We all know what jeans look like: blue denim with a zipper, button, belt loops, and five pockets, including that little one for coins in the front. Designers may riff on color, fit, and finish, but we always come back to the original. They’re easy, neutral, and go with anything — the definition of a staple. But, jeans are also more complicated than they appear. You can’t just sit down at your mother’s sewing machine and make yourself a pair (unless your mother happens to own an industrial sewing machine). Jeans pass through at least a half-dozen hands on their way to you. They’re an art form, and the subculture of denim enthusiasts who worship at their hems are proof of that. “This is not made by a machine, these are made by people," says Amie Gaines, head designer at Level99. “To take a step back and look at the industry as a whole, at how many hands touch the jeans, from fabrication, to sewing, to trimming, to presses, to the washes, it’s incredible. So, what separates a $200 pair of jeans from a $20 pair? And, how do you know if you’re getting good quality for your money? We convinced several jean designers from AG, Big Star Denim, Level 99 Jeans, Agave, Denim, Nudie Jeans, plus the denim manufacturing brand Cone Denim, to open up on what goes into making quality jeans — and what you give up when you go cheap.