A new U.K. resale business is making it easier for denim heads to nab vintage jeans.
Claire John, the former director and head of stores for Gap U.K. and Ireland, is the mastermind behind Denim Library, an e-commerce store offering a curated selection of vintage and modern pre-owned or upcycled jeans. The store focuses on “iconic denim brands” and stocks men’s and women’s styles by Levi’s, Lee, Diesel, Wrangler Acne Studios and more, which John describe as “authors” instead of brands.
“I wanted to create a library where denim lovers could browse and find amazing jeans, pre-loved, pre-worn, and ready for their next chapter, while creating a space where we can help in a small way to reduce the amount of good denim being sent to landfill,” John said.
With a price range of 20-40 pounds ($24-$48), the jeans are intentionally accessible to help promote a circular economy for every budget. Items span Wrangler bootcut and Levi’s low and slouch jeans to Diesel straight fits.
Sustainability is carried into the packaging John uses to ship jeans across the U.K. Products are mailed in 100 percent recyclable and biodegradable kraft packaging and ship just one day a week which means “significantly fewer unnecessary van journeys and emissions.”
John is also dabbling in denim’s go-to companions: T-shirts. Denim Library recently released “The Unpublished Tee,” a 100 percent organic Supima cotton tee designed and handmade in the U.K.
Here, John shares how her passion for denim is helping her write her next chapter.
Rivet: Describe your background in denim: What companies have you worked for and in what roles?
Claire John: I began my career in denim in 1992 when the iconic U.S. denim retailer Gap landed in Europe. I started working my first Saturday job there, quickly becoming one of Gap’s Denim Experts. I spent 30 years with this amazing company, most recently as director and head of stores for Gap U.K. and Ireland.
Rivet: What inspired you to step into denim resale?
CJ: I love denim but also understand that we can’t continue to manufacture denim in the way we do. Denim is built to last and a staple in every wardrobe, so I would encourage everyone to buy well, keep and cherish your jeans.
Rivet: When did you begin to collect vintage and preowned denim?
CJ: My personal denim collection has some vintage classics and I’ve had the idea for Denim Library for many years. The opportunity finally came along to bring it to life in 2021 and I’ve been sourcing preloved for the last couple of years in anticipation. It takes time to curate and build the right balance of fits, washes and sizes for the customer. Sourcing the product is one of my favorite jobs.
Rivet: Where do you source the jeans?
CJ: I source quality preloved jeans in all sorts of places. Last month I visited the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Los Angeles and was thrilled with some of my finds. More often though I stay local. I like to partner with local charities, and of course online. It’s all about knowing what you’re looking for.
Rivet: What is Denim Library’s specialty?
CJ: I love the iconic denim brands and naturally get steered to all the favorites—classic Levi’s, Lee and Wrangler styles. They wear so well and massively improve with age. However, I do connect with some lovely small and special brands too (some well kept secrets, so I won’t mention them) and feature these from time to time on my website as what I call ‘guest authors.’ They’re also very popular. It’s all about the quality, wash and fit.
Rivet: What are some of the most in-demand brands and styles in the denim resale market?
CJ: Levi’s always. I’m seeing our customer choose a more relaxed fit, a slight shift from black to classic blue. A go-to fit remains the bootcut—every time you think it’s done it always surprises you as a consistent customer favorite. It’s a flattering shape on so many body types. I’m seeing our younger customer opt into this style, too.
Rivet: What would you say is the most-prized jean in the resale and vintage markets?
CJ: For us the 501 remains the No. 1. The 501 is such a versatile jean, looks cracking with your favorite old trainers and can also look dynamite with the best pair of stilettos.
Rivet: How do you define circularity?
CJ: I talk a lot on my socials about ‘reduce, re-use, recycle.’ This sums it up nicely for me. Collectively we can make a difference. And if more brands and manufacturers adopted a circular business model, the amount of waste we produce would reduce dramatically.
Rivet: What do you wish consumers knew about the denim they buy?
CJ: That on average, it takes 10,000 liters of water to make a single pair of jeans. This is the same as a single person’s drinking water requirement for 38 years. We must be change agents and be proud of wearing preloved.
Rivet: What is your first denim memory?
CJ: In the early ’80s, aged about 11, my parents would often take me to a local Sunday market and I was desperate for a pair of rail road jeans, which essentially were blue denim with a washed out white stripe. At the market these very special jeans were 4.99 pounds and my parents said yes, I could have them. It’s where my passion for aspirational jeans began.
Rivet: Which jean are you currently wearing the most and why?
CJ: I’m loving my oversized 501 jeans at the moment. I went 3 inches bigger at the waist so they sit on the hip, button fly which is always my preferred, and I’ve opted for a deep cuff. The wash is a true vintage blue with all the wear in the right places. The denim is so old and so soft and it hangs just right. I found these on the recent trip to L.A., and they fit so well, I just had to keep them for myself.
Rivet: What is it about denim that made you want to create a career out of it?
CJ: For my first [weekend] job with Gap I was lucky to have the best product knowledge training, and my two favorite roles every weekend were either on the fitting rooms or the denim wall. Seeing a customer find the perfect pair of jeans was ace. I loved selling jeans and won many store sales competitions, with the prize being to leave work early and get ready to go out. At 18, what’s not to love? Customers would buy jeans for so many reasons—first dates, life changes, girls nights out—and it’s where I began thinking about all the great chapters those jeans are going to have. My career grew from there and denim has always been at the heart. You have to be passionate about what you do to be the best at it, that’s what I believe.