The One Man Denim Brand Battle Introduction: The Legend of the One Man Brand

Ah, the one man brand- is there anything so noble and respectable as a single human being who has such passion for craft that they learn from the feet of a master or else teach themselves to create well made, long lasting products with their own hands? What could be superior to someone so committed to quality that they trust nobody but themselves to make their products so as to maintain the utmost integrity? Is there anything more desirable than a product made by only one set of hands that has spent years dedicated to perfecting their one craft? Is there anything that makes less business sense than this? Could I be asking more pompous and stilted questions?

Probably not.

To many people even within the heritage work wear and raw denim community, the one man brand means little to nothing. To others, they are hailed as the absolute pinnacle of craftsmanship and quality and are the apex of this subculture and the products made by these people are grail items that one spends years saving for and pursuing. Why is this? What is it that makes one man brands so revered and intoxicating?

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DSCF1148One man brand belts from Pigeon Tree Crafting, Wild Frontier Goods, and Hollows Leather

Although I was being rather facetious in that first paragraph, jokes – however bad they may be – nearly always have some element of truth to them and this is no exception. From what I have gathered and seen throughout my time in this hobby, brands that consist of a sole owner, operator, and maker very often have a higher reputation for quality. In nearly all cases, items made by a single person have either a long waiting list or sell out extremely quickly. For brands that are not as desirable, even they appear to have a reputation such that the people that are not necessarily fans still have great respect for them.

This is evidenced by the fact that there are so many one man brands that exist in the raw denim and heritage work wear market. There are numerous one man leather goods brands. I own belts from Hollows Leather, Wild Frontier Goods, and Pigeon Tree Crafting, but there is a myriad of others out there. There are a handful of one man leather jacket brands including Good Wear, Thedi, and Diamond Dave while bootmakers include Role Club and White Kloud.  For shirts, there are Michael Masterson, Schmidt, and Roy and perhaps most importantly, for denim there is Conner’s Sewing Factory, Viapiana, Ooe Yofuketen*, WH Ranch, Bowery Blue Makers, and more.

IMG_6248One man brand tux featuring Conners Sewing Factory and Roy

For those who have seen my posts on forums and Instagram, it should come as no surprise that I am a massive fan of these solo craftsmen. As such, I feel that the best way to express why people have such reverence for them is by explaining why I myself am such a fan and have such respect for these passionate people. Obviously, there is a lot of talent shown by these brands with the high quality products that they put out. In many cases, the brands that I listed above are considered some of, if not the very best of their specific category.

John Chapman from Good Wear is widely considered to be the best A2 jacket maker in the entire world and is considered by many to be the best leather jacket maker overall. Role Club is certainly one of the two best engineer boot makers in the world along with Brass Tokyo. White Kloud is a legend in the boot world. Not many people know about him, but those that do either lust after a pair of his boots or go through monumental effort to obtain a pair.

14983803993981498380405150I had to go to Japan to order my White Kloud boots!

On the denim side of things, you will not find a better pair of Wrangler reproductions than what comes from WH Ranch and in only two years, Conners Sewing Factory has claimed the title as the best 1940’s Levi’s jeans reproducer in the world… probably of all time. That is a bold claim, but just wait until you read my review of his jeans. Of course, you cannot mention one man brand denim without mentioning Roy Slaper. This man has become a living legend in the denim community and according to a substantial amount of people, makes the best jeans in the entire world. Seriously, this guy’s jeans sell out faster than One Direction tickets and the people who miss out on them are just as comically angry.

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Actual photos of the reactions of the people who missed out on the last Roy release

These reputations are not due specifically to these brands all being run by one person, but I do personally think that the fact that these brands are run by a single person is a major factor in why their products are so incredible. The reasons for this are skill, vision/design, and passion. All three of these traits are amplified in solo operations. For example, I have never in my life seen a pair of jeans sewn so precisely and neatly as my Roy jeans. In fact, I still to this day have trouble understanding how his jeans can look so perfect even after being hot soaked, but they do. I read through the entire Harry Potter canon to see if he uses magic, but unfortunately I did not find a spell for making stitches perfectly straight. I guess Rowling missed that important detail. This means that Roy truly does have incredible skill with a sewing machine and if he ran his company, but did not make the jeans himself, they would be just as well designed, but not as beautifully stitched and that would certainly remove some of the magic from them.

DSCF9448Roy and Role Club… doesn’t get much better than this

The same can be said for White Kloud. I have never met a man so dedicated to producing the most perfect product possible. His enthusiasm is immense and that devotion has rewarded him with the skill to craft the most stunningly constructed boots that I have ever seen. The designs may not be to everyone’s taste, but I have never seen a single flaw on any of his boots despite having looked at pictures of every pair he has made on his blog and Instagram for the past several years. As with Roy, it is highly improbable that another person with equal skill could be found to help him produce boots at an equal level to what he makes now. In fact, all of the brands listed here except for Diamond Dave are known for extremely high quality control. When one person dedicates themselves to practicing a craft, they become quite proficient at it and in addition, it is much easier to maintain quality control when there are not multiple people involved because as we know, the more people that are involved with something, the worse it usually goes. Just look at the U.S. government and the Rio Olympics.

Another reason for the incredible products created by these people is their vision that they have. Many of these brands are known for creating some of the most unique and well-designed products in their respective categories. Role Club has two different stunning engineer boot designs as well as some very nice lace up boots and shoes. Good Wear makes the most accurate reproduction A2 jackets in the world and Thedi has some truly jaw dropping jacket designs including what is probably the most extensive and beautiful motorcycle jacket designs from any one brand. Michael Masterson’s shirts are immediately recognized by their pocket designs, an incredible collection of buttons, and very slim plackets. In fact, his shirts are so filled to the brim with indigo Easter Eggs that I have actually have continued to find hidden details months into ownership of them. White Kloud’s boots are unmistakable in their look with their perfectly polished and very wide heals and of course his signature double row hand sewn welts. Roy’s jeans and shirts have quite a few different details from his shell stitching and the unique curved rear pockets while Viapiana has numerous options such as curved front pockets, selvedge fly, and a really nicely designed buckle back and Ooe Yofuketen have their time washed denim rinses.

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DSCF1720Masterson shirt love

Certainly there are brands that are not run by a single person that have signature details such as John Lofgren’s achingly beautiful engineer boot design, Brass Tokyo’s  stunning boot designs, and Red Wing’s moc toe models. Iron Heart has their 21oz denim, Oni has their secret denim, Samurai has their sword selvedge, and Momotaro has their pink inseam. While these are all signature details, the one man brands tend to have either more of them or ones that are more noticeable and overall, they certainly are less likely to be confused with other brands.

DSCF0081John Lofgren boots have my favorite boot profile

The reason that the quality and design are so prevalent is due to the passion that these one man brands have for their work.  All of these brands are solo operations by choice and they decided to construct all of their products themselves instead of expanding their shop or having their wares made in a factory. While there is nothing wrong with either of these options, it does show a different set of priorities. It is no secret that the one man brand model is the least lucrative of all so the only reason to use it is because you want to make sure everything that comes out as well as it can and you want to be the person to make it. In my mind, that shows an insane level of passion and dedication. This is exemplified in the one man brands that I have met.

Michael Masterson is a character right out of ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ and ‘South Park’ and he is insanely passionate about his shirts. I have been to his workshop quite a few times and I always leave happier than when I arrived and with a new respect for what he does. Not a visit has gone by without him going bat shit crazy over some new detail or fabric that would not be a big deal to most, but are exciting to him. This is the kind of passion that makes his shirts so beautiful and unique. Brian from Role Club is a much more understated person, but is no less dedicated. He is always creating new designs and asking questions about boots in order to make sure his products are the very best. Role Club’s soles are even made by his brother here in the United States just because Brian wants to have the best components on his boots.

DSCF1026Conners Sewing Factory and Role Club perfection

As I have stated before, Goto-San from White Kloud is so dedicated to his craft that even the ridiculously passionate people at Brass Tokyo think he is crazy. When the crazies are calling you crazy, you know you are either truly special or completely insane. Fortunately, Goto-San is the former. He goes above and beyond to give the most personalized and tailored experience by requiring each person to visit him in person to be measured and speak with him about what they want. Even when I told him he could have a lot more orders if he bent this rule, he flat out refused. I have never had my respect for someone increase more after they had basically just told me that I was an idiot until that moment.

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I cannot wait to get my White Kloud boots

There is so much more that can be said about all of these incredible brands. I could go on and on about John Chapman’s passion and research into WWII jackets that make him the man most well suited to make the best A2 repros in the world and how Ben Viapiana has sewing skills in his blood, but I don’t want to bore anyone more than I already have. What I will say is that no company is a better example of combining these 3 traits of skill, design, and passion in my eyes than Conners Sewing Factory. Yoshiaki Konaka’s passion for 1940’s Levis jeans led him to spend time thoroughly researching the 3000 pair strong collection of Yawara Miura. Konaka-San studied these jeans extremely closely in order to see just how they were made. He uses only period-correct sewing machines and techniques used at the time, such as hand folding the seams.

2S2W999Conners Sewing Factory jeans in action

No reproduction denim company has ever gone so far as he in re-creating vintage Levi’s jeans. What is more is that Konaka-San is rightfully proud of his work and told me himself that his jeans are the best in the entire world. This is a bold claim, but certainly he has done much to earn the right to say that, even if not everyone agrees with him.  This is why he embodies the one man brand so perfectly. He is so passionate about something that he has gone farther and committed harder than anyone before him, has designed the ultimate type of jeans in his category, and has the skills to make it happen the way nobody before him has (besides the people who made the actual vintage Levi’s, of course).

IMG_20170629_144155Konaka-San with his period correct sewing machines

If you really want to boil it down, it is the passion and commitment that really sets the best one man brands apart from the crowd. This drives the design and the skill and quality control stem from that passion. I cannot say that one man brands are inherently superior to companies or even small workshops, but I can say that they certainly tend to be great more consistently. Without question, I am a major fan of these brands and own or have owned items from every single brand that I listed above except for Thedi, Schmidt, and Bowery Blue Makers.

As a result of my love for solo shops, I thought it would be quite interesting to do a comparison of all of the most well-known one man denim brands that are around today. This is something that I have wanted to do for over a year, but it had to wait due to some complications that will be discussed later. Needless to say, I am extremely excited to conduct this comparison as I do not think that this has been done by one person. I own or have owned jeans from Conner’s Sewing Factory, Ooe Yofuketen, WH Ranch, Roy, and Viapiana.

DSCF0323These insanely awesome Viapiana jeans will spice up this series

Making sure that this list was complete was quite important to me so allow me to clarify it. Ooe Yofuketen counts as a one man brand due to the fact that they are a husband and wife team and only one of them does the sewing. Ande Whall closed down over a year ago and therefore will not be featured, Companion Denim is no longer a one man brand, Circle A Brand does not make too many jeans, and I’m not sure if Grease Point Workwear is a one man brand at this point in time. In the future, I could possibly see myself adding Dawson and Bowery Blue Makers to this list, but I am quite comfortable with this being a fair comparison of the top one man denim brands right now.

Each pair will be reviewed in reverse order of how much I personally like the brand and there are no prizes for guessing which brand is my least favorite and which is my favorite. This is obviously biased, but I firmly believe that it is impossible for any human being to be completely unbiased. Anyway, the point of this is to give an overview and comparison of these brands and not actually pick out which one is best. They all have their niche within the niche within the niche of this hobby that we are all into, so I hope you are as excited to read this series as I am to present it to you!* Stay tuned for the next article which will be the first official review in this series.

DSCF7174Grab a drink, this is going to be fun!

*I know Ooe is a two person brand, but let’s be real here: 1. They are husband and wife and I don’t care how much of an atheist you are, that counts as one person/one vision and 2. Only one of them does the actual sewing

*How appropriate that Konaka-San from Conner’s Sewing Factory started a live sewing demonstration on Instagram that I watched as I finished the last couple paragraphs of this article.

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