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Denim Minds Under 30: Emily Starobrat

Rivet’s Denim Minds Under 30 column shines a spotlight on young professionals committed to pushing the denim industry forward, paying special mind to the planet and its people.

Emily Starobrat, a freelance textile artist, turned “getting your hands dirty” into a business by developing textile treatments for brands and creating her own upcycled denim label, Denem.

Describe your current job.

Emily Starobrat: I am a freelance textile artist. I work with brands to develop and execute handmade surface treatments, mostly on denim. I also design and produce my own pieces for my brand Denem. Denem focuses on reimagining staple denim garments and elevating them with handmade textile techniques. A lot of what I do is hands-on manipulation of fabrics with techniques such as hand painting, dyeing, dremeling, marbling, flocking and screen printing.

What drew you to the denim industry?

ES: The denim industry really drew me in because it’s a community with a deep-rooted history and culture. As someone with a textile background, I am really inspired by denim as a fabric for its versatility and timeliness that isn’t commonly found in other fabrics. It is also an industry that is constantly innovating and pushing the boundaries.

What is your first denim memory?

ES: My first denim memory is probably shopping for my very first pair of jeans at Limited Too. I wound up with a pair of slim black jeans with sparkly trims. That was the point where I really fell in love with wearing jeans.

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Since working in denim, has anything surprised you about the denim industry?

ES: I think the continuous innovation of fabrics was a shock. There is so much more to denim than meets the eye, and a lot of technology and trial and error goes in to creating the fabrics. I had the pleasure of visiting some denim mills and seeing the process from fiber to yardage. It was surprising to see how much technology goes into the research and development of different denim fabrics.

What are your short- and long-term goals for the industry?

ES: Some short- and long-term goals would include a continuous effort towards sustainable wash and fabric processes and producing the best quality products over quantity. With my work for Denem, I really push for the pieces I create to stand the test of time both in quality and design. Other efforts include collecting all the cut off scraps and reincorporating them into new textiles and only producing limited quantities of each style.

Which brands or supply chain partners do you look up to, and why?

ES: I look up to designer Faustine Steintmetz for really challenging what people think of denim. Her use of texture and hand-developed textiles push the boundaries of traditional denim silhouettes. I also value the care for quality and craftsmanship in her pieces.

What do you think the denim industry will learn from the pandemic?

ES: The industry will learn resilience and the importance of prioritizing comfort and longevity in design and in the ways products are produced. It will also learn a value lesson of adapting to a constantly changing climate and putting people before profits.

What advice do you have for other young people in the industry?

ES: True collaboration is key, and there is power in numbers. Listen, learn and take in all the information you can. Be persistent. Get your hands dirty!

What will be the biggest impact that young people will have on the denim industry in the future?

ES: Young people can provide new passion, perspectives and an interest in sustainable innovation—especially the new generation. Being so adept in technology can be helpful in advancing new eco-friendly processes and fabric developments.