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October 23, 2017
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Brandon Svarc of Naked & Famous Denim. Source: ahoodie.com.

To celebrate its fifth anniversary and five-year partnership with Toronto denim boutique Over the Rainbow, Naked & Famous Denim released its "5&5" Capsule Series last week. The 10-piece collection includes a roll-up selvedge denim short produced in five fabrics, as well as a short sleeve version of their classic oxford Slim Shirt (also in five new fabrics). The capsule collection is available exclusively at Over the Rainbow for a limited time, with only 200 pieces produced.

Naked & Famous Denim Over The Rainbow
Naked & Famous at Over The Rainbow.
Photograph by Ashlee Hutchison.
Photograph courtesy of Faulhaber Communications.

The Genteel sat down with Brandon Svarc, founder of Naked & Famous Denim, for an animated and, at times, highly entertaining discussion about denim.

JP: How did the Over The Rainbow (OTR) capsule collection/collaboration come about? What was the creative motivation behind it?

BS: Well, we've been doing business with OTR since our first season - they were our first customer in Canada. So we said, "hey, why don't we do something for the five-year anniversary?" And OTR, and Daniel [Carman, co-owner of OTR] specifically, have been getting many requests for shorts, and even though Naked & Famous doesn't really do shorts, we decided to do the special capsule collection (of five short-sleeve shirts and shorts) for this special occasion.

JP: Are there plans for expanding the collection into summer/lighter wear?

BS: I never say never, but I don't think so. I think this makes [the collection] even more special - like a one-off. If OTR wants to do this as an annual edition, I'm cool with that. But our main collection will not have shorts or short-sleeve shirts. I'm very stubborn.

JP: Speaking of that, I recently read your interview with Hypebeast, and you were quoted as saying, "We have four rules: always made in Canada, always from Japanese fabric, always raw, and the last rule is no bullshit. No advertising, no free giveaways, no sales reps, simple." 

Why such a determined stance against using advertising?

BS: We will never do any advertising or give any jeans away for free, we'll never do any washing, none of that shit. And the reason is - is because I don't want to sell you advertising. Do you know how much it costs to put a one-page advertisement in GQ magazine? Please take a guess. It's $110,000 to put in a one-page ad. So when a brand does that, you're paying for that. Like any of these silly brands that put an ad in there, that price is built into their jeans. That's why their jeans are $300.

Brandon Svarc of Naked & Famous Denim. Source: gq.com.
Brandon Svarc of Naked & Famous.
Source: gq.com.

JP: But you're already in GQ.

BS: I'd rather be in there for free - they might write an article about us. So I want to sell you product; I don't want to sell you sex or advertising or celebrity. Just motherfucking jeans.

JP: Fair enough. You're very strict about using only Japanese fabrics; why and how did you come across that?

BS: Well, I can go on for like five hours why I love Japanese fabric. So I have three favourite reasons why I love Japanese denim, why we'll only use Japanese denim and in fact all of our shirting fabric, we use Japanese fabric.

One is because of the old type of machines that they use (in their mills) called shuttle looms that make this beautiful, vintage fabric that was the old way before they switched over to mass production. And so we love that: we love when things are handmade and are about quality. It's not about the race to the bottom, it's not about mass production.

And number two is the way the denim is dyed, a crazy system called rope-dyeing, which makes a very beautiful fading pair of jeans and you could beat the crap out of your jeans and make them your own beautiful piece of art.

And the last [reason] is the water. Four years ago, I asked the president of the mill where we buy most of our denim from, and I asked the same thing: "what makes your denim the best in the world?" I wanted to see what was his go-to answer: like would he say the machines, the dyeing methods, the efficiency or the culture? But no, he didn't say any of those things. He said, "the water." And he proceeded to explain that they come from a town called Okayama - "oka" means hill and "yama" means mountain. And they have fresh, clean running water that comes down the mountains that has a specific mineral content and Ph balance that is different from anywhere else in the world. So even if China goes out and copies these old machines and dying methods, they still won't be able to make the same physical quality of Japanese denim because they don't have access to the water.

I'd rather be in [GQ] for free - they might write an article about us. So I want to sell you product; I don't want to sell you sex or advertising or celebrity. Just motherfucking jeans.

JP: But I'm curious, how did you stumble upon this mill in Japan, of all places? How did that happen?

BS: When we first started the brand, I wanted to position us in a way that no one else in the world was positioned. I wanted to make a brand that was the highest possible quality fabric, but the lowest possible price. I wanted to sell at the most expensive stores, like Barney's [New York] for example or Holt Renfrew [Toronto], but I want to be the lowest-price jean at that store. And the way that we did it was: OK, what is the cult? What is the craziest, cultest denim we could find? And that was in Japan. So we use Japanese denim, but we keep it simple, we keep it raw, we don't do any of the extra things [add-ons, embellishments] so that we can offer the lowest price.

JP: And how often do you go to Japan? You obviously need to put in the face-to-face time with your supplier.

BS: I'm going in four weeks, and I go about four times a year - to develop new fabrics and meet a few customers there as well and visit all the mills.

JP: The company has grown tremendously since its launch. Are you still involved in every step of the design/production process?

BS: Yes, I do all the design myself - you're looking at the entire design team right here. Now my sister has joined the company, so she helps a little bit with the production as well. But I do all the design and all the sourcing, all the fabric choosing.

JP: Where do you get the inspiration for your novelty jeans? The scratch and sniff, hemp, thermo-chromic etc.?

(At this point Joel Carman, co-owner of OTR, jumps in to introduce himself.)

JC: This guy is the best. He's the bomb. He is. We've had so much fun - and this business is about fun, you gotta have fun. I mean we're in the casual clothing business, this isn't serious stuff. We love working with people we enjoy and we respect. He's one of them.

Brandon Svarc having fun at the launch of
Naked & Famous' "5&5" Capsule Collection.
Photograph by Ashlee Hutchison.
Photograph courtesy of Faulhaber Communications.

BS: (to Joel) You're leading really well into my answer to this next question. I love this question very much because I get asked this quite often. And my answer is being a kid. Do you remember being a little girl and you're playing in the park or in the sand or on the swing set, and you know that your imagination is amazing and incredible. And you see all these adults and they're worried [about] paying their taxes and going to work etc. And when you are a kid you have the greatest imagination in the world, so we try to tap into that - being little boys and girls. When I was a little kid I had glow in the dark stickers all over my ceiling, so we made glow-in-the-dark jeans. Or you know we had those raspberry scratch-n-sniff books, so we made raspberry scratch-n-sniff jeans.

JP: I'm not going to ask about the hemp jeans.

BS: You know the hemp jeans are cool, we love playing with different materials and fabrics. Yes, please don't smoke those jeans.

JP: Any plans/collaborations that you can share with us that are lined up for Naked & Famous next?

BS: Our newest collaboration is with a brand called Big John. We have actually done a collaboration with them before, but the newest one is going to be a three-way - not the dirty kind, of course - but it's with an artist called Rockin Jellybean who is this crazy cult artist in Japan who does drawings of 1950s monsters and like boobies, pin-up girl kind of art. And so he designed the pocket back for us and the leather patch and it comes with a poster and it's gonna be made in Japan and in the Big John factory with special vintage denim from them. And [it] will be in our new Super Skinny Guy fit, which is our newest fit. 

When I was a little kid I had glow in the dark stickers all over my ceiling, so we made glow-in-the-dark jeans. Or you know we had those raspberry scratch-n-sniff books, so we made raspberry scratch-n-sniff jeans.

JP: What is your favourite, go-to pair of jeans? What about the ones you're wearing right now?

BS: I don't really have a one go-to. I switch a lot. Right now I'm [wearing] the Black power-stretch, one of our best sellers overall. And right now I'm testing out the new fit - the Super Skinny Guy.

JP: You offer the women's collection, how would you compare the men's demand for your jeans vs. the women's?

BS: Right now we are [the product mix] about 90% men's and 10% ladies'. Of course we want to grow the ladies' collection, and now that I've hired my sister, I think it will help grow the women's collection a bit. So that's part of our vision for the future. We'll always be a bigger men's brand; our ladies' collection is small but it's solid. All the stuff that we do is really, I think, pretty bad-ass for girls.

JP: And basic too.

BS: I like to call it luxury basics. And that's fine with me. But we do some crazy stuff too - we even make thermo-chromic for girls, which are the jeans that change colour with body heat. Did you see these?

(Picks up a pair of jeans, breathes into them, and they turn lighter).

They're jeans that change colour with heat. There is a thermo-chromic molecule inside that changes colour when there is a change in temperature.

Yes, you've got it - we are the crazy Canadian denim nerds.

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