If you are a fan of raw denim, rugged boots, and heritage workwear in general (and if you are reading this article, you probably are) then you have doubtless heard countless people say that the fat lady is warming up for her performance on our beloved clothing. For people new to the scene, this might be disheartening or discouraging and if you’ve been around for a while, perhaps you have heard people say this so many times that you start to think that they may be on to something. I certainly can admit to hearing so many acquaintences, articles, fashion/style youtubers, and even people in the raw denim community itself say that raw denim is on its way out that I started to wonder if they were right.
Upon reflection and further research, I have to admit that these naysayers are indeed right… sort of. It is true that raw denim has faded in terms of popularity and is no longer the hot topic that it once was. However, those people who are still saying that raw denim is about to die are completely incorrect because… it already has. In terms of being fashionable and trendy, raw denim is already out and has been for at least a year or two. This is actually very good news because it means that most of the people that are still into raw denim right now are in it for the long haul. Furthermore, there are several major reasons why this ‘trend’ is no longer a trend and will likely be around until everyone is forced into the mythical one piece silver suit of the future that science fiction writers love to predict.
I’d rather wear Gustin than wear this
The first and most obvious reason is that the popularity of raw denim and heritage clothing is not exactly shrinking. Sure, the people who enjoyed it as a trend have mostly left in the US and Europe, but its popularity is still on the rise in other parts of the world. Southeast Asia in particular has a still-growing obsession with raw denim. Anyone who has spent more than 2.3 seconds on Heddels has scene at least 159 pairs of faded denim worn by dudes from The Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and more. As these countries continue to grow their middle classes, more people living in them will discover and be able to become a part of the raw denim community.
Further evidence of this is the fact that an impressive amount of companies have started producing high quality goods in these countries. Denim companies such as Sage, Oldblue, Cheese, Amory, and Leon have all proven that high quality denim can come from countries in Asia not called Japan. Additionally and perhaps more impressively, there are quality boots being made by Sagara in Indonesia, W. and Anchor Bros. in Taiwan,* and Santalum in Indonesia as well as leather goods being made by brands such as Obbi Good Label from Singapore.
Some beautiful boots from Sagara
While not actually in Southeast Asia, W. and Anchor Bros. shows that you can make top level work shoes and boots outside of Japan, The US, and Europe
Additionally, American and especially Japanese brands are extremely popular in this area as well. If you are a true fan of The Flat Head or Iron Heart, you will be well aware of the fact that both of these brands have done a lot of work and collaboration with Pronto Denim over in Thailand. These companies have seen the growth of denim in this area and are wisely throwing their support behind it. With this market growing so strongly, it is very possible to see something similar happen in other regions of the world.
The Flat Head is one brand that is quite popular in Southeast Asia
With China already having Red Cloud and Sauce Zhan as well as a rising middle class, I would imagine that a fairly sizable raw denim scene will develop there as well. In addition, I honestly believe that India and especially the Middle East could have impressive denim scenes as well in a few years. Of course, none of this is guarenteed and if it does happen, it may take quite a few years to develop, but I personally see people all over the world becoming interested in raw denim, especially given the large western influence on these regions.** Jonathan Grinberg has a popular and excellent instagram account called @yonagrinberg. Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, he proves that there is at least one true denim head in the Middle East.
Red Cloud make high quality denim in China
The reason why I see the rest of the world becoming interested in raw denim to some degree is the same reason that so many people have already become obsessed with it and the products that surround it. The raw denim and heritage workwear movement exists largely because people were looking for quality clothing with timeless style in an age of fast fashion and trends that are as volatile and unpredictable as Justing Bieber and Selena Gomez’s relationship. The beautiful, custom fades of raw denim are of interest to many, but many, myself included, are more interested in the clothing because of its quality and timeless style.
People have always been attracted to quality work and passionate people who put their heart and soul into their work. There is an inherent integrity to this type of clothing that is very appealing and this is is something that anyone can appreciate as well as the fact that this clothing is classic and timeless. A great fitting pair of jeans, great boots, trucker jackets, leather jackets, chambray shirts, flannels, and everything else that we love are all timeless pieces that are never completely out of style. Sure, some items are more niche and some brands modify classic silhouettes and push the envelope a bit more, but these brands never succumb to the dark side and become the Sith designer clothing brands.
I may not be a fashionable guy, but my boots, denim, and jackets are classic staples
It is actually quite hilarious to see certain classic clothing items that we love become popularized and then bastardized by the ‘fashion’ world. While we may mock and sometimes bemoan what brands like H&M, Zara, Topman, and even top end designers such as Haider Ackermann and Dries van Noten do to “destroy” the classic designs that we love, it really is only a reminder that the styles of clothing we love will always come back in style and therefore, will never truly disappear. This means that as long as there are people who care about how the garment is made as well as the classic style, the raw denim and heritage community will never completely disappear.
This… unique jacket from Haider Ackermann is clearly based off of the legendary MA-1
Of course, the worry would be that people would stop caring about the actual quality over time, but I do not see this happening. There have always been people who cared about well and ethically made clothing, even when fast fashion was at its absolute height. The only reason that we think quality clothing completely disappeared from the 1970s until the 2000s is that we did not know that fans of ruggedly-made garments existed during this dark period. With the internet, we now have ways to discover even the most obscure makers of quality clothing and then stay connected with everyone who also values the same clothing and style that we do.
Forums like Denimbro and Superdenim help keep denim heads connected
Even if the size of the community shrinks, it will never completely fall apart because there will always be at least some people interested in it. With the internet allowing even the most obscure obsessions to have communities dedicated to them, raw denim and heritage clothing will have too many devoted followers still discussing fades and whether Goodyear welting or stitchdown is better for many years to come, even if the growth from other countries that I predict does not happen.
What many of us forget or did not know when we joined this community is that this scene has been alive for decades. Big John was founded in 1965 and produced the first Japanese denim fabric back in 1972. Studio D’artisan, the first of the famous Osaka Five, was founded all the way back in 1979.
Founded in 1979, Studio D’artisan proves that quality clothing was not dead during the 1980’s and 1990’s
If you watch documentaries such as Weaving Shibusa and Blue Gold, it is easy to see that the passion for denim and quality clothing was alive and well the entire time that people such as myself thought that it had died. When I first discovered raw denim, I never really gave it much thought, but I did just sort of think that quality clothing died during the 60s and 70s and just suddenly came back in the 2000s. If this were actually true, then the idea of this all being a trend would have far more credence to it, but fortunately, it is not. Certainly, this type of clothing was not as popular in those interim years as it is now, but it was around.
The fact that I still see ‘mainstream fashion’ youtubers still telling people to stop wearing raw denim and that it is a dying trend does nothing but give me more confidence in this clothing community. The trend part of it is over, but the scene continues to grow, has roots in timeless values and style, has roots that go deeper than people would expect, and is now connected in a way that will be difficult to tear apart.There may be a day when the supreme leader of the planet orders everyone into that silver one piece suit, but I do not think that will happen any time soon. Until then, kick back, grab a beer, and enjoy wearing, arguing about, and posting pictures of your jeans all over the internet. Staying connected and keeping our passions burning are the best ways to keep this thing that we love alive, after all.
If people like the incredible folks at The Flat Head continue to do what they do, raw denim will be around for quite some time.
*I know that Taiwan is not actually part of Southeast Asia, but it is quite close and I wanted to give W. and Anchor Bros. a shout out for their very well made work shoes made in Taiwan.
**I am well aware of the extremely negative consequences that control by western powers