Selvedge Denim Is The Answer
Selvedge. For some, there’s no other option in denim. The red and white pipes symbolize a golden era and are what premium fabric making is all about. They set the tone for creating jeans that will last years and get better with age, and with each unique fade, stay in serious rotation in the discerning denimhead’s wardrobe.
Creating a selvedge fabric is manufacturing on another level. One where obsessive crafting techniques, quality natural materials, and artistic design all mesh together to redefine the concept of making denim. It’s not an entirely new concept, but one that has been refined over the last decade in order to serve a growing segment of consumers who take their indigo dyed garments very seriously.
And of course, elements like vegetable-tanned leather patches, copper rivets, and chain-stitched hems are important in a well-made pair of jeans, but none of that is relevant without a premium fabric.
Some of the most prestigious denim mills, especially those in Japan, manufacture selvedge fabrics using the same shuttle looms that, in another era, were the industry standard. With a growing demand and appreciation for quality denim, these machines have a new purpose and are showing, especially in today’s modern tech heavy times, how old-school can sometimes be better.
So what distinguishes selvedge denim from the rest of the fabric pack? Simple. It’s all about the edges, as the term is actually derived from the word "self-edge". Before it’s cut and sewn, the fabric is woven in a way where the edges are nicely bound, thus creating "natural ends". This way, all of the fabric can be used in the construction of the jeans and the edges won't unravel or fray over time.
To check if a pair of jeans are made from selvedge fabric, simply cuff the bottoms. You’ll see distinct piping running along the outseam, which is usually red and white, thus creating the super iconic and classic look. Back in the day, the purpose of the pipes were to distinguish various fabric types from different manufacturers. And today, it’s a symbol of sweating the details in fabric making.
And as with any premium material, like a luxurious Italian 2-ply or some patina-heavy vegetable tanned leather, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into the creation process. With selvedge denim, it starts with those well-preserved vintage shuttle looms. They are expensive machines to operate and parts need to be special ordered, if even available, but are the tool of choice in the selvedge scene.
Operating a vintage shuttle room requires an experienced technician with years of knowledge and a meticulous hands on approach. It takes a lot of time to weave the fabrics and these guys act like artisan craftsmen. There are, however, modernized and automated shuttle looms which eliminate much of the manual process, but they too take huge amounts of time to weave a fresh batch of selvedge, so ultimately, one cannot rush greatness.
Big multinational brands require speed and efficiency to get their collections out to market. With such a commoditization in the denim industry, a majority of luxury or high-fashion jeans are made using super modern projectile looms.
Due to how these looms work, the fabric is woven in a way where the ends are frayed, thus creating rough edges which lack the clean look of a selvedge line. They are much more cost effective though and can churn out boatloads more of fabric. This is ideal for a majority of the big brands, where marketing and brand image are more important than fabric quality.
Whether made on a vintage Toyoda shuttle loom or a modernized one, selvedge denim is going strong and is solidifying the premium denim game. It still only accounts for a small percentage of the industry, but with that comes a sense of exclusivity and appreciation for this timeless art in fabric weaving.
And besides the fun in cuffing a pair to expose the pipes, the technical advantages are clear. Due to the way a shuttle loom works, the fabrics are produced in a tighter and denser weave, and typically with long-staple cotton threads, so expect durability that will last for years.
And whether they are raw or washed, the jeans will have thick and rich textures, as the variations in the fabric’s surface creates a final product with serious personality.
Yes, the denim game has evolved tremendously. From decades of local manufacturing to outsourcing overseas, high-fashion continues to influence trends in the manufacturing landscape. With regards to selvedge though, it has managed to stay close to its roots. And even if it’s considered pricey, you are paying for all the behind the scenes work that passionately goes into creating your pair.
You won’t, however, be paying for all the eccentric marketing and fluff that’s often linked with many designer jeans. Instead, it’s about denim made for the long haul that’ll definitely elevate your wardrobe.
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