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Catching Up with Jason Denham

As the denim world convenes in Amsterdam for Kingpins (Oct. 26-27) and the Global Denim Awards (Oct. 27), Rivet caught up with Jason Denham, founder of Denham the Jeanmaker and local denim expert, to find out why the city’s famed canals (metaphorically) run blue and how innovation is changing the denim game.

RIVET: Denham is one of the brands that represents Amsterdam as a denim city. Why is Amsterdam a special home for jeans?
Denham: I believe that right now Amsterdam is the denim capital of Europe. Amsterdam is absolutely a denim city. The Dutch eat jeans for breakfast, lunch and dinner—it’s in the culture. Amsterdam is the home of some great global denim brands as well as niche denim start-up concepts. There are great denim stores and even the world’s first denim university to fully educate the future of denim.

RIVET: Describe the Amsterdam denim consumer?
Denham: Like the Japanese, the Dutch denim consumer is very educated about denim. It’s part of the culture therefore they know, for example, what selvedge is and even better, they appreciate it.

RIVET: What washes and fits have proved popular in your line?
Denham: The men are following the women in silhouette. The big trend is still slim and skinny fit, however like the women, men are now stepping in to more relaxed, loose and cropped fits.

To be honest, the denim industry and innovation is moving so fast these days that too many great fabrics and ideas are not reaching maximum potential because we are moving on to the next thing so quickly.

RIVET: What is your approach to sourcing fabrics? Do you have a core group of suppliers?
Denham: Absolutely yes—I like to build confidence and relationships with denim mills. We are a small brand and we need trusted partners to help us create and deliver the best products we can. It’s a partnership and we are in this together. Today our core European supplier is Candiani from Italy. We have a great understanding of one another’s company and Candiani has been a fantastic support since season one when our quantities were far below minimum orders. The support has paid off and we support each other.

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RIVET: Do you find that mills you work with are innovating quickly enough to keep up with your design?
Denham: Yes, because we are working with some of the best mills in the world. To be honest, the denim industry and innovation is moving so fast these days that too many great fabrics and ideas are not reaching maximum potential because we are moving on to the next thing so quickly.

RIVET: What do you think is the most exciting thing happening with sustainability in the denim industry now?
Denham: Probably the most effective sustainable technology right now is the new water-less equipment in the laundries. Today we are working very hard to make denim a clean product.

RIVET: You did a trial run of ‘see now, buy now’ with the Helix collection. How was the response to this, and is it something you plan to implement again?
Denham: The response to this has been great. In part due to the innovation in fit, design and fresh product offer but also by changing the business model and bringing new ideas to the market. This direct approach will be key to future success.

RIVET: Who is your denim mentor?
Denham: Adriano Goldschmied is my standout denim mentor—he needs no introduction. I’m lucky that I got to know Adriano quite young in my career and he has always guided me with great pieces of advice. I have huge admiration for Adriano’s energy, work ethic and continuous passion to innovate and search for the next big denim thing.

RIVET: Which is more important the heritage of denim or innovation?
Denham: Both are massively important. You need to understand the heritage of denim before you can innovate. Having said that, today the trend is all about the future and the past is the past. The best thing about heritage is that it educated the denim world about quality which is a great thing.

RIVET: How has the industry changed since you started working in denim?
Denham: I’ve been doing this for about 20 years and up until about five years ago the denim mills only talked about red cast or green cast. It’s a completely different story today. Innovation in denim is going faster than ever—new technology, new performance, new fibers—it’s very exciting. Also, the black denim trend is stronger than ever.

RIVET: Your brand has managed to grow quickly in its relatively short history, while still maintaining the transparency and character of a small brand. What is the key to sustainable growth?
Denham: The key is that we will always act like a start-up business. We are eight years in business but we still have the start-up mentality. Our mission statement on the first day was “…to create the most exciting, mouth-watering international jeans brand in the market. We will do this with the best people, products and presentation.”

We still aim for this each day. The truth is in the details. It is in everything we do. That’s the key.