Getting Denim-Heavy In The Bay Area
Located on the east side of the San Francisco bay in Oakland, the shop has quickly gained a reputation as one of the area’s go-to denim destinations. But in fact the two owners didn’t initially set out to become denim-heavy in their line-up, yet, as they discovered that fit is so crucial to so most men they simply had to bring in more stock and variety to fit their customers. And their preference for locally produced products strongly affected their choice of suppliers. Today, the concept is a combination of interesting stories, good fits, and the shop is almost exclusively carrying American made products stocking brands like Tellason, UBI, Taylor Stitch, Rogue Territory, The Stronghold, Cadence, and White Horse Trading Co. for denim. We had a chat with co-owner Jeremy Smith about denim quality, his journey into denim, and
The story of Jeremy’s denim fascination goes back to his upbringing in rural America. From when he was 5 years old or so his uniform was a pair of dark stiff denims – one pair per year – workboots, and a button down or flannel or crew neck sweatshirt. During his high school years in the early 90s, “denim was shit,” as he puts it. Even through college years and until around 2001, he just didn’t care that much about denim (except for a pair of Sutter Mills, made by one Tony Patella).
Jeremy recalls how one day a pair of jeans exploded on him with the pre-faded areas around the the front pockets tearing right through, and his descent into ‘madness’ began. He started asking why and how denim was made, and questioning why people were paying unreasonable prices for poor quality denim that was pre-washed? What did it mean for denim to be good? He discovered Nudie and their ‘Earnest Sewn’ in their early days. He then discovered Japan and, “then all hope was lost with,” Jeremy turning to heavyweight high oz. denim. After a while he kind of mellowed out, being happy with his 14 oz. Pure Blue Japans, and 16 oz. Flatheads. Around that time American denim started to perk up again, and he got into Tellason, Rising Sun & Co., The Stronghold.
Fast forward a couple years, Jeremy opened up Standard & Strange with his business partner, Neil Berrett. There was a lack of quality denim in Oakland, and quality men’s clothing in general. The two owners scored a small retail spot in an up-and-coming area, called up a few of their friends around the industry, and started filling up the shelves. In Jeremy words, to this day Oakland is, “kind of a wasteland on this side of the bay – we’ve got one Tellason dealer in an upscale shopping district and nothing else besides us.”
You clearly have a passion for clothing with history, could you describe how did it all began?
“It crept up on me over time – it feels like my generation spent so much time trying to break from the past and attempting to be post-modern that we forgot a lot about just living. Plus clothing with history tends to be slow clothing – investment pieces, something that you don’t just throw away every three months. I started by looking into the history of workwear and military wear – men’s fashion is born from these functional garments – and I became interested in the stories behind clothing in both its construction and use. Look at the needle path on a flatlock stitch, watch a shuttle loom in action and or learn the anorak’s history.”
You mainly carry locally produced products, are there any exceptions?
“We strive to only carry American-made goods, with a preference for locally made items. There are some exceptions, but they must come from a first world country. Right now we carry a jacket from Mission Workshop that is made in Vancouver because the seam taping is difficult to do well domestically. We also carry linen socks that are knitted in Japan. We’ve never come across domestic linen socks and fell in love with these. Both the jacket and socks are designed locally.”
What’s the story of the name of the shop?
“We lifted the name from Jane Jacobs’ “Life and Death of Great American Cities” in the quote: “Cities, however, are the natural homes of supermarkets and standard movie houses plus delicatessens, Viennese bakeries, foreign groceries, art movies, and so on, all of which can be found co-existing, the standard with the strange, the large with the small.” – This fits our store because we’re a part of urban reuse; our shop was a municipal stable, then a storage locker, and is now retail. It also relates well to Oakland as a city going through a period of growth and rejuvenation.”
What was your motivation to open the shop?
“Oakland was lacking a source for the type of clothing we carry. Really, this entire side of the bay didn’t have much going for it for men’s apparel other than typical mall and highstreet nonsense.”
What inspired you for the merchandising of the shop?
“We started with brands that we were personal friends with, and brands that those folks recommended. We opened with Tellason, Taylor Stitch, Topo Designs and a couple other brands. Since then, we’ve brought on brands like Rogue Territory, White Horse Trading Company and Mission Workshop.”
Why do you think denim has become so popular recently?
“It’s never really been unpopular as far back as I can remember – the washes and treatments have gone away, and we’re all wearing pretty simple denim now, but it’s always been around. I think there’s a constant new interest as people make the journey from crappy department store denim to fashion denim to the real deal. We get a lot of people coming in who’ve never owned a pair of 14 oz. raw jeans, and jump right in from their Gap or whatever jeans when they see the value.”
What do you love the most about denim?
“It’s a living fabric, and it just looks better as it ages.”
How do you wear and treat in your dry denim jeans – any special routines?
“First I wear, then I wash when dirty, then I wear some more. Always hang dry.”
What do you recommend your customers to do regarding breaking in their jeans?
“Wear the hell out of them, and wash when they need it. Along with the usual cold water, mild detergent and hang dry.”
Do you collect anything (other than denim)?
“I try to limit what I collect – I have a good number of records, and that’s pretty much the extent of it. I do have a few bicycles – from a vintage Italian town bike to a modern steel Pegoretti road bike.”
How many pairs of jeans do you have in your private collection?
“Maybe 4 or 5? I’ll likely pick up one of everything we have that fits me over time.”
Which pair are you most proud of?
“My 7-year old Pure Blue Japan XX005 – repaired three times, stretched out 2 full sizes, look amazing.”
What’s your favourite brand/fit?
“For day-to-day, the Rogue Territory Stanton or the Tellason John Graham Mellor are my go-to.”
Are there any up-coming or unknown brands that you think are worth looking into?
“White Horse Trading Co. out of Denver; Jack Knife Denim out of San Francisco. There’s a couple other projects brewing that I hope we can tell you about in the future.”
Where will Standard & Strange be five years from now?
“We’re planning on growing quite a bit. We’ll add more footwear, more shirting, and maybe some pieces for women. We get a lot of women coming in saying that they want the same things we sell for men. We’re also working on getting more technical apparel made in the USA in stock. The modern American classic is really the Gore-Tex parka with a button down and jeans, and it would be great to be able to provide that.”
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