I remember buying Smash Hits magazine fortnightly when I was in my teens and seeing musicians dressed up in battered up Levi’s 501s and Dr Martens. I wanted that look so much I started saving up for almost a year, and then going to Far East Plaza to purchase my first pair of Levi’s 501 at the grand old age of 14.
The first time we met Fahmy Ismail, the founder/designer of Kerbside&Co, was at a pop-up in April at Le Salon By Ling. He was arranging a rack of denim jeans and jackets that caught our eye. Naturally, we approached to get close to the clothes. But what transpired next was a passionate conversation with Fahmy about denim. (The clothes can wait.) As it turned out, he is a — surprise! — denim aficionado. And not just any. Fahmy’s denim love story goes way back to 1988 – even before Claudia Schiffer would become the first Guess Girl the following year.
“I remember buying Smash Hits magazines fortnightly when I was in my teens. Seeing musicians dressed up in battered up Levi’s 501s and Dr Martens, I wanted that look — so much that I started saving up for almost a year and then going to Far East Plaza to purchase my first pair of Levi’s 501 at the grand old age of 14. I have probably bought more than a 100 pairs of 501s since then, both new and vintage,” he says.
Passion is a powerful thing that knows no bounds. In 2014, he decided to stop dreaming his dream and start living it. So he left his full-time job,
and two years later, Kersbide&Co was born. The enthusiasm and knowledge with which the 43-year-old talks about denim and his collection is inspiring and frankly quite contagious. Eventually, when we laid our hands on the pieces and tried them on, no more words were needed. We felt it. The quality. The details. The workmanship. The love. The pride. “They are made in Japan,” he revealed. Ah, it all makes sense now. This guy is so passionate about denim that he went straight to the land where perfection is the rule, not the exception, to source for material and produce his collection. “Made in Japan” is a label that each pair of jeans now wears proudly.
In case you’re wondering: What’s the difference between Japanese denim and other types of denim? Are there special care instructions for Japanese denim? How often should we wash our jeans? To iron or not to iron? Can you apply these care tips on your other designer jeans in general? From Japanese denim to the lifespan of denim and fun facts, we ask our new friend and denim expert everything you need to know about this favourite wardrobe staple of ours.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN JAPANESE DENIM AND OTHER TYPES OF DENIM?
Fahmy: It all lies in the manufacturing process, start to end. Meticulous to the core, the Japanese set very high level of professional standards to what they set out to achieve. From their insane yarn dyeing techniques to the old world shuttle loom machinery used to weave the fabric and the way they construct their jeans, their attention to detail is top notch. The people running the show are masters at their craft and they know that what they are doing are exceptional. To see the pride in what they do is pretty amazing.
I am not about to say that other denim producing countries have less superior products. But when you see the incredible texture straight off the looms and the sheer enthusiasm denimheads have for Japanese craftsmanship, it is hard to deny that you are looking at something very special and out of the norm of mass produced denim.
SHOULD YOU WASH YOUR JEANS?
Fahmy: Hardcore denim aficionados often have their own theories on how best to preserve the life of their precious garment. While some of them can go up to a year without washing their jeans, I personally feel that every six months is a good time to give them a wash. The theory behind this is to preserve the indigo dye in the yarns as long as possible, since the washing process removes a fair amount of it. The other more plausible reason is most of them actually want the creases on all the tension areas to be more pronounced before the jeans get laundered. High-contrast denim fades are quite the holy grail for some denimheads.
Here’s my personal take: Do not be afraid to wash your jeans anytime you wish to — especially when you are in a hot and muggy city like Singapore. I hand wash all my denim pieces.
Do not be afraid to wash your jeans anytime you wish to.
How? (1) Turn the garment inside out, soak them in cold water with a tablespoon of detergent for about 30 mins, agitate the fabric to loosen up the dirt and grime. (2) Rinse with cold water. Repeat the process if you feel the first run is insufficient. There will likely to be a bit of indigo loss — that’s par for the course, don’t sweat it.
If hand washing is too much trouble and you prefer the washing machine, I usually suggest to clients to put the settings on low cycle with cold water wash. And please, only wash together with dark-coloured garments. I line dry all my denim, I never ever put them in the dryer. There are too many factors at play here for things to go wrong. Leather patches that could turn into beef jerky and excessive shrinkage due to high heat, among others.
IRONING & STORAGE
Fahmy: I do not iron my jeans, it’s just a personal preference. However, if the creases are too much for you to bear, use an iron on low heat to smoothen them out. I know of people who place their jeans in Ziploc bags and freeze them to stave off bacteria. Personally, I am unable to do that. I cannot bear the thought of wasting precious real estate in the freezer compartment for this purpose (laughs). Besides, this technique is just a bit too extreme for me. Just wash your denim whenever you feel it is the right time. If you are not wearing those jeans, air them in a well ventilated place, take steps to repair spots before they sustain full-blown damage, rotate between a couple of pairs, and shake grit off the cuffs when you can. Measures like these go a long way to ensuring your expensive pair of denim jeans gets the longevity it deserves.
Fahmy: A pair of jeans’ lifespan is a very subjective matter as it usually boils down to the material, construction and the wearer. If I can answer your question in a slightly obtuse manner, when you mentioned “regular” jeans, I am assuming fast-fashion brands that mass produce garments by the container loads. For a start, an exclusively made-in-Japan raw denim jeans tend to use high-grade cotton for the yarns. The trims and hardware that go onto the jeans usually cost a lot more due to the material grade used.
And finally, you have the cut and sew skills of the operators. Nothing is ever simple with the Japanese methodology of garment construction. By that virtue itself, their exacting standards set themselves apart from their mass-produced counterparts. That is a clear enough indication on their durability. Also, I have to add that a high-quality pair of denim jeans that looks deceptively simple might actually last a lot longer than one pair of highly embellished, lasered or an artificially distressed pair of designer jeans with the same price tag. You want more mileage and bang for your buck? Choose wisely.
Fahmy: (1) Denim fabric comes in a variety of weights. Lightweight ones can range from the common 6oz right up to the heavyweight ones of 32oz. Yup, for the true hardcore denimheads, it will definitely feel like wearing armour all day.
(2) Denim consists of two different types of yarn — the warp and the weft. The weft is almost exclusively a white yarn, which can be seen when you cuff the jeans and see the underside of the roll-ups. While the warp yarn can be dyed in any coloured dye. In the case of the classic 5 pocket blue jeans, the indigo dye that coats the warp yarn never really penetrates to the core of the yarn. That is why you can see fades and whiskerings on
any pair of jeans when they are worn long enough, the indigo dye has dissipated through multiple washes or prolonged wear, exposing the white core. The whiskerings are therefore uniquely formed by individual wearer through their lifestyle.
(3) Jeans for ladies picked up in the 1930s when Levi Strauss and his contemporaries at that time catered to a burgeoning market for women going for “Dude Ranches” — vacation for families roughing it out at these ranches. The women needed a tough pair of pants that can withstand the rigours of “farm life”.