A veteran Levi’s denim designer credited with revitalizing the company’s appeal with shoppers young and old, Jonathan Cheung now consults with leading brands, material solutions providers and retail technology innovators. As an advisor to Unspun, which has pioneered a solution to help shoppers find perfectly fitted jeans, Cheung helps bring potential denim partners into the fit tech fold.
With a passion for designing versatile clothes that are built to stand the test of time, Cheung shepherded the release of Un-labelled, Unspun’s custom fit unisex denim collection, last fall. Made with organic cotton and dyed using a zero-water dyeing process and environmentally friendly finishes, the line of loose-fitting silhouettes was conceptualized with comfort, longevity and inclusivity in mind.
Cheung described Unspun’s technology as an everyone-wins solution that is “cutting-the-Gordian-knot of complexity” of developing each shopper’s perfect fit, while reducing waste and limiting inventory liability for brands and retailers.
What is the biggest misconception that consumers have about sustainable denim?
I think a lot of people don’t appreciate just how sustainable a good pair of jeans and a denim jacket can be. It’s the longevity of them. Both the physical durability and how the styles stay relevant. Like a lot of people out there, I have many pairs that are 30, 40 even 50 years old that I wear without be precious about them at all. If one measure of sustainability is usage and longevity, then denim is the best.
What can the denim industry do to ensure a positive post-pandemic rebound?
Lean in to innovation. We’re in a new paradigm. Be curious, experiment and take asymmetric risks. But really the best advice would be: Be grateful, be kind and generous, be consciously open minded, read a lot, walk a lot, eat real food and get outside as much as you can.
Skinny jeans: Over or a new staple?
Skinnies have moved to the left side of the bell curve.
How can denim retail improve?
Incentivize your store to offer delight, fun and an element of discovery. It’s not about shoving as much product in there as possible. It’s not about productivity per square foot, but experience per store. No one wants to trudge through a boring store or scroll through endless [sameness] online either. Think about everything that Amazon provides, and don’t compete with that. Don't settle for mediocrity. Don’t be afraid of being different, be afraid of being the same as everything else. Be abnormal.
How many pairs of jeans do you own?
At least 50. Because of my profession, I have ‘jeans Tetris.’ Some will regularly get donated to Goodwill, but there’s always incoming ones that I’m testing.
Which jeans do you wear the most, and why?
Over my lifetime, it's 501’s, hands-down. Over the lockdown, I’ve been wear testing a bunch of special new denim and some cool body-scan custom jeans.