Based in Stockholm and launched in 2004, Cheap Monday have been making cool, well-fitting skinny jeans for men and women since back when guys thought it was still cool to wear over-sized denim hanging off your butt. To be certain, changing trends have helped the Swedish brand break through in the U.S. like never before (sales were up 60% over the last year), but for Selina Vargas, Cheap Monday’s Head of U.S. sales, the focus is still very much on crafting quality garments for prices most consumers can actually afford.
Rivet recently caught up with Vargas at Liberty in Manhattan, where we chatted about the rise of Cheap Monday’s iconic ‘Tight’ jean, and how they’re making music in 2016 – literally.
RIVET: Cheap Monday is famous for its ‘Tight’ style. Tell us about it.
Vargas: The first jean Cheap Monday ever designed was the ‘Tight’ jean, which was made to be kind of rebellious against the whole premium denim market happening when we first launched – jeans being sold in the $200, $300 price point. The founders were against that and wanted to create a premium product at a lower price point. So that’s really where the Cheap Monday brand came from – offering quality fashion denim but at an affordable price for the average consumer.
RIVET: Most of your styles retail around $100 or less. How do you make this possible?
Vargas: The [design team] source the best possible quality fabric for the price, and try to be very minimal when it comes to the treatment and the washing, to bring down the pricing. They have a very conscious approach to the denim, because the washing and the treatment of the denim is actually really harmful. All of our fabrics are made to be comfort stretch, so we do not offer any type of raw, or non-stretch denim.
RIVET: Skinny jeans have come back in a big way lately, especially for men. Has this been a good time for the brand?
Vargas: Absolutely. The brand right now is [having] a resurgence. The company initially launched in the U.S. around the end of 2006 / beginning of 2007. I was hired a year ago to help open up their first U.S. office, and for the past year the focus has been Cheap Monday having an office here and being able to manage and control the distribution [domestically], to be sure we’re placing it in the quality of stores we feel represent the brand properly. And it’s been great, because Cheap Monday hasn’t been as present here in the U.S. in the last few years, so we’ve definitely seen a pick up now. Due to just the savviness of the consumer, and them wanting to get the most bang for their buck, I think that Cheap Monday has created sort of a niche for itself, [offering] that quality product, but not needing to pay over $100.
RIVET: What is it about skinnies that appeals to customers – and to you – so much compared to other styles of jeans?
Vargas: Well I think that’s what we’re known for. At the end of the day Cheap Monday’s first jean on the market was the ‘Tight’ jean and it continues to be the core denim in men. Women’s now has a complete array of fits, which is fantastic, but the Tight jean is – for the customer who knows Cheap Monday – Tight is almost like a comfort. It’s always comfortable and you can always rely on it. We’ve evolved, of course, we have many different fits within the collection, but we are definitely known for that original slim, stretchy fit skinny jean.
RIVET: You guys have been around for over a decade now. How has denim changed in that time and how has Cheap Monday been a part of that?
Vargas: Denim has made many different changes in the marketplace. I have to say, what Cheap Monday has actually done is not necessarily change who they are – they always want to offer a quality product at a price that’s affordable to the average consumer – but we don’t try to chase every single trend that’s in the market place. If you talk about the collection, of course, that’s different, because that’s always evolving and always changing, but I think Cheap Monday is just that cool, classic pair of jeans. For us it’s about what we believe and what kind of product we’re putting out there as a brand. Our consumer is creative, and a part of pop culture, and we want to bring them quality products without overcharging them.
RIVET: You mention Cheap Monday’s conscious approach to denim. Is the brand doing anything else to reduce its environmental footprint?
Vargas: One of the things Cheap Monday is doing now, and this goes back to the brand’s roots, is being conscious of our impact on the environment. And so we’re offering organic denim. About 50% of our denim for Fall ’16 will be organic. It’s one of the new initiatives we’re working on, and by 2017 50% of the entire collection will be in organic cotton.
RIVET: What’s new for Cheap Monday in 2016?
Vargas: For 2016 one of the things we want to focus on is what we’re good at. And as a collection, sometimes it’s really difficult, because I think a lot of collections try to be good at everything, and you get really lost when you’re unable to focus on what you’re good at. And what we know that we’re good at is obviously denim, so that’s a given, but we’re also fantastic at outerwear and we’re fantastic at knitwear, so we’ve really focused the design team on offering quality, well-designed jackets and knitwear. I think those are two of the biggest categories that will stick out when you see the collection this year. It’s a very Scandinavian approach when it comes to the collection. Very classic in silhouette, but we’re always trying to offer that edgy detail or trim. That small, minor detail gives it that Cheap Monday feel.
RIVET: Finally, what are those funny-looking Pocket Operators all about?
Vargas: That was a new initiative we started in 2015. It was done in collaboration with Teenage Engineering, who make one of the top-selling synthesizers in the world, it’s called the OP-1, and it’s used by some of the top music producers in the world – everyone from Swizz Beats to Depeche Mode, to Diplo. It’s about $900 though, so it’s an expensive piece of equipment, and what Teenage Engineering wanted to do was create a synthesizer that would be affordable to the average consumer, and so who better to partner with that Cheap Monday? They created a Pocket Operator, which is a high-quality synthesizer which fits in your pocket. It’s the size of your iPhone and it retails at $59.99, so it’s affordable for any kid. And they’ve been hugely popular. When they first launched they sold out in 9 minutes. We originally launched three [varieties], and now for 2016 we have another three additions which are the ‘Arcade’, ‘Office’ and ‘Robot’. Each of them offer different sounds, and you can connect them all together to create any type of music you want. They’re amazing quality for the price.