Behind the Collection: Earnest Sewn

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A simple pair of jeans is both the most unifying American fashion product and the most divisive. It used to be that everyone had just one favorite pair. But with the recent super-growth of the industry—catapulting myriad labels into the limelight—one pair just isn't enough. Entering this politicized world of denim is a difficult proposition for most designers, but Scott Morrison, co-founder of early pioneer Paper, Denim & Cloth and the founder of his new label and store, Earnest Sewn, has happily taken up the cause of saving this quintessentially American fashion staple from total ubiquity. Scott took a break from promoting the new brand to talk with Refinery29 about his new retail venture in the Meatpacking District and how he plans to revolutionize jeans (yet again) with an ancient Japanese philosophy.
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What drew you to denim in the first place?
I was drawn to [it] because of its lifestyle qualities. I wore them everyday. I love the ruggedness, the casualness, and the workwear heritage.
You were one of the pioneers in the upscale denim market with Paper Denim & Cloth, putting high-end jeans on the map. What was your motivation then, and why do you think high-end denim has become such a huge trend?
At the time I started Paper Denim I just wanted to do something different. It was all about Diesel, Replay, Earl Jeans, and Frankie B, and I wasn't feeling any of those labels. With the rapid growth of the premium denim market, it's clearly apparent why there has been so much 'trend development' coming out of denim. It's perhaps the hottest category in clothing, and it has very few barriers of entry, meaning, just about anyone can try to start a denim brand, and in most cases, retailers are willing to listen to newness.
Is Earnest Sewn different from what you did before? How is it necessary to the category?
Absolutely. Earnest Sewn is a much more ambitious project than anything I've been involved with before. It's a brand that will lead the market in direction, innovation, and imagination. I've always wanted to have the freedom to pursue design concepts and experiment with ideas, and I'm very happy with my partners at Earnest Sewn, and, collectively, we share the same vision.
What's special about the craftsmanship and fit?
Earnest Sewn brings forth two concepts: 1) process innovation and 2) heritage. Everything from our "Twice Sewn" [stitching] process, to our specialized hand-sanding techniques, which are worked on by one expert artisan per pair, to our coffee-stained hang tags and our individually wrapped craft paper packaging lends itself to the overall concept of mixing denim's Americana past with the ancient Japanese style-aesthetic, Wabi-sabi, in which beauty can be found in imperfection.
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How do you think that that credo—beauty coming out of the imperfect—appeals to people in today's market?
I believe today's market is largely driven by moderate expectations. People aim to produce repeatable, high-quality garments quickly. The consumer is trained to want the same pair as their peer, while the retailer is trained to expect 12 duplicate products when filling their order for a given style. In many ways it's become almost simple to make a perfect garment. But what's unique about that? Where's the individuality, the sense of quality through artisanship? When you're spending $200 on a pair of jeans, it would be nice to know that the [cost] is worth it. What we aim to achieve by bringing forward a concept such as Wabi-Sabi is one-part education, one-part recognition of things more organic, more handmade, and deserving of appreciation. There is craftsmanship, a taught skill set, an artisan if you will, behind each and every pair of Earnest Sewn.
How does your store concept reflect your vision for the company?
Every brand we're carrying, the approach to making custom jeans, the staff, the décor—it's all very much a part of reiterating the vision of Earnest Sewn. The store, "An Earnest Cut & Sew" is reminiscent of a general store from an era long gone, and the brands we carry besides Earnest Sewn are likeminded companies and products such as C.C. Filson [bags], Phaidon [books], Carpe Diem [hand-cobbled shoes] as well as Case & Sons [knives]. Everything in the store celebrates the theme of craftsmanship, heritage, and quality.
In the upcoming season, the store will launch our new sportswear collection under the same name. The store also houses our more conceptual, handcrafted offerings from the Earnest Sewn jeans collection, which includes custom jeans to order (up to six pair per day—1,000 pair per year).
I read that you're not planning to make money from the store.
The store is really a branding vehicle. It's a place where we can play with product, reinvent our design approach, and see our ideas in action. We are a wholesale company first and foremost, but with the creation of an identity piece such as the store, we will further the brand awareness and educate our customers on the line, which will ultimately increase sales and promote the line for our retail partners.
So where do you suggest we grab lunch or a cocktail while we're waiting for our jeans?
My favorite [place] in the neighborhood is Pastis.
An Earnest Cut & Sew, 821 Washington Street (near Gansevoort Street), 212-242-3414, www.earnestsewn.com
A simple pair of jeans is both the most unifying American fashion product and yet the most divisive. It used to be that everyone had just one favorite pair. Scott Morrison, co-founder of early pioneer Paper, Denim & Cloth and the founder of his new label and store, Earnest Sewn, has taken up the cause of saving this quintessentially American fashion staple from total ubiquity.
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