What Makes a Denim and Work Wear Product Great

As I sit to write this with my keyboard at the ready, a Calpico soda on the desk next to me, and ‘Sultans of Swing’ by Dire Straits ringing in my ear, I can honestly say I have never been more motivated or excited to write an article as I am to write this one. If you have read any of my articles, talked to me on a forum or Instagram, or met me in person, you will know that I am extremely opinionated and that I do not mince words on any subject. As someone who is highly opinionated, I have been involved in my fair share of arguments over whether an opinion is right or wrong or whether or not something is better than something else or not and this is precisely the subject I would like to talk about today.

As with so many hobbies and interests, the idea of what makes something ‘good,’ ‘better,’ or ‘the best’ is not universal. In addition, many people do a poor job of differentiating fact from opinion. As a reviewer who often compares products and very often makes strong statements about how good a product is, I feel it is only prudent to fully explain what exactly a good product is to me and what makes a product better than others while also clarifying the difference between fact and opinion. While I doubt that this will make everything clear for everyone, I hope it will help and at the very least, will help you as the reader understand where I am coming from when I write my articles and my reviews. In addition, if you are newer to this hobby, this will help you know what to look for in your future purchases.

bqvUwndThese Clinch boots nail every aspect of my product quality criteria

Firstly, allow me to explain what it is that I am looking for in the products that I buy and review. They are:

1. Design
2. Materials
3. Construction
4. Passion

While being in no particular order, these are the traits that I look for the most in each item that I buy and review. For a product to be considered ‘the best’ or one of the best, it has to rate extremely highly in all of these categories. In this denim and work wear world, these categories are likely at least considerations for many others, if not all as important as they are to me. Considerations such as value, ethics of production, comfort/fit, and locality are all considerations at times, but they generally do not play as large of a role as the first four traits that I mentioned, especially when dealing with items on the higher end of the spectrum. In addition, when considering what makes a product truly great or ‘the best,’ the first four categories that I mentioned should be weighted higher than others.

DSCF9789So does this Himel jacket

Value is certainly important, but is highly subjective and at the higher end, is much less of a consideration. Ethics of production obviously matter, but I simply do not buy any item that is obviously produced unethically and this category is covered better by the passion category anyway. If a brand owner or craftsman is truly passionate about making the best products they possibly can, then ethical considerations should not be an issue and instead only arise when someone attempts to cut corners and save costs (I’m looking at you, RRL). Comfort and fit are very subjective and unless the fit is truly poor, this does not affect the actual quality of the product itself as much as the other categories do and additionally, a well-designed item should fit well when sized properly. Locality can also be important, but it certainly does not affect the actual quality of a product. A pair of Role Clubs are just as well made for me, living 30 minutes from Brian’s shop as they are for a guy living in Tajikistan.

DSCF9448If there are any Role Club owners in Tajikistan, let me know

On the other hand, design is of critical importance to me. I have actually heard people say that this does not matter in work wear or heritage clothing, but nothing could be further from the truth. If construction, integrity, and practicality were all that mattered to us as some claim, then we’d all be wearing vintage-style coveralls. They’re true work wear, durable, and comfortable. We don’t wear those, do we though? This is because we do actually care about style and appearance. We can talk about the history and heritage of jeans all we want, but there are other items that have more history and more heritage. We wear jeans for many reasons, but style is absolutely one of them.

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Not something you’d want to wear in public, is it?

Therefore, design is extremely important when considering an item. This can be everything from how exacting of a reproduction an item is as in the case of Conner’s Sewing Factory and Good Wear Leather to the tastefulness of modifications such with The Real McCoys, or the quality of more original designs such as with Nine Lives, Mister Freedom, and Himel Bros. There is a reason that all the brands I just listed are so popular with so many people. All of them are known for being excellent in terms of design and aesthetic. The first two are regarded as the best in their respective fields at making the most exacting reproductions. The Real McCoys is renowned (and derided by some) for their slight, but important modifications in design and silhouette of many of their garments. The last three brands have all made an impact for designs and specific items that have vintage inspiration and elements, but blend many different ideas and are technically original designs in many cases.

Also extremely important are the materials used. To make high quality goods, you must start with high quality materials. This is certainly the most subjective of my criteria and a lot of preference plays into this, but not in all cases. Using proprietary denim, sourcing NOS parts, using leather that is superior to Chromexcel (this leather is ridiculously overrated) and more all make a difference when constructing a quality piece of clothing. The better and more special the materials, the more unique, beautiful, and durable the item will end up being, especially after continued wear.

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White Kloud offers chromexcel and Badalassi leather, guess which leather I chose?

As I said, determining the quality of materials can sometimes be a matter of opinion, so I will give a few examples of what I personally prefer. In terms of denim, I prefer unsanforized denim that is proprietary and unique to the company producing the jeans. For leather, I vastly prefer vegetable-tanned leathers that are proven to age gracefully and have a great depth of character. The biggest stand outs that I can mention are Badalassi Carlo leather from Italy and Shinki Hikaku from Japan. The quality of the hides, the color and depth of the leathers, and the way both leathers age truly set them apart. Shinki is especially beautiful to me and it is my favorite leather in the world. In terms of other fabrics, I prefer loopwheeled t shirts and sweatshirts and I rarely, if ever buy any that are not at least tube knit. Also, I prefer denim and other cotton fabrics to be made with longer staple cotton. The most comfortable item I own is my Studio D’Artisan suvin gold cotton loopwheeled sweatshirt thanks to the material.

DSCF6830This sweatshirt is so comfy

Construction is the least subjective criteria on this list as it’s quality is very clearly visible in nearly all cases. Quality construction not only leads to longer lasting items, but also much more beautiful ones as well. A massive reason for Roy’s popularity is the quality of the stitching on his jeans. There is a surgical precision to many of his stitch lines that I have never seen matched in any other pair of jeans. My Himel Bros. and Real McCoy’s leather jackets also have very tight, neat, and dense stitch work that is very clearly visible. My Clinch, John Lofgren, Role Club, and Moto boots are all neatly stitched with beautifully burnished edges, wonderfully carved heels, and an excess of well thought out construction details. The shell stitching, lined rear pockets, and tucked belt loops of Roy jeans are incredible as is the single needle stitching of Stevenson Overall jeans.

When comparing products side by side, construction quality can stand out immensely. Placing my Red Wings next to my Moto boots only amplifies how much better constructed the Moto boots are, for example. Comparing an RMC jacket to my old Diamond Dave cafe racer shows how much better the McCoy’s jacket is put together. For the most part, companies that are able to gain any traction in this sub-culture have to have at least decent construction and that is generally the case, but there are still very clear levels within this weird world of ours.

DSCF6679

DSCF6965Upon close inspection, the difference in quality between my Red Wings and my Moto boots is obvious

While sometimes difficult to adequately measure, passion can be the most important part of a product and it is often what drives every other aspect of quality in regard to an item. From my experience, the best and most well-made products are generally produced by not only the most skilled, but also the most passionate people. This passion is necessary as it leads to inspired designs, the procurement of quality materials, and the skill to craft the best made garments. This is most apparant in one man makers such as Good Wear Leather, White Kloud, Role Club, Conners Sewing Factory, Viapiana, Ooe Yofukuten, and Roy. In all cases, the passion that these individuals (or married couples) have for their work is very obvious when meeting the people themselves as well as in the garments they make, which all rank near or at the very top in their respective categories.

DSCF3554Conners Sewing Factory and Viapiana in the same outfit

However, this level of passion is not the sole property of one man brands. The Flat Head is one of the most iconic and legendary brands in the denim world thanks to the extreme level of passion and dedication of Masayoshi Kobayashi and his team. He goes to the utmost extremes to make sure his brands’ products are the very best that they can possibly be and this obviously shows in the end results. John Lofgren has been proven to be a master of designing boots as well as a truly dedicated man who ensures the utmost quality in all of the products that bear his name, despite him not being the one making all of them. Dave Himel is not the only person making his jackets, but the extreme knowledge, love, and dedication he has for jackets and his brand is absolutely undeniable. He is an absolute fanatic.

DSCF8927I love this jacket! And these boots, and these jeans, and these sunglasses, and this shirt

Even in newer brands, this passion leads to excellent results. Bryan Shettig has proven with his new brand The Rite Stuff that he has immense knowledge and dedication to designing and producing the best work wear garments he can. Not only are his designs classic, yet unique, but he made sure to have them made by John Lofgren’s shop in Japan. Sure, he could have saved money by having them produced elsewhere, but he wanted the best factory made clothing he could provide and that clearly shows in the results.

Nine Lives is another perfect example of this. Their designs are incredibly unique in the denim and work wear world. The materials and construction are also completely mind-boggling. Having met Ian and K several times, it is undeniable that they are deeply committed to what they are doing. They know exactly what they want and they will do anything they have to do to make it happen, no matter what the cost and let me tell you, sometimes their products cost a hell of a lot of money, but I can also guarantee that nobody else is doing what they are doing right now. Their blend of work wear and luxury is certainly controversial, with some denouncing their brand completely, but on the other hand, they have gained a strong following in a minuscule amount of time, which was only done because of their passion for what they were doing.

arZheZxThis Nine Lives shirt is one of the most impressive shirts I have ever seen, let alone owned

At this point, I was originally planning on doing some comparisons to drive my point home, but I realize this will likely only make people angry. Instead, I will say that while in many cases, it is easy to tell a good product from a less good one, in many cases, trying to choose between two products and decide which is objectively better is impossible. Is a pair of Conners Sewing Factory jeans better than a pair of Iron Hearts and is a pair of Pure Blue Japan better than a pair of Real Japan Blues? Between all these, it’s pretty difficult to decide. The point is not to conflate the terms ‘my favorite’ and ‘the best.’ Just because something is your favorite does not mean it is the best and it is important to distinguish the best. My favorite TV show is Parks and Recreation, but do I tell people it’s the best? No, because I know it isn’t. It’s very well done for what it is, but I know there are better, more substantive shows out there. I love my computer set up, but it is quite outdated at this time and was not even close to a top of the line set up even when it was new. It works for me and makes me happy and that is what matters.

DSCF2883I adore this Naked and Famous shirt even though I know it’s not the best

What I want to convey is that there are ways to distinguish quality to a certain degree in this hobby, especially with boots, leather jackets, and wallets… basically any leather goods. It is important to be critical of brands, not matter what their reputation is. We must expect high quality products for the high quality prices that we pay. When I criticize a product or brand, it is not because I have a vendetta against the brand or wish to criticize those who have purchased the product already. I do so in order to inform those who have no yet made the decision to purchase and to help them make the most informed decision that they can. This is why I dislike reviewers who are not critical or in depth enough (which is almost all of them, by the way), why Indigoshrimp is by far the best denim and work wear reviewer that I have found on the internet, and this is why I have written this article. I want you, the reader, to be as informed as you can be when considering a product or brand.

However, I also want to convey the importance of enjoying what you love whether or not it is of the highest quality. As a reviewer, it is my duty to seek out the best products and distinguish which products are of better quality than others, but I try to be fair and if you like something that I gave a mediocre review to, then great! Not everyone is looking for the same types of products in this community and that’s great because if we all wanted the same exact products, not all of us would be able to get what we want. I hope this article has given you some insight into my thought process and what it is that I look for in my products. If you have any thoughts, comments, or disagreements please feel free to send an email, leave a comment, or send me a dm through Instagram. I am always looking to improve myself and hear what readers have to say. If anyone does want a list of brands that I do think are some of the best around, I would be happy to make that list as well.

 

If you want to check out the most in depth denim reviewer out there, check out Indigoshrimp: https://indigoshrimp.wordpress.com/

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