Amsterdam is home to some of the most exciting innovators in Dutch denim, from world-class jeans designers to sustainable fabric pioneers. We take a look at the names to know.
For denim connoisseurs, Amsterdam has become something of a pilgrimage, like Japan and the United States. The city has made a name for itself as a young, forward-thinking denim capital. Its ties to denim have often been attributed to the Dutch casual style of dressing and the nation’s love for wearing jeans. While this may have been the catalyst, the city has known how to turn itself into a hotspot for denim brands and experts. There’s the Jean School, the world’s only denim school; the annual Denim Days festival; the Kingpins trade show; and a whole fleet of denim labels. G-Star Raw, Denham, Scotch & Soda and Kings of Indigo are some of the exciting brands born and bred here over the past few decades.
Founded in 1989, G-Star Raw is an Amsterdam-based brand with a milestone anniversary in the offing, as brand director Sean Peron explains. ‘We set out 30 years ago to create innovative denim that could resonate with all kinds of people and generations. It’s been an amazing journey to get from that point to where we are today.’ The Dutch capital serves as the location for the brand’s impressive headquarters, but from here G-Star takes an international outlook. ‘Although G-Star originated in Amsterdam, we consider ourselves global citizens,’ explains Peron. ‘Our inspirations are worldwide – progressive, functional design is what gets us excited – but we are quite happy to see the same entrepreneurial “blue” blood that runs through our veins come to life in other brands that call Amsterdam their home.’
One such brand is Denham the Jeanmaker. Founder Jason Denham moved to Amsterdam in the 1990s and went on to found his namesake brand here in 2008. The premise was simple: Denham aimed to create ‘a premium, exciting, international denim brand’. Fast-forward a decade and Denham The Jeanmaker has celebrated its 10th anniversary with a series of exciting projects. ‘I’m proud that Denham is one of the pioneers that helped to make Amsterdam the denim capital that it is today,’ reflects the founder. ‘This is the HQ of our brand and we do everything to support the Amsterdam denim city.’ Indeed, the city is not only home to the Denham headquarters, which are located in a beautiful traditional Amsterdam townhouse, but also counts six of the brand’s 50 worldwide stores.
This dynamic of an Amsterdam base combined with constant dialogue with the rest of the world is shared by Scotch & Soda. Founded in 1985, the label takes inspiration from globetrotting but these ideas come to life in Amsterdam: a converted former church on one of the city’s many canals is the setting for the brand’s atmospheric design studio.
As a fabric with its roots in workwear, you might think that denim is a limited – or limiting – material to work with. On the contrary. ‘It’s the most sustainable, hard-wearing, versatile and interesting fabric to work with,’ explains Denham. ‘It’s been around since 1850 and today it performs, feels and looks better than ever thanks to the advanced technology in denim.’
Similarly, G-Star Raw’s Peron highlights how denim’s apparent simplicity is precisely what makes it exciting. ‘The beauty of denim lies in the infinite potential that the fabric holds. It’s a blank canvas that excites us each time we work with it,’ he says. ‘It’s our job to shape denim into something new that will surprise our audience – a new jeans design, an unexpected art object, or a sustainable garment. It’s a challenge that will keep us busy for at least 30 more years.’
These brands have embraced the potential such a simple fabric offers: it’s all about the detail, as they constantly seek to reinvent each and every aspect in order to create something new. Denim has been an integral part of fashion for decades, so innovation has become key to ensuring its longevity.
In light of this, sustainability has recently become a key focus for denim brands across the world. ‘We see sustainability as both a requirement to engage in business in a responsible way, and as a means by which we can continue to innovate in denim design,’ says Peron. G-Star Raw’s approach, he says, is defined by ‘the conceptual challenge of what denim can become through the lens of innovative sustainable design. That’s how we have been able to create the most sustainable indigo dyeing solution on the planet this year, as well as create “renewed denim”: new jeans made using recycled G-Star Raw jeans.’ Always keen to push the boundaries, G-Star Raw continued to explore sustainability in the form of a collaboration on a capsule collection with Jaden Smith for AW18. ‘He’s a multitalented designer, musician, and artist who is a true pioneer and advocate of sustainability for his generation,’ says Peron.
Now more than ever, Amsterdam’s brands are pioneers in the denim field – in the same spirit in which they were founded. While their global vision has ensured their success, they remain firmly rooted in the city and, despite the many internationally important innovations they are working on, this will remain the case. In the words of Jason Denham: ‘The Netherlands will always be the heart of our brand.’