Ben here again, I hope you're well and have had mighty weekends?!
Now if you remember last year I added Denham, Leeds to the 'Denim Map' and whilst creating that feature I came across a brother named James.
James was volunteering as a “hemmest”, is that even a word?? Anyways, James' time was spent hemming and altering jeans in store. He was obviously into the product and as we chatted I got to learn that the hemming gig was just a stopgap as he would soon be moving to Amsterdam to undergo some crazy, intense year in Denim & Design at some big school over there!
So, of course the cogs got turning whilst chatting and we decided that his journey had to be documented here at clobber-calm...'James & the Giant Denim Journey'! (See what I did there hey?!)
Tonight is the first in a 3 (or maybe 4) part series that’s aimed at educating us in what it's like to start from the ground up when it comes to Denim & Design education.
I think it's great and I’m sure you guys will too. Enjoy the read people and I hope you all have a top week ahead of you!
Had you told me just 18 months ago that I’d be living in Amsterdam and back at school I would have thought you had completely lost your mind, But here I am. Living, studying but mostly getting lost in the denim capital of Europe. And what an amazing city it is to learn, explore and completely over indulge in everything denim has to offer.
In 2012 I was working for a private medical clinic took a career break and went to travel around the world. I’d gone straight in to work after Uni but several years doing that and feeling a bit freaked out at going down the marriage baby root I decided a sabbatical was a wasn’t the worst idea I’d ever had. So, in 2012 I left on what was supposed to be a 6-month trip but what turned in to a nearly 5-year adventure spanning the globe trying to understand what I actually wanted out of this life.
I wouldn’t say I was a denim head or Denim lover back then, but I did love my jeans. I knew them, I trusted them, and they never let me down. Traveling can be absolutely punishing on your clothes, but the jeans I left home with (Levi’s 510’s) were always up to job, be it riding motorbikes through Vietnam to dinner in a fancy restaurant in Melbourne. As these things go, they eventually gave in and the countless holes in some very unsavoury places were no longer a look I could comfortably pull off, I needed some new jeans.
Having seen the effects on what fast fashion can do to some countries I visited I wanted a pair that were ethically responsible but in the world of fast fashion it wasn’t something I could readily afford. That’s when I ran across a pair of amazing vintage jeans in a thrift store in the middle of somewhere weird. The only problem was they didn’t quite fit me perfectly, so I had to get them altered to my specifications. Standing around in the alterations shop I was fascinated by the skill and precision of the fella who fixed them up for me, he was so quick and made it look so easy. And that’s when this spark just went off “I bet I can do that. Wouldn’t it be real nice if I could just do that” and I had to find out for myself it definitely isn’t easy, but it was that moment that got me in to this.
I returned to the UK in 2016 with this idea that I wanted to learn how to sew and do alterations for myself. I started by speaking to a family friend who was a sewing teacher. She taught me the basics of how to use a sewing machine and the basics of sewing itself. It was challenging to say the least having never sewn before but once I started to see results it was hard to not want to do it all the time.
I started a full-time job as an account manager which was more to my skill set at the time but thought the next feasible option to keep learning would be to take a garment production night class. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, and the course wasn’t really structured that well, but it did give me a better understanding of how to start drafting patterns and constructing garments.
When that finished I wanted to keep practicing and I knew I liked denim, so I approached Denham in Leeds to see if they would be up for having me come in on a weekend to do some of the alterations. Being a relatively busy little store within a few weeks and a lot of practice in my own time on evenings I started to become more and more comfortable behind the machine.
I was starting to really enjoy being in control of making a pair of jeans fit people really well and bring them back to, life in some cases. But this wasn’t enough, I wanted more from sewing and also the denim in general, so I took a weekend course with Mohsin Sajod from Endrime. It was a crash course teaching how to make your own pair of custom jeans. Spending a weekend listening to Mohsin talk and teach with real love and passion for denim I came to the realisation all I wanted to do was be in this world.
I wasn’t enjoying my 9 – 5 that much so made a conscious decision to find a way to become more skilled and learn more about the industry and denim itself. I decided if this is what I really enjoy doing then I should started working out how to move forward. Initially I was looking at finding a fashion school but everything I saw was 3 to 4 years and having taken several years off for travel thought this wouldn’t be the best idea, plus £9,000 a year I wasn’t all that ready to pay. I searched other countries to see if I could find a shorter course and denim specific which is when I came across the 1-year international course at Jean School in Amsterdam. I saw that they were having an open day, so I booked the time off work and jumped on a plane for my first trip to Amsterdam to see what it was all about.
From the first moment I saw the school I knew that’s where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. I applied for the school and after a selection process I was chosen to take part in the course.
I came back again for Denim Days in April 2017 to spend a bit more time exploring the city and meeting a few people in the industry. I felt like a kid in a candy shop with so many cool innovations going on and really interesting people to talk with.
I got the acceptance through in May to start in September and that was it, I handed my notice in, packed up all my belongings, again and moved to this incredible city to start my journey in to denim.
I’ve always had an interest in fashion but there’s something about Denim that caught me completely off guard. Taking my first steps in to understanding what I want from this has grown in to a love and passion that seems to flourish and mould itself every day, almost with a will of its own.
So, tell us, what is this course you’re on?
The course is a 3-year denim design and development course that has been condensed down in to 1 year for international students. We still follow the same curriculum as the 3-year course but obviously at a much faster pace. This does mean however a lot of work is done outside of the classroom even though I am in the classroom 5 days a week 9 – 5. Currently it’s not uncommon to be doing 12-hour days 6 to 7 days a week.
The course consists of 5 classes, Design, Illustrator and Photoshop, Technical Textiles and Pattern Cutting & Garment Production.
In design we will take an idea or concept and then be guided on the process of taking this idea from concept through to completion. We look at fit, style, details, finishing’s in order to put together comprehensive collection that flows. We also work on tech packs that in the real world would be sent to factories to make either sample garments or finished pieces.
Design is accompanied by and Illustrator and Photoshop class, where we learn how to make technical drawings of our designs together with creating mood boards and style sheets.
For technical textiles, it’s about understanding what fabrics are out there and also what new synthetic fibres are being used and how to create garments in a sustainable way.
We are fortunate enough to have access to a Blue Lab (industry specific laundry) as well so we can wash and treat garments from a raw jean in to what you would see in store. This can be bleaching, stone washing, using PP spray, lazering. From this we would create our own recipes for how to wash or treat the fabric.
The final class pattern cutting, and garment production is the most challenging. Having only learned how to sew a year before starting I am still getting to grips with how to build a garment. This is mostly due to how my designs have turned and in some cases being rather complicated but it’s an amazing learning experience with an very talented teacher Phil Merry who over 20 years’ experience pattern cutting and garment production and still works in the industry for a major brand as do most our teachers.
How did you get on the course, what did you have to do?
The process of getting on the course was relatively straight forward. I went to the open day in November 2016, I wouldn’t say it was totally necessary, but it was a good way to work out if I wanted to give up a year of my life to this course. I applied pretty much straight after that. For the application process I had to prove that I had a form of higher education and that I had sufficient funds to pay for the course. There was an illustrator assignment that I had to complete as well. Looking back now it was a relatively simple task that I could do in a few minutes but at the time using a brand-new program it took quite a while to say the least. I came back to the city for Denim Days in April to have a proper look at Denim City where I would be based and explore the city a bit more.
They accepted me on the course in May and I packed everything up and moved here in August. I had a month to sort a place out to live and get a job and in September I started.
What’s the best thing about the course?
It’s hard to say, every day is something new and interesting. The effort that is put in to watching you succeed is invaluable and the freedom you have to create something new and different really makes you push yourself, especially with so many peers to study alongside. It’s a great space for innovation and just trying to understand what your capable of.
We also have incredible access to the industry with regular Friday talks by some fascinating people in the world of denim. Piero Turk, Mohsin Sajid & Paul Kruize are among those educating about how they live in this world and each one is so unique.
How does an English man like living in Amsterdam?
You’ve all been here, you know what it’s like...but seriously, it’s a lot of fun.
~ James Mottram 12-2-18
(Image credit / Bas Vos)