Rope Dye Raw Denim 101. An Essential Guide to Quality Denim
We are going back to basics. What is Raw? What is Dry? What is Selvedge? This is a Raw Denim Masterclass.
When we over at the Rope Dye HQ first started to talk about a YouTube Channel, We had poke around the interwebs looking for something similar. Can’t say we found much. There was the odd thing here and there but nothing really cohesive.
You, Cant, Know Everything
One of the things I did find was a Raw Denim 101 by this guy, Aaron Marino. Aaron is the guy behind Alpha M, a YouTube channel that I really like. Aaron seem like a really nice guy, his videos are always entertaining and you get some great information. Really, check it out! Way back in 2013, Aaron did a video on raw denim entitled Raw Denim 101: A Beginners Guide to Understanding Raw Denim. Here he breaks down the basics, the trouble is. He kinda gets a lot of things wrong.
Setting the Record Straight
Now, I ain’t dissin Aaron, not at all. the guy knows way more than me about most things. He freely admits that the raw denim thing just isn’t his thing. But I do want to take the time to set the record straight on a few things.
He gets the first bit bang on right! Finding that perfect pair is an odyssey. Luckily with the rope dye guide to finding your perfect jeans, we break it down for you and make it simple. See Aaron. I can do plugs too. Right, so that part is taken care of.
What is Raw Denim,? What is Dry Denim?
Well, raw denim and dry denim. Exactly the same thing. They are just terms for a pair of jeans that have not gone through any kind of washing or destressing after they have been manufactured.
You see, regardless of the denim, selvedge or otherwise, all jeans start off raw. The denim gets shipped into the factory. It gets cut up into the various parts needed to make the jeans and then sewn into jeans.
What happens next is a god damn travesty!
These jeans are taken and washed or distressed or both. This washing and distressing are to emulate the look of a well-worn pair of jeans. It’s basically cheating.
Let’s break it Down
Washed denim is not getting your new jeans home and sticking them in the machine. It’s a process in which the newly sewn jeans are washed in either water or ozone to remove a lot of the indigo dye from the fabric. You’ve seen those light denim jeans hanging up in stores. That’s how this is achieved.
Distressing is where the denim is actively ripped, poked prodded, sanded and torn to make it look, I don’t know… “cool”. I genuinely don’t get it.
On top of this, it is a horrendous process. Involving hundreds of litres of water, stones, sandblasting, sandpaper, knives, files…. you think I am joking. I am deadly serious. To be deadly serious for a moment because this is important. The environmental and human cost of these washing and distressing process is just insane. It’s actually disgusting.
What is Woven is What You Get
Raw denim/Dry denim skips this process. What came off the loom is pretty much what you’re wearing on your legs. This means that it looks different, it feels different and it wears different to the jeans you’ve been used to up till now. If you are coming from the washed/distressed camp right into a pair of raws, you might be thinking…
“what the hell! These are the most uncomfortable jeans I’ve ever had on. Why would people do this to themselves!?!”
No One Answer
There is no one answer to this and for most people, it is a combination of a few factors. Raw/selvedge denim tends to be better quality than your washed, mass-produced denim. It will last and look better for longer.
It avoids a lot of the horrific human exploitation and environmental impact of the mass-produced denim by mostly being produced in countries where a fair wage is paid and there are strictly enforced laws on waste and emissions. It also totally skips the washing process which is by far the most damaging from both an ecological and human standpoint.
The biggest and the most common thing you will hear from a denimhead is that you get a garment that is uniquely yours. But how does this happen?
At the very heart of it, you buy your jeans. Put them on and then wear them day in day out for at least six months. Washing as seldom as possible. Maybe never washing them in this six month period. You see. Two pairs of dry denim jeans, from the same brand made from the same denim, will look identical right off the bat. Give these jeans to two different guys, tell them to wear them for 6 months straight and you will have two entirely different jeans.
This is because indigo dyed denim fades. The blue colour will rub off with time and wear to reveal the white cotton underneath. The way in which you wear your jeans, your lifestyle and where you are in the world, all these things will inform your unique fade pattern.
It’s Like a Drug!
When you see this happening slowly and surely over time, you get hooked. There is nothing more exciting than watching your jeans evolve over time. Everything we experience in the jeans comes out in the fades, every rip, every hole and every stain tells a story. All those pre-distressed, washed denim you see in the stores. They are trying to emulate what you have done naturally. It’s no wonder that we make so much more of a connection with raw denim than we do with the washed stuff.
You Say What Now?
For the newbies out there. You probably didn’t hear much after I said not washing the jeans for 6 months. This tends to confuse people, a lot. And disgust people, a lot. The main question I get is…
It has to do with how the fades set in. The fades set in at the point where the jeans get the most wear. So around the back of the knees, the knees and around the crotch. It’s these areas where the blue indigo dye is worn off and we see the white cotton coming through. This is even more spectacular the most contrast you have against the dark blue that remains on parts of the jeans that don’t get so much wear.
When you wash the jeans, the indigo will be removed in a much more uniform fashion. You will still get areas with more wear but it won’t looks as spectacular.
The second question I get, or more often a statement.
“That’s disgusting! How do they smell?!?”
And honestly, not that bad. Mostly.
I am not 100% sure what it is about raw denim, but it tends not to pick up as much dirt and stink as the washed stuff. But the reality is that after a night out in a smokey bar, yeah. My jeans don’t smell all that nice. There are a plethora of remedies out there for just this issue. Some of them good, some bad and some just plain dumb.
Stupid Is As Stupid Does
I am going to address one dumb one. And that’s the freezer method. The idea is simple and sounds kinda plausible. When your jeans are stinky, put them in the freezer for a few hours. The idea is that this will kill off the bacteria and therefore the stench. I have tried this, and it is bullshit.
For one thing, and I think I saw something somewhere proving this, your home freezer doesn’t get anywhere near cold enough to kill off the bacteria. You just get a cold pair of jeans and they might smell like frozen peas. Also, do you really want your manky jeans amongst your food? I wouldn’t! But then. I know where my jeans have been.
The bacteria are not the only issue. Most of the smells will come from environmental sources. Cooking, a smokey bar, spilling a beer on your jeans or whatever. The freezing won’t take care of these! Just don’t do it. Its just plain dumb.
Now there are a number of other things, Fabreeze used to be seen popping up as a recommended method, then there are the specific potions and lotions created for denim but I found that all these were just covering up the stank.
Tried, Tre and Tested
The only tried, true and tested method I’ve found is also the simplest and also, free. Just hang them up outside for a couple of days. It is really that simple. And it works.
Much Too Much
There will come a time when they just stink too much or something nasty happened. I have had people ask me how to removed dog shit without washing their jeans. This is taking it too far. If that happens, if your friends or girlfriend is complaining, if birds are dropping dead around you and you have a pack of dogs following you. Wash your jeans. Don’t even think about it. Inside out. Detergent for dark clothing at 40 degrees. Just wash the jeans.
Next Up. Selvedge
Right, so that’s raw/dry. You know what it is, you know what it means. The second term you will hear most often is Selvedge. This refers to the woven edge found on the outseam of a pair of jeans.
This is a Selvedge Edge
Most commonly you will see this kind of thing on a pair of jeans. That messy looking edge there is called an overlocked edge and it is there to stop the fabric from unravelling. That selvedge edge (self-edge) selvedge is actually a result of the way in which the denim was woven.
Oldy but a Goldy
Selvedge denim is the old fashion, original way in which denim was manufactured. Back before the 70’s, all denim was manufactured in this way and so all denim was selvedge. The looms that wove this kind of denim were slow and could only weave a relatively narrow width of the fabric. Then came the all-new looms which could weave the denim faster and wider. Problem was, this method left an open edge on either side which needed to be overlocked. No more selvedge. Also, the quality went into the toilet.
It’s not a hard and fast rule, but keep an eye out for the selvedge edge. The denim tends to be higher quality and the jeans better quality overall.