We spend a lot of time talking tailoring in this country; we champion Savile Row bespoke, Jermyn Street shirtmaking and made in England footwear. It’s thrilling that these communities are still able to thrive in today’s world of mass consumerism and fast fashion; making clothes that put traditional skills, integrity and the luxury of time above all else.
Nevertheless, The Jackal is equally fascinated by those artisans making clothes at the other end of the spectrum. In the past five years, Europe’s cult casualwear, streetwear and workwear scenes have bloomed, with dozens of makers producing work jackets, overshirts and jeans with superb raw materials, bulletproof manufacturing and a flair for design. Believe it or not, Britain is a key part of this movement. In fact, our tiny island has started to produce some of the best jeans in the world – from some rather unlikely corners. Here’s where you can find the best British denim.
Blackhorse Lane Ateliers
We covered Blackhorse Lane Ateliers before, but it deserves a second appearance, without doubt. The workshop opened in April 2016, the brainchild of founder Bilgehan ‘Han’ Ates, whose 25 years of experience in textiles inspired an unrivalled passion for top-notch jeans. Today, Blackhorse Lane makes all its jeans in either selvedge or organic raw denim – designed to soften and patina over time. Fabrics come from specialist mills in Japan or Turkey, and almost every other component is British, even the labels. Blackhorse also makes some quirky denim chore jackets, too. The dark E17 double-dyed indigo jacket is well worth a look.
It’s a key part of the local community in Walthamstow – actively working to support artisanship in the local area. The brand’s refurbished 1920s factory employs local machinists and offers shared ownership to full-time employees. Plus, there’s space left over to host craftspeople working in artwork restoration, fashion design, weaving, and there’s a pop-up restaurant, too. The workshop even runs a friendly open-house policy – so if any curious minds out there want to pop in and see it in the flesh, you can go right ahead.
Why shop there?
For an ambitious range of precision-made jeans – with an emphasis on archive styles from the mid-20th century. Blackhorse Lane is also growing indigo in a neighbouring allotment, with the ambition of using it to dye denim in the UK – which is really darn cool.
Hiut denim is another significant community success story. In 2012, entrepreneur David Hieatt decided to resurrect a denim-making workshop in Cardigan, Wales, which closed in 2002 to move overseas. As Hieatt puts it, ‘it’s a small town of 4,000 people, and when the factory closed, the skills remained.’ Now transformed, Hiut’s team of ‘Grand Masters’ (that’s what they call their machinists) turn out around 100 pairs a week, working to the philosophy that it’s best to ‘do one thing and do it well.’
Hiut’s a smart choice if you’re looking for unusual fits. It makes classic jeans, but do a sharp line in slim fits and wide legs, too. The Anderson model came out last year and is a no-brainer for guys who want jeans with a high-rise, or roomy thighs.
Its a funny thing to recommend, but Hiut’s newsletters are superb, as well. Hieatt used email as the main communication platform for the brand when it was revived, and has spent years perfecting the art of filling your inbox with cool, thought provoking stuff. The one thing you’ll always see is the company’s rallying cry: ‘This town is now making jeans again.’ If that’s not worth supporting – we don’t know what is.
Why shop there?
For contemporary, refined jeans, some cut in lighter-weight denim that’s great for transitional seasons. And because you’re keeping a community in work, naturally.
Cult menswear doesn’t come cooler than this. In contrast to our other two chosen makers, Dawson denim is positively bijou; it’s the brainchild of Kelly Dawson and Scott Ogden, who cut and make every pair of jeans themselves. ‘Our plan from day one was to make the best workwear we could without compromise,’ says Dawson. ‘We perform every one of the processes that goes into our jeans, jackets and aprons. Using original 1950s and ‘60s machines takes time and patience, as does designing with paper and pencil, and cutting by hand – but we love it.’
Needless to say, this shows. The pair have spent years building close relationships with a select group of Japanese mills, that weave some of the best denim on the planet, made on legendary early 20th century Toyoda looms. Moreover, Dawson refuses to see jeans as homogenous, and offers several different fits – with plenty of wide-leg, high-rise options to choose from, both in denim and chino fabrics.
Thanks to the close relationship that Dawson and Ogden have built with their suppliers, the company also has access to limited edition and vintage Japanese denim – and spends time commissioning its own exclusive cloths. Visit their website at any given time and you’ll find small-batch runs that offer something markedly different to the norm. Right now, there are some neppy indigo deck pants, and earthy wide-leg jeans with a distinctive brown weft to choose from.
Why shop there?
For authentic jeans made by hand, by people who are passionate. As Dawson puts it, ‘we cover everything – if you send us an email you’re talking directly to the maker.’ That’s good enough for us.
The side project of Patrick Grant, director of Savile Row’s Norton & Sons and E Tautz, Community Clothing is in equal measure a clothes brand and a social enterprise. Grant launched it in 2016 to make high-quality, affordable wardrobe essentials, as well as to create jobs for skilled British workers. Working with 19 partner factories around the UK, the brand is set up to provide textile technicians with work in fallow periods of the year; so far it has created over 124,000 hours of skilled manufacturing work. To make the clothes affordable – and still pay the workers the National Living Wage – the brand sells directly to its customers, cutting out retail and wholesale costs.
As Community Clothing’s USP is timeless essentials, denim plays a key role in its collection. The two men’s styles it currently stocks are made from a roll of surplus raw selvedge denim found in its Blackburn warehouse, and are manufactured in the factory’s downtime. Tailored into a classic straight cut, they come in a limited run due to the amount of material available – meaning you’ll have a practically unique pair of jeans at a surprisingly reasonable price point.
Why shop there?
If the chance to own limited edition, made-in-Britain denim doesn’t convert you, then Community Clothing’s socially conscious story of backing British workers surely will.