Gavin Smith

Jeroen De Wal is an experienced voice in the world wide denim and work wear scene for innovation and craftsmanship. He is a keen advocate of small scale manufacture and difference through design, which makes our principles somewhat aligned, and as the co founder of Union Of Artisans, a concept to promote new and lesser known brands, it seems that we are chasing the same chicken so to speak.

We thought it would be great to have a sit down with Jeroen and find out what makes him tick by posing a few questions and he was kind enough to return the compliment by posing some questions of his own. Watch out for Jeroen's interview with me on all things promotional coming very soon to Union Of Artisans

Tell us a little about your history with denim and work wear?

I first became interested in denim and its possibilities when I was around 21. I was managing a store in my hometown at the time, and the owner had a large collection of Marithe + Francois Girbaud. Research led me to learning about all the innovation Girbaud did in and for the denim industry. From that point on I started following denim development within the high-end brands.

However, my passion for raw denim and workwear only became vibrant for a few years. Strangely enough it was none of the iconic brands that triggered it, but a global mass-market brand, Hugo Boss. When I was working for them, they introduced a raw denim style and I became fascinated by the fabric and researched as much as possible, visiting fabric trade shows abroad and look up manufacturers. I got so intrigued by the history and the evolutions raw denim brings that eventually it led me to Japan in 2011 to visit Kurabo and Momotaro. From that point on I never wanted any other product than raw denim as far as it comes to buying jeans.

I know that we share a great passion for working with smaller brands, single artisans innovative creators, what names should we be looking out for and why?

First, I am a big fan of Red Cloud & Co. from Shenyang, China. When I was living in China, I had the opportunity to meet up with Tuckshop & Sundry Supplies (global distributor Red Cloud) and visit Red Cloud. This guy works in a brick barn in the middle of nowhere and houses an impressive collection of vintage machinery and his fabrics are insane. The fact that everything is done in China, from the growth of the long staple cotton up to the sewing by the master himself, is very fascinating to me. His products are from a level at least equal to the biggest Japanese and USA brands.

Furthermore, I am very much a fan of Endrime from the UK. I met Mohsin Sajid, owner/founder, in Hong Kong last year and this guy is amazing. He has so much knowledge and skill and vision, combined with his exhausting energy level, he makes a great product. What I love about Endrime is that it is very innovative, he pushes the limits and creates insane products and techniques but never lacking in the high quality level.

Something else which I know we have in common is a belief that high quality is not exclusive to Japan, the USA and Western Europe. What have you seen to reinforce this view which people should be aware of?

As I, humbly, represent Red Cloud & Tuckshop in Europe, I frequently get in touch with retailers. What surprises me is how narrow-minded there vision often is. Made in China? Oh no, I don’t want to buy that, my customers won’t like it. It baffles me. Here you have a great product, made with heart and passion, on a quality level far beyond the general image of Made in China. I feel a retailer should understand his products and recognize quality, see how it is made and understand why it is made. Not where it is made.

I have travelled extensively through Asia, discovering small factories that house vintage shuttle looms, wooden hand looms and work with high level fabrics that they weave locally. It would be ignorance bliss if one thinks that only Japan, USA and Western Europe make top products. People should be aware of the fact that first of all history tells us that many Asian countries developed most of the common weaving and sewing techniques as well as the natural indigo dying concept. Second, we are humans and we have a nature to develop ourselves. People study sewing techniques, research iconic denim and workwear products. So maybe, there is a guy or girl in Indonesia or Vietnam or wherever that might actually house the skill to make a top-notch product.

It frustrates me that people don’t see this development. I know, within the denim community, there is a growing respect for the odd-market brands. But it would be good if the general public would start understanding that forces are shifting. Retailers should support this. I am not saying they should stray away from their philosophy or core identity, but they should look at a product from a passion point of view. They are the ones that communicate with their customer, talk about their products. Seeing retailers that refuse to buy Made in China but the next month start selling a commercial brand with poor details really saddens me.

Union Of Artisans sounds like an interesting project, what is the concept behind it?

UoA first started as a concept that I came up with, together with colleague Jorrit Klunne. I was living in China at the time, Jorrit in fashion-hub Antwerp. We were getting frustrated by the boom of crap retailers and crap clothing that can be found on every meter of the street. We were curious about finding brands and designers, in any industry, that put vision and artisanal quality above all. People that stay away from the masses, people that craft a product with passion and try and build from that point on.

It was not until a few months ago that we finally found a direction in which we want to develop. Our concept now is to source and meet up with artisans in all industries. Understand what they do, look into their branding and publish articles about them. That is our first step. We don’t have funds, so we take our steps slowly but accurate. 
What we want to achieve now, is to build a network of people and brands/retailers that we work with. To expand our reach and our name in the various industries.
Our next steps, which we are preparing now, is to consult brands in their branding and develop together. We feel that artisans don’t get the attention they deserve and we hope to contribute to that in any way possible. The core of our business will always be to connect with artisans and help them grow. In the future hopefully we can convert it into a physical workspace, combining our services with retail.

Finally, what currently excites you in the denim and work wear scene?

What excites me, is that there is a growing demand for innovation in the denim/work wear scene. Frankly, I am tired of new brands popping up every day that make the same 5 pocket jeans or N1 deck jacket as the brand that popped up yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, I have huge respect for iconic styles, if it is well-made. But it seems that a lot of new (one-man) brands just want to jump on the trend and buzz that is the raw denim scene. I want to see brands that make something different, something new.

That’s why a guy like Mohsin Sajid with Endrime excites me with his work, or Kevin Seah with his bespoke denim. I hope that their success can be a trigger for those designers that are still doubting if the scene is ready for it. Nobody will gun you down if you make an innovative product, as long as you make it with passion, believe and vision. And top quality of course ;-)