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What Makes Amsterdam a Denim City?

Most people know Amsterdam for its canals, architecture, and extra-curricular activities. As Alberto Candiani, Candiani co-owner and global manager, described the city, “Amsterdam is the capital of amusements and excitements.”

So how did a city without any deep denim roots like the United States or Nîmes, France become Europe’s denim city?

To start, brands claimed Amsterdam as their own. Global denim labels G-Star Raw, Scotch & Soda and Denham the Jeanmaker made Amsterdam their home base with footprints as grandiose as G-Star’s OMA-designed headquarters to Denham’s village of boutiques in the city’s Nine Streets shopping district. Meanwhile, established brands Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger selected Amsterdam as their European hub.

Then came the movers and shakers who recognized Amsterdam’s potential to become a major player in the denim market, starting with the House of Denim Foundation established by James Veenhoff and Mariette Hoitink in 2009. Aimed to bring together a pool of forward-thinking, talented designers, experts and international denim players, the foundation set out to launch the Jean School to help provide companies with qualified candidates for the large number of jobs they were bringing to the city. The school opened in 2012 at Denim City, an Amsterdam campus that has since become the nucleus for denim pure players.

The supply chain soon followed. With much acclaim, Kingpins brought its textile show to Amsterdam’s Westerfabriek Park in 2014, setting a new standard of commerce, networking and excitement in the trade show circuit. The industry event became the anchor to Amsterdam Denim Days, a business-to-consumer festival that touches all aspects of denim, from mill to retail. Bitten by the Dutch denim bug, mills like Candiani, Soorty and Vicunha Textile have since opened satellite showrooms and development centers in the city.

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“We believe Amsterdam is the most relevant city in Europe when it comes to denim culture.”

“Almost 10 percent of all denim industry has their main seats in Amsterdam,” said Ugur Yilmaz, Blue Lab Amsterdam director. The laundry center located in Denim City, complete with washing machines, dryers, ozone, laser, scraping and spraying units, is powered by a consortium of denim industry leaders with the goal to develop cleaner processes for the denim industry.

“More than five years ago, when we started to think about Blue Lab, we were looking for the most suitable location. Amsterdam was number one on our shortlist. After our long meetings with the city of Amsterdam and the Mayor Eberhard Van Der Laan, we were more than sure that this is the right address [for us,]” said Yilmaz. “Our desire to make Amsterdam the denim capital was recognized by the city. It gave us a big strength and ambition to go some steps further. Now, our aim is to connect the denim world and share our know-how in terms of smarter ways of making jeans.”

In some ways, Amsterdam’s emergence as a hub for denim innovation is the result of playing up to its strengths. With sustainable infrastructures like solar panels and wind turbines, not to mention Amsterdam’s preferences for bicycles over cars, the House of Denim Foundation believed it was necessary to set out to make the industry dryer, cleaner and smarter, or towards a “brighter blue”.

“In 2010 we realized Amsterdam was doing well, jeans-wise. Cool brands were here, cool teams making cool stuff and doing amazing business. But we also registered that the business is dirty, second only to petrochemical in terms of impact. And due to the fragmented value chain, no collaboration, or standards,” said James Veenhoff, founder of the House of Denim Foundation.

Veenhoff does not believe in competing for the title of ‘Denim City’ and says House of Denim’s mission is to help brands be more sustainable so that the industry has a better impact and future. “So, any region or brand that wants to join is welcome—in that sense, Amsterdam is just a state of mind.”

Recently the city has become home to many design and research centers and showrooms, including Pakistan-based Soorty. Amsterdam edged out other cities to become the mill’s European hub for its proximity to other cities as well as being a source of inspiration.

“The Dutch are known to be denim enthusiasts by nature with having an above average pair of denim in their closet,” said Mansoor Bilal, Soorty senior manager of marketing and product development. “Yes, it is a creative city. Its culture is enriched with famous artists like Van Gogh and Rembrandt.”

Italian denim mill Candiani keeps a showroom in Amsterdam. “We believe Amsterdam is the most relevant city in Europe when it comes to denim culture,” said Alberto Candiani. “This is generated by the numerous brands operating in the city, the stores and the public interest.”

Veenhoff gives credit to locals for making the global denim industry feel at home. “Life here is good and the vibe is so international at Denim City,” he said. “Twice a year the Kingpins trade show brings in the entire industry, the vibe is great on those days: everyone really feels hope and makes international friends—I’ve been to hundreds of shows in my time but I’ve never actually made friends there really. I feel that in Amsterdam people are making personal connections.”