Yes, jeans weren't on Eileen's radar until we found Stretch Denim in 2004. It was woven with a fine yarn in North Carolina. Customers said you could even do yoga in it. But the mill closed a few years later—our commitment could not keep them in business.
How did you find an ethical supplier?
Denim is a dizzying world—you hear so much about the washes polluting and the working conditions being terrible. We thought that if we asked for organic cotton it would lead us to the right kind of supply chain and the right niche for our product. It wasn't easy. Most denim mills worked with large quantities. If you asked for three thousand yards of organic cotton, they said they can't do it: "it's not worth the trouble" or "no one else is asking us for that." We finally found denim experts who led us to mills that were willing to go organic. Now all our core jeans use organic cotton.
Are your jeans still cut and sewn in the USA?
Yes. As part of our commitment to support US factories, we are now producing our core jeans in Los Angeles.
Do you use formaldehyde or chlorine bleach?
No. I've been thinking a lot about how much we know about what goes into food and even cosmetics—and how little we know about the ingredients in clothing. How many people would want the latest jean fashions if they knew that they were achieved with resins that have formaldehyde or chlorine, a toxic bleaching agent?
Sandblasting is an issue for worker health. How do you create distressed looks?
With our denim finishes, we aim for a lived-in look. We do not do sandblasting, which involves silica sand, blasted under high pressure, creating dust that can affect workers' health. If we ask for any sanding, it is done by hand. Similarly, we do not spray on potassium permanganate, a bleaching agent. We use it in the wash water instead.
What is denim anyway?
Denim gets its distinctive appearance because the warp is indigo-dyed and the weft is white. You won't believe how minor changes in yarn size can make a fabric shift from rustic to classic to polished. Does it have a vertical slub? How prominent is the crosshatching? There are so many variables to denim. The color changes over time, the feel of the fabric changes with wear—it interacts with you. That's why people bond with their jeans.
Do you wear jeans?
I'm always testing a new quality. Looking at people's jeans when I'm in a coffee shop is an occupational hazard.