“Typically, the most common denims on earth are going to be a 3-by-one right-hand twill weave, 10 to 12 ounces, red cast (vs. green cast), and – today – vertical slubs rather than cross hatch,” Scott Morrison said, standing in front of a wall of heavyweight selvedge denim in his SoHo store, 3×1. He had not been speaking in tongues; he was in brief the language of denim. Morrison grew up in Rancho Mirage, California, played golf as being a kid, visited the University of Washington to experience golf on a scholarship, drafted a business plan in college to produce a golf company, then finally moved to New York in 1997 and started in on denim.
He got to the party in the perfect time. “I remember going and acquiring a set of Replay Jeans and exploring the inside and going, ‘Holy shit, precisely what is Manufactured in Japan? Japanese Denim? Japanese Wash?’ These were $125, which at that time was $25 more costly than some other product these were making.” It was an advantageous enlightenment; through the late ’90s – Morrison places it around 1999 – onward, premium denim has become booming. What started with Earl Jean, Frankie B and his Paper Denim & Cloth then moved into 7 For Those Mankind, JBrand, True Religion. Then the wave really caught on and leading up to the current premium denim companies have started ad infinitum.
Way back in 1999, Morrison and Ken Girard, head of Cone Mills product development, traveled to Japan. Morrison claimed that at the time, the Cone Mills selvedge shuttle looms in N . C . were. Selvedge, or “self-edge” denim (so named for that tightly woven band on the end of sheet of denim), was the classic style of denim – “it’s the record player in the denim industry,” said Morrison – and Cone Mills is one of the founding fathers in the fabric. Starting in 1891, they were a premier fabric manufacturer, and through the early and mid-1900s, they made only one sort of denim: selvedge denim on shuttle looms. But as technology evolved as well as the economy demanded faster, cheaper denim, the new rapier, projectile and air jet looms took over production.
When Morrison and Girard headed to Japan, nobody was ordering the slower, more costly selvedge denim manufacturer. “At time, the large brands, Gap, J.Crew, Esprit, Levis, Lee, Wrangler – each of the American brands were dedicated to this moderate price point.”What Morrison found in Japan were mills focusing on premium denim from the sort North America once made. He remembers it being better throughout the board, from fabrics to sewing to wash. And it left an effect. “My dogs were named after Japanese denim mills – Kurabo and Nishimbo. I was somewhat obsessed, to say the least.”
Next trip, Morrison’s travels in Japan (and in addition in Italy) continued, as did his study of premium denim manufacturing. He believed he wasn’t the only person who’d buy into this domestically born, internationally perfected practice. Morrison’s idea – shared by only a couple other premium denim companies during the time – would be to bring this quality back to American jeans. “The premise was, why can’t we all do the same within the States?” said Morrison. He did, however it didn’t catch on immediately. He says his first two forays into offering selvedge denim failed miserably; customers weren’t ready for $250 jeans. He remembers that things which we take for granted on jeans today – oven baking, 3D-whiskering, hand sanding, bleach sponging – didn’t even exist up until the early aughts. But Morrison held his vision, and through two companies, Paper Denim & Cloth and Earnest Sewn, Morrison evolved with America’s desire for premium denim.
Finally, in the year 2011, he started 3×1, his most specialized project to date. 3×1, supplies the largest collection of selvedge denim on earth. They have got, at any given time, 70 rolls of japanese denim on their “denim wall,” and over time have introduced greater than 1000 different types of selvedge denim, sourced from 22 different mills around the globe. “The denim luhoxj the mills are definitely the rockstars in the shop,” Morrison said. 3×1 specializes in specialty, and they also cater to a distinct, particular client. “I know our customer will be the one guy that’ll walk in and become like, ‘That’s fu.cking awesome, that’s a few things i want,’” said Morrison.
To get to that point takes some education. And without digging with the annals of denim geek forums, it will take a bit of translating. So, Morrison offered to give a lay from the selvedge land – a review of things to consider when buying premium denim.