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Book of Denim, Volume Two

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After googling ‘sex’ everyday for four years, it was time to cleanse the palate. So I immersed myself in a whole new and alien supply chain: textiles. Via Book of Denim, Vol. 2 (Amsterdam Publishing, 2018), I got to travel to Tunisia, China, Italy and beyond to write in-depth features on individuals and companies out to transform this notoriously dirty industry. It was educational and inspiring. Thanks book: I’m a sextile pundit now!

Woad rage
First I travelled to Méharicourt, France, to take the road back to woad – the original ‘blue gold’ of the Dark Ages. The woad trade brought vast riches to this region, but only after some branding issues were overcome (namely, blue was previously considered the color of Satan). The indigo dye even went on to fund the building of the largest cathedral in France: the almost Disney-esque Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens (the alleged home of John the Baptist’s head – but that’s another story). 

With the rise of Indian indigo in the 17th century and synthetic indigo a century ago, the story of woad has been largely forgotten. Until now… The Parisian fashion label Bleu de Cocagne and a rural artisanal dyeing operation are out to put woad back on the map…

Looms with a view
Obsessiveness is mandatory if you want to set up London’s first weaving mill in a century – especially if you’re using self-restored Industrial Age looms dating back to the 1880s. The delightfully obsessive Daniel Harris fits the bill.

As founder of the London Cloth Company, Harris has created bespoke fabrics for fashion designers, brands, and films such as Star Wars to great acclaim. He recently added a second mill in the countryside of nearby rural Epping.

Yet, the company remains a solo show: ‘I do have my cat Flo Rider. Unfortunately, he’s fucking useless. He’s in charge of sitting down and licking his ass. He doesn’t bring much to the table. But it must be said he did bring in three rabbits in the last year – two dead and one alive. The living one we kept for a while and called him Dennis Hopper. He loved tangerines. Is that enough of a company description?’

Yes it was enough of a description. So we went on to talk about textile history, the fanatical and war-like nature of weaving, denim dogma, the ‘Cotton Famine’ and the one thing the Brits got right…

Third Paradise
I tasted the good life in Biella, Italy – complete with a glimpse of the ‘Third Paradise’ – as a guest of the inventors of world’s cleanest dye: Recycrom.

In many ways, the impossibly scenic Biella is a typical Italian provincial town with low traffic and a high quality of life – where the most sophisticated dishes are built up from the simplest of ingredients. But Biella has also been wired into the rest of the world for over a thousand years through its production of high-end textiles.

With the collapse of European manufacturing, local companies had to get creative to survive. Enter: Recycrom. This remarkable innovation is very much a product of its place: simple ingredients – 100% textile scraps – put through a sophisticated production process…

Made in China 3.0: hacking for chaos
I took a bullet train towards sustainable denim. Above the urbanised and industrial chaos of the Pearl River Delta, the area around Shaoguan is known for its forests, rivers, a mummified monk who invented Zen and a phallic mountain range.

The area is also home base for Prosperity Textile, one of the fastest growing denim manufacturers in the world. They pump out enough fabric to circle the equator twice every year while using the best machines available. However when it comes to denim, all this technology comes with a downside…

‘Yes these machines are faster, cleaner and more consistent,’ says creative director Bart Van de Woestyne. “But that consistency is the challenge. People love jeans because they have a certain natural look and feel – something these overly perfect machines cannot always recreate.”

So how do you recreate that organic sense of chaos?

‘It’s all about the slub,’ says Bart…

Tunisian denim independence
Tunisia’s recent history has been tumultuous – from triggering the Arab Spring and becoming a democracy, to dealing with terrorist threats. With mass unemployment, many young Tunisians are seeking a better life in neighbouring Europe. However, one of the most successful jeanswear manufacturers in the country, Sartex Group, is working hard to give them a reason to stay.

I talked to many inspiring folk at Sartex but my favourite conversation was with the original founder and his wife. Below, I pasted a few fragments from the feature.

Salem Zarrad (92) was shot in the leg on 24 January 1952 by a member of the French occupying forces. He was out after curfew. ‘Of course I remember the exact date, it almost killed me,’ he says with a mischievous grin in his modest home in downtown Ksar Hellal. The smell of fresh paint is in the air. A call to prayer is heard from the nearby mosque. Above him are colourised portraits of his parents.

His wife Habiba serves some deliciously sweet baklawa fekia apologetically: ‘If I had known you were coming I would have made couscous.’

‘It was an hour ride to Sousse to get to a doctor,’ Mr Salem recalls. ‘I lost a lot of blood. I was already against the system. But getting shot inspired me to become a true combatant. A soldier for independence.’

[…]

‘From the beginning I wanted to save money for the worst-case scenario and to only build on what we had. Forget relying on banks to loan you money – that only leads to pressure and bad decisions,’ says Mr Salem.

Did he make any bad decisions anyway while setting up his company?

‘With the job, I don’t remember. I like people and people like me – so it seemed to always work out. I tried to follow my religion: be good to people and respect them and it comes back to you. Life is struggle and your job can be the best tool for this fight. But of course I’ve made mistakes. But these were with my personal life…’

But you’ve been married for sixty years, surely you also did something right?

‘He did: he was away working all the time,’ says his wife Habiba with twinkling eyes.

[...]

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You can read the full stories by ordering Book of Denim, Volume 2 here.
It’s hardcover, wonderfully designed and features stellar photography by quality travelling companions such as Martin Scott Powell and Zachary Bako.

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Posted in Uncategorized 6 months, 1 week ago at 12:15 pm.

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