In continuation of Tuesday’s entry here’s part two on laundering premium denim.
Fashionably distressing jeans is labor intensive. Considering all the work I saw being put into them, I’m surprised they don’t cost more. If you thought seam classes were overwhelming, the range of denim treatment options are bewildering and complex. Here is a survey of available options. A very simplistic description of the process -a veritable lather, rinse and repeat- is:
- Pre-treatment, handwork, sanding, and resin whiskering
- Potassium permanganate spray applied and dried.
- Wash again
- Paint spatters, these are dried in the oven.
- Wash again
- Lastly, is stone washing.
The first part of the laundry that Robert showed me was the hand abrading section. Below you can see jeans blown up on mannequins off to the left and right.
Below this gentleman is wearing down jeans with abrasion using a super duper secret material known to insiders as “sand paper”.
In the photo below, resin has been applied (with a squirt bottle) to the jeans. Wrinkles (whiskers) are arranged by hand and set with heat (that blue thing comes down for thirty seconds).
This section of the laundry (photo below) is where potassium permanganate (commonly referred to as PP) is applied. PP fades denim better than bleaching. As you would imagine, the PP is purple and dries yellow. Once washed, sprayed areas are lighter in color. The jeans are fit over those hanging rubber-like inflatable tubes. PP -a wet process- is applied manually to the desired areas (sprayed with a hose), allowed to dry and then washed out. There are different intensities too depending on what you want. Bright white areas are called “paint spatters” and generated as randomly as possible within a target area you designate.
Some garments require more intensive heat treatment than water or a dryer can provide. Like pleated garments, these jeans are heated in an oven (below).
The oven has channels in the ceiling where many garments can be hung at once. The sides of the oven have rungs where shelves can be inserted for folded goods.
Below is a photo of a huge washer -just wait till you see the matching dryer!
The above unit can stone wash 200 pairs at a time. There are also smaller washers that wash five pairs at once. The drum size of those are about the drum size of a commercial dryer you’ll find at a coin laundry (below).
Considering the matter of small lots, it makes sense they’d cost significantly more. A 50 unit lot has to be spread out over ten machines because it’s too small for the 200 unit washer. And then if they need to be heat set, well, the oven uses nearly the same amount of energy whether there’s five garments in there or 100 so economy of scale is limited.
And if you wondered whether stone washing really uses rocks, I can assure you it does. Below is a pallet of them. You know me, I take pictures of lame things. Objects, rarely people. All the blogging experts say you have to have photos of people above the fold to have a successful blog. I’ll keep that under advisement.
Here’s a photo of the world’s largest dryer (Robert in front). Okay, it’s probably not but it’s the biggest dryer I’ve ever seen. Humongo dryers have accordian doors that slide closed. This will dry 300 pairs of jeans.
At this point you might think of laundry as a relatively static process with little technological innovation… but maybe not. Robert and his partners have invented a new stitchless construction process using glues rather than thread to join garments. There’s an existing stitchless process being used by other producers (Seven for all Mankind etc) and described as “heat welded” so I’m not certain how his is different. And not that fabric welding is new either; Sonobond has been making fabric welding machines for years.
I examined several of these items. They’re pretty cool and look distinctly different. They lay flatter because there are no seam allowances to turn under. He’s calling this technology seamless or stitchless jeans and for which he has applied for a patent. Five years in the making, he expects production capacity to be available by February. Below is a photo of a stitchless denim jacket.
Below is a sample of a pair of stitchless premium denim jeans.
As you can see, the stitchless garments can take the very same laundry design treatments as regular jeans. The layers are really thin, it’s quite an interesting effect. The cut edges fray up to a point but are very stable with the glue. If seams bother you, this could be a great solution. What’s undeniable is the very different look, potentially raising the barre in the premium denim market. Robert also mentions these are more costly to produce; going threadless isn’t a money saver. Bummer huh?
Premium denim caveats:
Being the party pooper I am, now I have to rain on the premium denim parade. This won’t be a popular topic but it must be said: premium denim isn’t a sustainable product or process. While technology is improving, treatments that various effects require are taxing and toxic. For example, resins contain formaldehyde. I don’t know enough about denim but resins may be phased out once the full impact of CPSIA is realized (new formaldehyde restrictions in all apparel product classes, not just children’s clothes). I think everyone already knows that stone washing via various means is known to use inordinate resources and few laundries employ a closed loop system. In the case of resins, you can’t. Those are single use only.