Broke and Bespoke

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Camillo Love, Red Cotton Denim, and some $125 Hand-made Cone Mills Selvedge Jeans

True story. I graduated from high school eighteen years ago in the same class as a guy named Camillo Love. We weren’t friends per se, but certainly knew each other well enough to nod at one another when passing in the hallways of Berkeley High School, or when crossing paths at a weekend house party. Though I’ve forgotten the names and faces of a couple hundred people with whom I was similarly acquainted, Camillo Love’s always stuck. I’m sure it’s not too hard to guess why—what a great ‘effing name.

It was for this reason that when, a couple of months ago, a friend of mine mentioned that he’d just run into Camillo, images of a misspent youth in Berkeley rushed back into my head. To be fair, I’d actually already been taking a short walk down memory lane. I was packing up my apartment for my recent move, and had just flipped through an old high school yearbook. In fact, it was because I’d shared a picture from that yearbook that my friend brought Camillo up in the first place.

My friend said that Camillo was now making jeans in Oakland (where I live), and that he’d passed along my contact info since Camillo was looking for a little publicity for his small business. A few days later Camillo contacted me, and invited me to try out a pair of his jeans and to visit his workshop.

Camillo’s path to becoming a producer of handmade artisanal denim was a long and interesting one, and bears some repeating here. After high school, Camillo joined the navy. He worked as a boiler engineer on the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk and spent some time stationed in Japan. This was the early-aughts, and he noticed that there was a real demand for and fascination with vintage American workwear among certain people in Japan. At the time, it looked to Camillo like these Japanese denim enthusiasts just liked old American jeans. Armed with an entrepreneurial spirit, Camillo thought it might be profitable to use his connections to the U.S. to sell some jeans in Japan. He had a friend ship about a thousand pairs of old jeans to Japan, and from that load Camillo sold about two pairs. It was a tough lesson in learning about the small details (like the use of selvedge denim woven on narrow shuttle looms) and American craftsmanship (I’ve no doubt that for some of those jeans their journey to Japan from the U.S. was their second trip across the Pacific) that went into the jeans so highly coveted by Japanese collectors.

After leaving the navy and a short stint in the Merchant Marine, Camillo returned to the Bay Area and began doing some carpentry and construction work. This confirmed two things: that he wanted to own his own business, and that he wanted to make things with his own hands. As serendipity would have it, it was about this time that Camillo came into contact with a couple of important people in the Bay Area (and global) denim scene and it all clicked. The fiasco in Japan, a nascent business idea, and the possibility that making jeans himself might fulfill his passion for handcraft led to the slow evolution of Red Cotton Denim.

Camillo dove into the work. He’d never sewn before, so he took classes on pattern making and garment construction. He started by making jeans for women—girlfriends and their friends. Then his guy friends started asking for jeans, and he developed the pattern that is now Red Cotton Denim’s first cut. After lots of trial and error, Camillo had a jean that was ready for market.

Though a visit to Camillo’s Oakland workshop shows a business in its nascent stages, you can’t help but feel the passion he has for what he does. One of the first things he confided to me was that he was not particularly good at promoting his brand. His energy is directed at mastering the art and craft of making great jeans. When I was there he showed me a pair of nearly finished jeans that he’d stopped working on because they didn’t meet his standards—a single chainstitch on the vertical seam connecting the two sides of the seat had skipped, and was held together by only one thread for about 1/16”. I certainly wouldn’t ever have noticed it, but I was impressed by his quality control.

I also understood when he told me the stakes were so much higher when the brand was just him—he couldn’t afford to have a bad pair of jeans out there. Red Cotton Denim isn’t the brainchild of apparel veterans looking to ride the Americana/workwear wave to the bank. Camillo doesn’t have an MBA, and there is no marketing or PR budget for the brand. In fact, the entirety of the brand is Camillo sitting in his workshop sewing jeans while friends have donated their talents when and where they can. A friend made the website. Another friend helped realize the labels and printed them out. And yet another friend shot some pictures for the website. Red Cotton Denim is the fruit of one dude’s labor and passion, and it’s very refreshing.

You may have noticed that I’ve been wearing jeans a lot lately with sport coats and ties, and that’s thanks in large part to how much I love wearing my Red Cotton Denim jeans (seen here and here). Initially priced at $198, Camillo has some exciting moves on the horizon (including limited runs of jeans with various Japanese and American denim, and a slim tapered fit) for which he needs some additional funds, and so he’s sellling his current stock of jeans for $125. You will not find a better deal on some hand-made raw selvedge denim jeans, and by buying a pair now at deep discount you’re also helping to realize the future of the brand which I know has great things in store for denim enthusiasts. 

I was just at Camillo’s workshop yesterday and know he has a wide array of sizes in stock too, including 28’s for you skinny guys, 33’s for you dudes who are in between sizes, and even some 36’s and maybe some 38’s as well. The more standard 32’s and 34’s are in stock too. 

Hot summer days are made for white t-shirts, jeans, and canvas sneakers…

T-shirt: Uniqlo, $7.99 

Jeans: Red Cotton Denim, c/o RDC (I’m going to be doing a longer feature piece on Camillo Love and RDC soon. I graduated in the same high school class as Camillo, and we recently reconnected through a mutual friend. His story is a great one…)

Shoes: Tretorn Nylite, ~$50  

Red Cotton Denim

I’ve hands-down got a new favorite pair of jeans. They’re from Red Cotton Denim. Each pair is made by hand from start to finish in Oakland, CA out of 12 oz. Cone Mills selvedge denim by Camillo Love, a former naval engineer, at a rate of about 3-4 pairs per day.

Camillo currently only offers a Slim Straight Cut, but it’s a versatile fit that looks good on both a tall skinny guy (Camillo is 6’5” and probably 200 lbs. or so) and a shorter fat guy (I’m 5’11” and my weight shall remain unmentioned…). It was truly inspiring to see the passion that he puts into his craft. More to come…  

An ode to denim: PBJ (Pure Blue Japan)

Gustin Jeans Factory Tour

On Thursday I headed into San Francisco to meet up with Josh, Stephen, and the rest of the Gustin crew. I was given the tour of their makeshift office space (it does double-duty as a friend’s apartment and Gustin headquarters), and then led across the way to the factory where Gustin Jeans are made. 

Though the denim they use is sourced from all over the world including the U.S., Japan, and Italy, production happens in San Francisco. I’ve never been to a garment factory before, so it was a new and fascinating experience. 

The facility wasn’t huge and high-tech like some of the larger-scale ones I’ve seen photos of where giant runs are made for apparel giants like J. Crew, or H&M. It was more low key, with I suspect maybe 20-30 stations where garments (mostly of the denim variety) were in various stages of completion.

It’s my understanding that if you want jeans to be manufactured in San Francisco, this is about the only place that can do it. And sure enough, I saw jeans from companies other than Gustin being produced in the same factory, on the same machines, and by the same workers.

The Gustin folks were kind enough to give me a pair of jeans to review (which will be forthcoming), and the fifth picture is of my jeans being hemmed. Those of you who follow this blog know of my inseam travails, and the standard 36” inseam on the Gustins was way too long. Luckily, I was able to get them hemmed with the same cool multi-toned stitching that is the Gustin standard.

After the tour, we sat down for a lunch of delicious Neapolitan pizzas baked in a mobile wood-fired oven and chatted about some exciting things ahead for Gustin. Thanks again to Josh, Stephen and the rest of the crew for a great trip into the city, some awesome jeans, and delicious pizza!

Denim for days at the Gustin factory…(more to come)

Casual and rainy Friday…
Shoes: Red Wing Chukka, purchased NWOT @ Crossroads Trading Co. $36
Jeans: APC New Standard, gift from friend

Casual and rainy Friday…

Shoes: Red Wing Chukka, purchased NWOT @ Crossroads Trading Co. $36

Jeans: APC New Standard, gift from friend

Button detail: Pure Blue Japan XX-005