The Q&A I Used to Write about Self Edge for Sportswear International
In the summer of 2013, my wife and I spent four weeks in the US on our honeymoon.
First stop was San Francisco, a city known for its bridges, hills, and free spirit. Fans of denim also know it as the cradle of Levi’s and blue jeans as we know them. And if you’re into raw denim, you surely know it for Self Edge.
Founded by Kiya and Demitra Babzani, Self Edge has played a central role in bringing Japanese raw denim to the western parts of the world; being the first retailer outside of Japan to stock brands like Dry Bones, Strike Gold, and Real Japan Blues.
With five branches across North America – two of which are co-owned and operated by Andrew Chen and Johan Lam of 3sixteen – Self Edge has been established as an authority in the raw denim scene.
Of course, Self Edge is one of the top 10 denim destinations I wrote about in issue #289 of Sportswear International. Here’s the Q&A I did with Kiya as part of my research for the article.
Key Facts about Self Edge
San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles and Portland in the USA, and San Jose del Cabo in Mexico
- Kiya and Demitra Babzani (founders)
- Andrew Chen and Johan Lam (co-owners of the NYC and LA stores, and owners of 3sixteen)
Five brands that define the store and its concept:
- Iron Heart
- Stevenson Overall Co.
- Good Art Hlywd
- Human Made
New York City
Kiya’s Path Into Raw Denim and Heritage Style
Thomas: What triggered your passion for raw denim and heritage style?
Kiya: It all came from music. Music being a driving force behind how a person dresses has always fascinated me, and “dressing the part” can be so much fun when the music you’re into in a certain point in your life dictates how you should dress.
T: What was your first pair of raw denim jeans? And what did they do for you?
K: A pair of Yamane Deluxe (owner of Evisu’s luxury line from the mid-’90s) bought at the Yamane Saloon in Hong Kong in the late ’90s.
Having an unsanforized pair of jeans bought in those years meant really listening to the sales associate at the store as there was little to zero information on the internet about what to do with them, I loved that connection between the product, the retail store, and the client.
T: When did you know you were ‘hooked’ on raw denim?
K: It was the thrill of the hunt. Back then there was very little information about raw denim on the internet, so it would be all about talking to sales associates in retail stores which sold raw denim to find out about the fabrics, fading, soaking, etc.
T: What is your favourite thing about raw denim?
K: I love the way that it changes with the wearer over time, fading and ageing in so many ways with regular wear. This is still what makes raw denim interesting to me.
T: When and why did you decide to open a store?
I had a couple of other stores before Self Edge and we sold some brands which I felt directed the store’s success and image. I wanted to have a store where I could tell a new story, one which hadn’t been told before in the west, and that’s what led my wife and me to start Self Edge.
The Concept of Self Edge
T: What are three common characteristics of the brands you stock?
K: They’re honest, well made, and don’t follow any current trends.
T: Which brands are most popular with your customers? And why?
K: We have such a wide range of clients now that there is no one favorite. We have different clients coming in for very different brands at our shops. Some only come in for jewelry now, some only come in for leather jackets, and of course, some only come in to pick up some jeans.
T: What’s the story behind the name of the store?
K: It’s a reference to the word “selvedge” before the turn of the century when it was shortened the full name of the style of fabric was “self edge” or “self edging” fabric.
T: Where did the inspiration for the store decoration and design come from?
K: We allowed the product to dictate what the store design would be. We thought “what would these garments want the store to look like?” and that’s what led us to the Self Edge look which we have now.
T: What do you think customers value most about your store?
K: It would have to be a combination of the knowledge of our sales associates combined with the largest selection of basic garments from Japan you can find in one store. We have over 100 jean models, over 50 blank t-shirts, over 30 crewneck sweaters, over 30 styles of plain leather belts, etc.
T: What has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced so far, and what did you learn from it?
K: One day you wake up and you realize what was a passion-based business turned into a very real business and that brings a certain level of stress with it. But being surrounded with great people to work with and fun product makes it worth it.
T: Why should denimheads visit your store? (What makes it a ‘denim destination’?)
K: I don’t think any other store, even in Japan, really goes as hard into the entire Japanese denim brand world as we do today. If you visit one of our stores and spend some time going through our products and speak to our sales associates, I believe you’d agree.
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