Denim laundry contractor pt.2

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
  • Washing
  • 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.

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  1. Noah L says:

    That treadless stitching technique is fascinating, although it looks a little raw, can it be used to make a cleaner looking garment? As far as denim washing goes there are some amazing advances such as waterless washing machines that actually use ozone. WWD did an article about it a few months back I scanned it in

    also poke around the Jeanologica website

    they have machines that use lasers to distress the denim as well, fascinating, I wonder what it will take for the industry to begin to switch over (other than money)…. I wonder if there is even a wash house in this country that uses such waterless washing equipment, Jeanologica is a spanish company.

  2. Lisa Brazus says:

    Amazing technology. I have a better understanding as to why Jeans can cost so much. I am wondering about the toxic effects of production as well as what happens when these types of jeans are washed at home.

  3. Theresa in Tucson says:

    I agree with Dawn B. If I want broken in jeans I go to the thrift store, try on a passle in my size range, and walk out with what fits the best. If I’m going to spring for new, they’d better look new and have lots of life in them.

  4. Gigi says:

    That is really amazing! I prefer my jeans dark but appreciate the technology that goes into distressing denim. Back in the day we laid in the bathtub or swam in the ocean with our new – and very, very stiff – jeans to break them in. I don’t think you can even buy jeans like that anymore, can you?

    A dressmaker came into the shop today wondering how she could make a new jeans hem look like RTW as her customers didn’t like them to look “hemmed”. She thought that maybe I had some magical secret or product and laughed when I told her to go to Home Depot and get some sandpaper.

  5. Noah L says:

    you can still buy jeans in an unwashed unprocessed fresh from the mill, My brand makes them :P but available at a few stores in California. What you would want to look for is unwashed “raw”, “rigid” denim at smaller boutiques, usually carry them all the majors brands wash the hell out their products.

    check out my line at

    As far as to get that hemmed look, it will come out after its washed a few times, people can be so impatient nowadays, I use to hem friends jeans and had the same request! ha

  6. Camille says:

    I remain impressed at the level of thoroughness you go into your reports. I’ve designed for many denim based collections (many urban men’s labels), and even with that, the ever evolving development of denim makes mastering the category illusive. (There is no resting on ones laurels.)

    The stitch-less denim styling technique I saw in a European line (the brand escapes me now) early in this year for the brand’s spring offerings. The difference from what you referenced here, was that the gluing technique was colorized and purposely exposed around the edges of seams. It was an interesting affect, and one in which I didn’t think I would want to see become imitated by too many other labels. However as seen here, the effect has more broad appeal for different brand applications. Very wearable look.

    Years ago I was able to visit the design base of G-Star in Amsterdam. I was there for research for a private label line to be done for JCP through Perry Ellis. I got to see the behind the scenes operations of their denim process. I was impressed with how organized and clean there huge warehouse of internal workings were. They seemed to be very efficiently put together as an organization.

    Denim as a brand category and market niche, is a really interesting historically and inspiring fabrication to work in, even with all the challenges to work around and with, such as ‘green’ concerns and then simply finding newness even if subtle.

    The whole thing of; ‘what makes denim premium and if Japanese denim is superior’, etc., is so variable and such a matter of its actual end use, and if the designer label’s taste sustains interest for their customer’s taste preferences. With anything product category I am involved with, I concern myself with fit, functionality as it relates to aesthetics.

    I have worked with Japanese denim, usually selvedge defined, but those looms are usually 30″w and consumption comes into play and becomes one factor in its ‘premium’ pricing. Often times it was used in its rigid/raw state, and shrinkage had to be considered in the pattern. The weight could very from heavy 14oz, or 12oz sometimes even lighter. The natural breakdown wear would develop into something quite beautiful and personalized to the wearer’s body. I love denim. I am regularly developing concepts of different ways of thinking about apparel use of denim beyond jean detailing affects. I think denim yarns and effects are as exciting as working in yarns of sweater knits for the same feeling of starting from scratch and working and manipulating from raw material states.

  7. Renee says:

    Responding to the comment that Kathleen makes about being surprised that denim doesn’t cost more; I worked in denim for a few seasons as part of my product development responsibilities at one company. That part of the line was among the lowest in profit margin. Certainly in part due to costing and lower volume (in the 1000’s rather than 10,000’s and 100,000’s), but also due to the merchant’s price point, which was dictated by the market. The team viewed the pieces as the means to get the line into a specific type of urban retailer that seemingly wouldn’t take the sales staff seriously without denim SKUs.

  8. With all the chemicals, high-heat, wash and dry, etc, etc, stuff that goes into making the artfully distressed jeans my 20-ish step-daughters wear all the time….it makes it all the more amusing that these girls insist that I take their jeans quite wet out of the washer and hang them to drip-dry! These kids live in fear and horror (no exaggeration) that a household dryer set on delicate will damage their already beat-to-hell jeans…how amusing :)

    (Please don’t tell them that I sneak those wet jeans into the dryer on low until just damp, then hang them to “drip dry” magically in half the time…they think I am some sort of “super-laundress”, LOL! shhhh….)

  9. 3KillerBs says:

    A month or so ago I stumped a sales clerk asking for a denim skirt that “Doesn’t look like it was dragged behind a truck.” Lo and behold — there actually was one. A beautiful, brand-new denim skirt so blue I’m still not 100% sure if its blue or black.

    If people must wear out brand new clothes before wearing them, would it be more environmentally friendly to hitch the things to the back of a pickup (I suppose there’s no reason not to use a hybrid SUV), and drag the things around the parking lot for a while?

  10. Anita says:

    As an alterations seamster for over 30 years, I don’t look forward to the influx of stitchless clothing. It’s hard enough to explain to customers what can and cannot be altered successfully. Now I’ll have to tell them their clothes don’t have seams that can be duplicated or altered! Recreating the distressed look on hems has been such fun, as has repairing the constant holes that occur in stonewashed jeans. People say they pay too much for these items to toss them! Go figure!

  11. I will be using the stitch-less denim technique in one of my ranges. I design jeans for the taller woman and work on catering to all tastes within this market. Many women love the stitch-less samples I have shown them from Robert’s company. Thanks to Robert and his team I can cater to every denim taste and demand that my clients have. This makes designing easy for me and gives me more freedom as I know whatever look I want for the jeans, Robert has the skill and knowhow to achieve each desired look for me.

    I have read a few comments and have to say that denim washing along with techniques to making a jean look older giving the jean a unique and worn look without the jean actually aging, is a must for my business. Rigid denim is fine ( I use this look for some clients) but my most of my clients all seem to prefer the added softness that Robert gives to the denim upon washing them. Even after many, many washes the jeans when washed with Rob keep there sharp look. Again, fashion including the denim world is about innovation, creativity and wearability.

    Thank goodness for Robert!

    Roy L. Parkin

  12. Sabine says:

    Gigi – yes, that seamstress can, it’s
    a: a Eurohem-take the old one off and sew it back on
    b: lay the hem on sandpaper and beat it with a hammer for a while

    Kathleen: Thank you so much for sharing that, and for linking me to it of course

  13. ailya says:

    above stated article is awesome…. :)
    dear author i just want to know abt that seamless garment
    is it durable????while washing denim has to go through diff tough processes, cud the glued garment survive all those aggressive steps???without thread is it possible for any garment to remain assembled??

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