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Sonas Denim: The Patchwork Denim Brand Born at Burning Man

A pair of homemade patchwork jeans designed for Burning Man, the annual bohemian art event that takes place in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, may not sound like the origin story of a premium denim brand, but it is in the case of Sonas Denim. Gerry Kelly’s designs were a huge hit at the festival in 2010, leading him to manufacture the first run of Sonas Denim, 100 pairs of patchwork jeans made in a denim factory in San Francisco, which he sold at trunk shows.

Now that the business has grown, the jeans are made in Downtown LA, constructed from over 50 individual pieces of denim, which are hand cut and sewn together. The denim is sourced from Italy, China and Turkey. It’s a couture jean, “like a piece of art, or like a jigsaw,” Kelly described.

Buyers at trade shows didn’t share festival goers’ immediate love for Kelly’s jeans. “When you show them a 50-piece jean, and you’re a nobody, they think you’re crazy,” Kelly said.

Luckily, Kelly got a hand from Allen Chevalier, an industry veteran with a history working with Ron Herman and Fred Segal. Chevalier is the current Advisory Board Member at Sonas Denim and first introduced Kelly to some high-end cottons and showed him how to create a more flattering fit with the patches.

With the updated style, the fashion market began to embrace the brand, which Kelly says is now disrupting the status quo in the denim market. He said that while he is introducing something new, a company like Levi’s has maintained largely the same construction for all the years it’s been in business. Kelly pointed out that the average woman has seven pairs of jeans, but suggested it would be difficult to tell the difference between most of the pairs, outside of the detailing on the pockets.

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Kelly ascribes Sonas’ success to the fact that it has found a design that marries two markets. “They struck the balance between busy, coarse, edgy jeans and high-end fashion jeans,” he said.

Though the brand started by selling men’s festival wear, these styles have been adapted for a new consumer, and the company is now 90 percent women’s fashion business. Kelly describes his target consumer as a wealthy 35-60-year-old person in the creative class. “The jean is not for everybody, it’s a real specialty piece,” he said.

The company’s concept is unique for another reason: 10 percent of the profits from the brand go to animal welfare groups. As the company builds on its success, an additional project will be the building of an animal sanctuary, on which Kelly will collaborate with his wife, Christine, an animal rights attorney. They are planning to build off Highway 1, between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

A new development for the Spring ’16 line furthers the brand’s animal rights cause: the Kelly Tote Bag is a round fashion tote, and the sales from each bag will pay for a dog to get spayed or neutered. Actress Katherine Heigl has already endorsed the bag, and Kelly anticipates it being a very popular item for the brand.

Other news for Spring ’16 include the introduction of T-shirts, denim vests and jackets, all with patchwork elements, as well as pastel-colored jeans.

The expansions for this season are just the beginning of what Kelly anticipates for Sonas; he intends to shift into a whole conscientious lifestyle brand, while keeping business authentic and true to the company’s values.