While denim jeans have been a clothing staple for males since the nineteenth century, the jeans you’re probably wearing today are a lot distinct from the denim jeans that your grandpa or even your dad wore.
Prior to the 1950s, most denim jeans were crafted from raw and selvedge denim factory which was made in america. But in the subsequent decades, as denim went from workwear for an everyday style staple, the way in which jeans were produced changed dramatically. With the implementation of cost cutting technologies as well as the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to developing countries, the caliber of your average pair was cut down tremendously. Alterations in consumer expectations altered the denim landscape also; guys wanted to get pre-washed, pre-faded, pre-broken-in, as well as pre-“ripped” jeans that “looked” like they’d been worn for years.
But in regards to a decade ago, the pendulum began to swing back again. Men started pushing back up against the low-quality, cookie-cutter, pre-faded jean monopoly. They wanted a top quality pair of denim jeans as well as break them in naturally. They desired to pull on the sort of American-made dungarees their grandpas wore.
To give us the scoop on raw and selvedge denim, we spoke with Josey Orr (fast fact: Josey was named after the protagonist in The Outlaw Josey Wales), co-founding father of Dyer and Jenkins, an L.A.-based company that’s producing raw and selvedge denim below in america.
To first understand raw and selvedge denim jeans, it will help to understand what those terms even mean. Precisely what is Raw Denim? – Most denim jeans you get today have been pre-washed to soften up the fabric, reduce shrinkage, and stop indigo dye from rubbing off. Raw denim (sometimes called “dry denim”) jeans are simply jeans created from denim that hasn’t experienced this pre-wash process.
As the fabric hasn’t been pre-washed, japanese selvedge denim are pretty stiff whenever you stick them on the first time. It takes a couple weeks of regular wear to get rid of-in and loosen up a pair. The indigo dye in the fabric can rub off too. We’ll talk a little more about this once we go over the pros and cons of raw denim below.
Raw denim (all denim actually) comes in two types: sanforized or unsanforized. Sanforized denim has undergone a chemical treatment that prevents shrinkage after you wash your jeans. Most mass-produced jeans are sanforized, and many raw and selvedge denim jeans are too. Unsanforized denim hasn’t been addressed with that shrink-preventing chemical, then when you do wind up washing or soaking your jeans, they’ll shrink by 5%-10%.
What exactly is Selvedge Denim? – To understand what “selvedge” means, you must understand a bit of history on fabric production. Before the 1950s, most fabrics – including denim – were made on shuttle looms. Shuttle looms produce tightly woven strips (typically one yard wide) of heavy fabric. The sides on these strips of fabric come completed tightly woven bands running down either side that prevent fraying, raveling, or curling. Because the edges emerge from the loom finished, denim produced on shuttle looms are called using a “self-edge,” hence the name “selvedge” denim.
Throughout the 1950s, the need for denim jeans increased dramatically. To minimize costs, denim companies began using denim created on projectile looms. Projectile looms can make wider swaths of fabric and a lot more fabric overall in a less expensive price than shuttle looms. However, the edge in the denim which comes away from a projectile loom isn’t finished, leaving the denim susceptible to fraying and unraveling. Josey pointed out that as opposed to what you may listen to denim-heads, denim produced on the projectile loom doesn’t necessarily equate to a poorer quality fabric. You can find plenty of quality jean brands from denim made on projectile looms.
Most jeans on the market today are produced from non-selvedge denim. The pros of this have already been the improved availability of affordable jeans; Not long ago i needed a couple of jeans in a pinch while on a journey and managed to score a pair of Wrangler’s at Walmart for just $14. But consumers have been missing out on the tradition and small quality information on classic selvedge denim without knowing it.
Because of the “heritage movement” in menswear, selvedge denim jeans have slowly been making a comeback during the past 10 years roughly. Several small, independent jeans companies have sprouted up (like Dyer and Jenkins) selling selvedge denim jeans. Even some of the Big Boys (Levis, Lee’s) within the jean industry have gotten to their roots by selling special edition selvedge versions of the jeans.
The problem using this selvedge denim revival has become choosing the selvedge fabric to create the jeans, because there are so few factories on the planet using shuttle looms. For quite a while, Japan held a near monopoly on the production xgfjbh selvedge denim because that’s where the majority of the remaining shuttle looms are; the Japanese love everything post-WWII Americana, and they’ve been sporting 1950s-inspired selvedge denim jeans for a long time now.
But there are several companies in the U.S. producing denim on old shuttle looms too. By far the most prominent selvedge denim mill is Cone Cotton Mill’s White Oak factory in North Carolina. White Oak sources the cotton for denim from cotton grown within the United states, so their denim is 100% grown and woven in the us.
Don’t Confuse Selvedge with Raw – A common misconception is the fact all japanese denim are raw denim jeans and the other way around. Remember, selvedge means the edge on the denim and raw refers to too little pre-washing on the fabric. While most selvedge jeans on the market can also be made out of raw denim, you can find jeans that are made of selvedge fabric but happen to be pre-washed, too. You can also get raw denim jeans that have been made in a projectile loom, and thus don’t use a selvedge edge.