Dawson Denim Interview
British denim has had somewhat of a resurgence in recent years with labels such as Hiut and Universal Works bringing back the time honoured tradition of jean manufacture to British shores. Brands have once again started utilising the skill and craftsmanship of British workers to create jeans that rival those from America and Japan.
Right at the forefront of this new movement is Dawson Denim, a small Brighton based outfit run by denim and vintage obsessives Kelly Dawson and Scott Ogden. Located just down the road from Peggs & son, they design, cut and stitch all of their jeans in a compact workshop using authentic and vintage machinery.
“We originally started in 2012, making small quantities of aprons, mainly out of necessity and for our own use. It was either lunacy or inspired,” says Kelly. “We originally bought three vintage sewing machines from our savings and that’s how we got going. One day I was wearing one of our aprons to my job at a design studio and my colleagues asked where I got it. I told them I made it and soon I was being asked to make more. That’s really how we got started.”
The plan to make jeans had been the goal from the outset, but lack of capital for the proper equipment meant the plan had to be delayed. However, when Small Batch Coffee, a local Brighton based coffee chain, ordered some of their aprons for their staff, this suddenly gave Kelly and Scott an opportunity to buy more machinery and denim.
Production originally took place in the couple’s spare bedroom. Roles of Red Line Japanese selvedge denim were ordered from the Kaihara Mill in Okayama and the first patterns for their Regular Fit jeans were cut. Although Kelly had 15 years worth of experience in textile and garment design, it still took 11 attempts to get a prototype they were happy with.
“We don’t base our jeans around any other style, the cut and fit are completely unique. The problem with that is there is a lot of trial and error when it comes to creating your first pair,” explains Scott. “We weren’t happy with the fit on the waist, then we didn’t like the rise. We kept on going until we were completely satisfied. We would say the fit is a reaction to skinny, trendy jeans. It is based around proper pre-70s styles that have a high rise, straight leg and wide ankle.”
As Dawson Denim grew, they could afford more equipment that in turn helped add another layer of authenticity to their product. “The thing with people who take denim seriously is that they are all about the detail,” says Scott. “Take for example the Union Special 43200G, a chain stitch hemmer. Our model dates to 1957 and the machine’s folder from this period twists the material slightly on the hem, leading to a much desired characteristic called roping. A later version of this machine did away with this inherent ‘fault’ and the roping didn’t occur. It is this type of detail that gives your product legitimacy and to achieve that, you need vintage machinery.”
Kelly adds, “Our jeans aren’t a gimmick, to create them we use traditional techniques, original equipment and the best materials we can lay our hands on. We create a product appropriated for modern life. The ticket pocket for example is designed to fit an iPhone, but our jeans are traditionally and historically correct. If you ignore the details, you’re regarded as pretenders, frauds.”
Taking from Charles Eames’ philosophy, details for Dawson Denim are not just the details, they are the design. The pocket lining for their jeans has been cut from deadstock WWII cotton twill. The branded copper rivets feature Scott’s family name, Ogden, on the reverse. Kelly’s father made the iron that is used to brand the leather patch on the waistband. It is in the details where the product comes to life and creates its own story.
So what’s the plan for the future? “We have just come across some great new denim that’s part cotton, part hemp”, says Scott. “It has a softer, almost washed feel and a speckled, slubby appearance. So we’re going to use that for our Regular Fit jeans. We also are starting to put into production our new style of jean; it features a looser fit and a much wider ankle. We are also venturing into clothing. We have the patterns cut and prototypes made of our new jacket. It comes in three different materials, our classic Red Line Japanese selvedge denim, the new hemp/cotton mix and a dotted Wabash fabric.”
Both feel positive about the future of British manufacturing, “There is a resurgence in British manufacture, that’s for sure. You see it with people like Albam, Universal Works, SEH Kelly and others. However there needs to be more transparency, a lot of brands claim to make their products over here but they actually have only been designed here and construction takes places elsewhere,” says Kelly. “We used to be a nation of builders and manufacturers. In fact, the technology the British created, the shuttle loom, is responsible for the creation of denim. We should be proud of our manufacturing heritage.”