I love a good perve inside a celebrity’s wardrobe, thanks to the glossy mags. There’s always some magical Portobello Road Market find – those that you, as a mere mortal, will never be able to nab, plus, quite often, a staggering number of jeans; it’s not unheard of for some fashionistas to have more than 100 pairs.
Over the rainbow … Kesha wearing a pair of colourful, customised overalls at LAX. Photo: Getty Images
But since learning about the devastating effect denim production can have on the planet – the toxic chemicals and water usage in the dyeing process, the impact of so-called “distressing” techniques, and so on – I’ve had a massive rethink about how many pairs of jeans I “need”.
I probably own about seven pairs but could easily survive with three: a light, a dark and a black.
Given Friday is Jeans for Genes Day, it is timely to share the stories of two people in the fashion industry who are slowing denim consumption by producing one-of-a-kind pieces using very different techniques.
Sydney native Kai Brown got the idea for All My Relations after his grandmother, a “master seamstress”, made him a jacket with a Native American Indian blanket he found while on tour (he was a guitarist and surfer before he started the brand).
Subtle statement … Bella Hadid wearing an embroidered denim jacket on the streets of New York. Photo: Josiah Kamau
“I kept getting stopped all the time [and asked about the jacket]. It’s still in the office, hanging on the wall. People who know me … see that jacket and say, ‘you’ve come so far’,” Brown says.
All My Relations takes vintage denim pieces and, using decades-old chain-stitch embroidery techniques, creates one-off pieces.
Brown aims to create clothes that inspire an “emotional reaction”, as a counterpoint to the homogenous nature of fast fashion.
“People will bring me a [new] jacket but I will educate them … if you’re going to get some work done it’s worth getting a quality vintage piece,” he says.
The best denim is vintage denim, especially when you wear it like Gigi Hadid. Photo: Christian Vierig
Both Brown and Sarah Darby, of One of a Kind Denim, agree choosing a design for a custom-made jacket is a little like getting a tattoo, albeit one you can take off.
In fact, it was Darby’s desire for ink but her inability to commit that led the fashion illustrator to create her brand, which produces painted designs on vintage denim and leather.
Her celebrity clients include model Stephanie Claire Smith and The Bachelorette’s Georgia Love.
Darby recalls one client, who had struggled with body image her whole life, having “sparkling as I am” embroidered on the cuffs of her jacket.
“I get to know someone so that when I hand [the jacket] over, it’s with love,” she says.
Darby uses about 90 per cent salvaged denim for her designs, including Levi’s jackets that need soaking for two days to rid them of 30 years’ worth of grime.
Clare Press, Daily Life columnist, author and host of the Wardrobe Crisis podcast, says jeans have become “our unofficial global uniform” and we need to be more mindful of the impact they have on the planet and the people who make them.
She says more than 260 million pairs of jeans are made for export in Xintang, aka China’s “Jeans Town”, where the toxic run-off from production turns the waterways blue and affects the health of the workers.
“According to Greenpeace, high levels of lead and copper pollute the riverbed. The dust in the streets is blue. When it rains, the puddles are blue too. The air stinks,” she says.
She encourages consumers to avoid paying top dollar for artificially aged and distressed denim and instead embrace the natural ageing process.
“The whole idea behind that sort of look as a badge of honour was that your favourite pair of jeans had earned those makers of age. That they had a story to tell. Today, that story is less than authentic.”
Genes for Jeans Day is on Friday, August 4. Find out more at jeansforgenes.org.au.
Get the look
Alexander McQueen at Stylebop.com, $2322 (approx).
MCQ Alexander McQueen at Stylebop.com, $264 (approx).
All My Relations, $2295.