With the enormous increase in popularity and general customer demand for premium quality made denim, the term Selvage – or Self edge - has become widely known as a high quality denim fabric. Unfortunately, today, selvage comes in a lot of different qualities and shades, and does not necessarily equate to high quality. – As well as wide-loom (non-selvage) denim not necessarily should be synonymous with mediocrity.
Up until a couple of years ago, selvage denim was mostly preferred by the hardcore denim hobbyist, and rarely worn by the normal day-to-day denim wearer. To most enthusiasts it was, - and to some still is – equivalent to premium quality denim and considered as the holy grail of jeans. But today, - amongst the critics - only if it comes from a trusted and respected source. To many, selvage is mostly known by its unraveling edge, which is a little saddening, as the edge really doesn’t have anything to do with its quality, or what makes good selvage the favorable choice. The fact is that selvage denim has a lot more to it, and – like all fabrics - it all comes down to the raw cotton material used, the dye, the fabric feel, its construction, where it’s produced and the skilled, traditional and artisanal craft required to make it.
To better understand what different aspects to explore when buying a pair of selvage denims we need to dig more into the manufacturing process.
Firstly, selvage denim is a narrow woven denim fabric that is made on old-style narrow shuttle-looms rather than wide modern projectile looms, - which creates a much wider fabric bolt. The most known old-style shuttlelooms are the Draper loom from the US and the Toyoda loom from Japan which was made by the car manufacturing company, Toyota.
Rather than creating a raw edge with individual threads for each cross weave, - like the modern projectile looms do – the weft cross thread (bottom tread) goes back and forth in a shuttle creating a unravelling edge on each side of the fabric bolt. Hence, self edge, the fabrics own edge. Normally this edge is what distinguishes selvage denim from a wideloom denim – which will have an overlocking thread protecting the garments raw edges from unravelling. Amongst other selvage fabrics, they are distinguished by different colour threads running down the edge of the fabric bolt. Most commonly being red. In the old days, Levi’s, Wrangler and Lee had different colours (Red, Yellow and Blue) to distinguish their denim from each other. Today, this is only a detail and has nothing to do with either quality, mill, brand or finish, but it’s basically just the color of the thread chosen to run down the side of the fabric bolt before weaving.
Why selvage denim previously was synonymous with high quality didn’t have anything with its unravelling edge, but it had everything with its manufacturing process. Selvage denim in any form, is extremely expensive to make. While a wide loom fabric bolt manufactured at double speed usually measures more or less 140 cm in width, the selvage fabric usually measures more or less 80 cm in width. Which will result in a much bigger - usually the double - fabric consumption when making the exact same garment.
The old narrow shuttlelooms that produce selvage denim also has a much slower production than the conventionally produced wideloom denim. These old narrow shuttleloom machines produce three meters of around 75-80 centimeter wide selvage denim per hour, while frequently being oiled and closely supervised by experienced craftsmen. Around 10 times slower than the conventionally produced denim. Its low speed production also produces far less stress on the yarn which in turn creates a much softer and durable fabric.
Because of such a slow and expensive production process, selvage denim is usually only made with the highest quality of raw cotton materials. The reason for this is that it wouldn’t make any sense using a lower quality cotton with such an costly production method because it would end up as a mediocre garment retailing at a high price.
There are also other aspect of a quality made denim fabric besides the raw cotton and its weaving process. The idea remains the same throughout the entire manufacturing process. From using high quality long-staple raw cotton, its dyeing process, its weaving process and to the last steps of its sewing and finishing process.
The renowned japanese and american mills Kurabo, Nihon Menpu, Kuroki and Cone Mills manufacture all of our denim fabrics used in our seasonal collections. Woven both on old style shuttlelooms as well as modern projectile looms, where all materials with no exception, respect one similar approach; the use of high quality long staple cotton throughout every product we make.
Besides using Japanese fabrics throughout our collections we take huge pride in using high quality wideloom fabrics from european mills like Somelos in Portugal and British Millerain and Abraham Moon from England.
Want to know more about how and where we make our goods? Read our chain of value here.