s wearing them, and Snider is convinced that this is one of the secrets of his fade success. Combine frozen creases and snow (which creates “moist surface friction”) with long winter hikes and you’ve got the recipe for unbeatable fades.
Canada’s Justice Colwell agrees. He looks forward to the colder winter months when he can really put his Naked & Famous jeans through their paces. This is when the truly dedicated northern faders really pull away from the pack.
When you rush into the cold and the snow rather than seeking warmth and shelter, you’ll be fading like nobody’s business.
Fading is about placing your denim in conditions that strain the fabric (and, by extension, the wearer as well), and, while Kang is showing what happens when determination meets heat and humidity, Colwell and Snider are showing that determined faders can turn cold weather to their advantage.
Fading is about extremes, and these faders are proving that the chiller is every bit as extreme as the sweatbox.
MYTH STATUS: BUSTED
If you haven’t done so already, check out my first myth-busting post here.
You can also read more about more raw denim myths in Thomas’s blog posts here.
Love denim and fades? Join the competition!
The Indigo Invitational started as a small group of enthusiasts who wanted an excuse to buy a new pair of denim and to see how far they could push themselves and each other.
There are thousands of dollars worth of prizes, but this is just the gravy. The meat underneath is a tight-knit community of enthusiasts held together by a mutual love of fades.
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