A short story about the history of jeans and selvedge denim.
Jeans were originally designed as work wear. The railroad workers, ranchers, miners and all the other tough jobs had a demand for sturdy clothing that lasted for a long time and was easy to repair.
Nowadays denim jeans are a wardrobe essential and aren’t being considered work wear apparel anymore. The demand for denim has risen substantially in the past decades and a lot of companies have put more and more focus on the development of their denim collections.
When buying a pair of jeans, you might have encountered selvedge denim. You might even recognize it instantly by the selvedge line that you can find on the inside, and sometimes outside, of jeans. But what does it mean? To understand where this selvedge denim comes from we have to go back to the very beginning of jeans production. The first jeans ever was made in 1873 by a man called Jacob W. Davis, a tailor who had a small shop in Reno, Nevada. He designed a pants that was made from denim fabric he bought from Levi Strauss & Co and added the rivets to strengthen the pants weakest spots, making it a pants that had a more durable fabric than its competitors.
Denim fabric back then was made on shuttle loom machines. A shuttle loom machine produced denim on a roll about 32’’ in width. The edge of this fabric got its iconic look due to the way the denim threads are not cut at the end of the fabric, but rather spun back in to the cloth. This gives the denim fabric its clean finished edge. As the demand for denim grew and the factories were producing more and more denim. The factories needed a fast and easy way to see which denim was who’s in the factories warehouses. That’s when they started adding a SELVEDGE-ID. Cone Mills, for example, had a RED-ID and the Amoskeag Mill had a GREEN-ID. Nowadays the selvedge ID’s are purely for decoration purposes.
Back to the growing demand of denim! After the second world war a lot of denim mills sold their shuttle loom machines to Japan. This because a new type a of machine was introduced, the projectile loom, which is still used to make most of the denim found in stores today. The denim from the new projectile loom machines quickly became the most popular fabric for jeans. The yarn used in the shuttle looms was the same as before, but the shuttle loom and projectile loom still had a lot of differences. The projectile shuttle loom produced denim not on a 32’’ inch roll, but they were able to make rolls up to twice as wide. Not only was the roll wider than with a traditional shuttle loom, they could also produce denim rolls more than twice as fast. A traditional shuttle loom produces about 100 meters of fabric a day and the new projectile loom produced around 300 meters a day. The projectile loom doesn’t have the selvedge as seen on the shuttle loom, because the threads are cut at the end. Due to the faster and more effective way of producing the fabric, it greatly reduced the cost of making denim.
As most brands now mostly feature denim made on projectile looms, there has been a big change in demand for selvedge denim in the past years. Most selvedge denims found today are still made on old shuttle loom machines. The selvedge denim is now seen as a more luxury type of denim. This because the production time of the selvedge denim is way slower and more labour intensive.
Want to get your hands on a selvedge jeans? Check out Amsterdenimusing using selvedge denim made by the family run Candiani Mill in Italy. The Candiani Mill stands for sustainability and innovation and proudly call themselves the greenest mill in this blue world.
Written by: Berend Boksma @berendboksma