In under a year, lifelong friends Jeffrey Lee, Robin Chan and Jade Lam wove their denim dreams into a reality by forming the up-and-coming denim workshop, Doublewood Denim. As high school friends in Hong Kong, Lee and Chan often imagined what their ideal pair of jeans would look and feel like, but unfortunately never found it in local and international marketplaces. Higher education drew them to California where they attended UC Berkeley in pursuits of non-denim related careers. Lee honed his design skills as an architect, Chan tackled the world of Silicon Valley as a software programmer, and it was around this time that they met the marketing maven Jade Lam.
With a unifying passion for classic raw denim and their triad of strengths, the timing was perfect for the formation of Doublewood. The three friends began to design and prototype their denim in their home base of San Francisco while production took place in small batches at Lam’s family owned-and-operated manufacturing business in China. Lee notes, “We didn’t pick any random factory in China just for the sake of cheap labour. It’s a family heritage.” And this is where Doublewood sits in the evolving world of denim – at the juncture of Eastern and Western cultures, heritage and forward-thinking design.
Their moonlight project caught the attention of Vancouver think tank International Design Collective, and the two creative houses seized the opportunity to put together a limited run of narrow legged, raw white selvedge denim with other unique details including a single sterling silver rivet, selvedge pocket and an exclusive vegetable tanned leather patch. They will be available at Vancouver and Toronto dutil. locations beginning on March 28th. I sat down and talked to Jeffrey Lee about the vision and aesthetic of the collaboration and the blueprints of this very special project.
All are invited to the launch of the IDC x Doublewood collaboration at dutil. on Saturday, March 28, 4-6pm. The founders of Doublewood will be in attendance and drinks will be served.
We can see the strong attention to detail in your denim – do you think that’s a testament to the discipline ingrained from your day jobs?
Definitely! Coming from an architecture background, I was trained to be very critical about small details. So there is some crossover. And obviously with denim, construction is different, but it’s based on similar principles but on very different scales. With architecture, you put together details and you draw something up in 2D and it takes much longer to come up with the actual product.
So it’s a different scale design project, and it’s very fun. I still love architecture and I’ll do that for the rest of my life, but there’s only so much that you can control – you’re working with different contractors and tons of workers. Jeans are a different mindset, there are different limitations to the outcome, but you’re working at a quicker speed, different layers. It’s more hand’s on, you have more control – that’s the part we like.
Being a part of the denim community, do you find more up and coming brands coming from a stronger design background, as opposed to fashion?
I am not sure! I would imagine so. But all three of us don’t come from fashion backgrounds. We know what we like and we just run with it.
What new factors did you consider and what did you want to explore with the IDC and Doublewood collaboration?
It’s our first collaboration. I’ve always wanted to do a collaboration with interesting people. We have always had the capacity to do something really special, but we wanted to make sure we worked with like-minded people. That’s where the really fun ideas come from. And that’s the spirit of Doublewood and IDC.
So it all fell together really naturally. Given our family-owned factory, we had much more leverage to do something special in a small batch. There are only 30 pairs made, just a little bit over a size run – once it’s gone, it’s gone. I like that notion. We never wanted to mass produce jeans – and all our production happens in small batches. Maybe it’s because I’m afraid of commitment! (laughs) But I always like to refine ideas, add new details, but keep the essence of a cut and style. So we talked to IDC and they were on board. It was the right timing.
The collaboration uses a heavier denim, it’s 17.25oz raw white selvedge from Kaihara Mills. It’s a very good mill that we work with.
Did you have a specific icon or customer in mind when you were designing this batch?
That’s a great question. I guess I designed it for people like me. (laughs) It’s a very personal project – Robin and I wanted to create a pair of jeans that we didn’t exactly see in the market. That’s the reason why we started this brand. I imagined that the person who would be drawn to these jeans cares about the simplicity of raw denim, but with thoughtful details that will enhance through age and wear.
So you guys have been around for a year now – what sort of feedback and reception have you guys been getting so far?
I really enjoy talking to people who wear our jeans. Sometimes I get random emails about how much they like them. It’s very interesting because as an architect, you design a space then that’s it. But with jeans, you get to really engage with people who wear your product. When you see it on the street too, it’s really exciting!
Have you had some sightings up here in Vancouver or in San Francisco?
Yes! There’s actually a fun story behind that. My good friend and co-worker at the architecture firm was on a date with this guy from the financial district. So she was telling him about why she likes her job and that she’s got cool co-workers that do things like yoga instructing, denim designing, etc. So this guy she was on a date with was a denim head, and asked my friend what the name of our brand was. She was really modest and said, “You wouldn’t have heard of them because they’ve just launched.” But the guy insisted and she told him we’re called Doublewood Denim. And he was like, “No way!” and it was crazy because he was wearing our jeans on the date!
So you not only helped this guy find a great pair of jeans, but you may have helped him find love!
Yeah, I’m not sure if that worked out, but I approve of the guy since he obviously has good taste in fashion! (laughs)