An Instant Classic And A Road Trip Through The Years

There has been plenty of bandwidth dedicated in recent days to the cool collaboration between Levi’s and Pendleton Woollen Mills which has birthed one of the season’s most sought-after jackets – The Levi’s x Pendleton Trucker – and a tightly curated collection which also features shirts and throws.

Apparently, this is the culmination of a 5-year collab which does make us wonder how long it would have taken to expand the collection to, say, a pair of socks…

No, the strike-rate is far from impressive but the Trucker Jacket is, without reservation, instantly iconic with its Native American woollen lining in black, navy and grey around the torso. Five years in the making? No, to get the full story, times that by fifty!

We take a detailed look at it and its construction but Pendleton is perhaps not a name which quite so readily trips off the lip. Whilst they are heavy-hitters in the premium woollens sector (and wool sits very comfortably with quality denim), not every denimhead will have come across them on his travels. So, we take a quick look back at who they are and how they got here.

Older Than Levi’s

Pendleton Woolen Mills had actually been in the business of crafting woollens in traditional water-powered mills in the Pacific Northwest for a good decade before Levi Strauss set up shop in 1873.

Founded by Englishman Thomas Kay and originally known as “The Thomas Kay Woolen Mill” in Salem OR, the business prospered in the early years as very much a family concern. It was once they moved to Pendleton in eastern Oregon that they were slap bang in the middle of Sheepsville and things started to properly motor ahead.

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It was a smart, strategic move because having wool producers on their doorstep allowed them to significantly reduce the costs of production. Also, Pendleton itself was already well-served as a transport hub and that meant that distribution was much less of a challenge than it might have been.

The original weavers were dedicated to reproducing the traditional and often ancient Native American designs that resonate today on the Levi’s x Pendleton Trucker jacket.

However, back then, the company concentrated mainly upon woollen blankets and household textiles. It was not until the early years of the twentieth century that the company moved in to garment production, beginning with lighter-weight fabrics for tailoring and work shirts.

Sportswear For Early-Adopters

The entrepreneurial streak followed through to the 1920’s when Pendleton can perhaps be seen as one of the earliest Sportswear-as-a-fashion manufacturers with the introduction of “sport” shirts (ie not drab and purely functional styles), and as the Thirties dawned, the company was able to boast a full line of woollen sportswear.

The WWII years saw Pendleton go back to its roots, producing blankets for the war effort but they soon returned to their fashion focus in peacetime, lending their name and their style in 1960 to an emerging West Coast surf band, The Pendletones.

Good Vibrations

Perhaps realising that “The Pendletones” wasn’t totally doing it for them, the band changed their name – but not their shirts – to The Beach Boys and the rest is rock n roll history. America’s youth today is as in love with the classic, plaid, woollen shirt as it was fifty years ago. Arguably, the first all-American Look was born.

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Coming Over Here, Making Our Icons

At Denimhunters, fashion and heritage are what drive us the most but we’re not immune to the world around us, good and bad. So, next time you hear anyone moaning about “bloody immigrants”, point them to the Levi’s x Pendleton Trucker jacket. Without a wandering Englishman and a German Jew in search of a stable future, this slice of pure American might never have happened. And then sing them an old Beach Boys tune.

The limited edition Levi’s x Pendleton Trucker is available online at Levi’s or in selected stockists worldwide.

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