Oskar Sommarlund, Co-Founder of Denim Demon – Interview
Initially founded in December 2006 in Stockholm, Sweden, Denim Demon is a Sami culture-inspired menswear label that not only boasts an impressive lineup of Nordic outerwear, shirting, and accessories, but also offers a purposeful collection of raw and washed denim.
Founders and brothers, Oskar Sommarlund and Anton Olsson, initially conceived the idea for their brand in 1999, but it wasn’t for six years that their company unveiled it’s first model. As they officially embark upon their 8th year of business, we caught up with co-founder, Oskar Sommarlund, to gain a better understanding of his and his brother’s brand, tie to his country’s indigenous people, and where they’re headed next.
RD: Please state your name and role within the company.
OS: My name is Oskar Sommarlund and I am one of four co-founders of Denim Demon jeans. I handle Sales and Marketing.
RD: Denim Demon is one of the more interesting brand names to come to our attention. How did it come about?
OS: The name Denim Demon comes from a Norwegian Rock/Punk band called Turbonegro. They have a song called “Denim Demon”, and at that time early 2000 we were listening a lot to Turbonegro. We simply felt that “Denim Demon” was a good name for a denim brand, so that’s the story behind that.
It all started in 1999, when me and my brother Anton worked on the shop floor at Solo in Stockholm, one of the main denim retailers in Sweden back then. We sold loads of jeans, and as sales gained, a lot of brands wanted a piece of the pie. We got sick of selling fashion brand’s jeans, who only were in it for a fast buck, and had no interest what so ever in the history of denim. So, we started talking about creating a brand that focused on good quality, nursed the history and heritage of denim and offered something more than just the product – a story.
As we’re Sami people, one of the world’s indigenous people, it was kind of easy to take that as inspiration. These people are nomad people living out of what the reindeer can provide – leather, antlers, meat, taking care of all parts of the reindeer. Our grandmother was a reindeer herder, and we’ve still got most of our family up north where they live.
Sami people have always been a very creative people, making handicraft such as jewelry, knives, bags, clothes etc. So there’s a lot of inspiration and details one can use for creating new things. And as the history of Sami goes back some 2,000 years there’s always something new to learn.
It took us 6 yrs to get everything together, but during that time we had the chance to think things over 3-4 times in order to get it correct. Our first style, Aajja Raw, was released December 19, 2006 in a limited run of 286 pairs. These sold out in 2 weeks and since then things have happened fast… Reason for the odd number of 286 – that was what we could afford.
RD: What was your first experience with raw denim and why did it catch your interest?
OS: After wearing denim more or less all my life, I got a job at a denim chain store called JC back in 1996. A good friend of mine worked there and they needed someone to take care of the warehouse. As I had nothing better to do I took the job, and at that place denim became something more than just a pair of pants.
JC back then was full of knowledge, cool people, and nice denim. We were one of the first accounts in Europe selling LVC and I started to take great interest in the stories behind all the details. The more I learned, the more I got to love it.
My first pair of raw denim was a pair of LVC 1947 501’s. I wore them every day for 2 years. Since then I have been wearing only raw denim, and nothing else. What I appreciated with this pair was all of the details – Big E red tab, branded rivets, the arcuate stitching, red selvedge fabric, chain stitches etc etc. It was definitely something more than just a pair of jeans.
RD: Where do you draw inspiration from for your line? Especially your raw denim offerings.
OS: As I spoke about earlier our inspiration comes from the Sami culture, which is visible in things such as rivets, buttons, leather patches, pocket bags and so on. All styles have names in South Sami language. Together with that we want to make best quality for money spent; denim is supposed to withstand tough wearing.
Thus, we quality test all new fabrics we use on Sami people, who spend most of the year outdoor in the nature. If it can handle that it will work everywhere. All our fits are classic fits, mostly inspired from the mid-40’s and 50’s but with updated details and a little more contemporary fitting. All styles are available in at least two different raw fabrics.
RD: Most brands that produce selvedge and raw denim keep their offerings limited to only raw pieces. You spoke of “Project Ware Outs”, was this inspiration for the different washes that you offer your jeans in?
OS: For our first two years all of our pre-washed jeans were copied from our own worn-in raw jeans. We wanted them to look authentic and not produced. But after two years we started to run out of good looking denim so we needed to find a new way of getting originals to create from.
The idea started to take shape by using our relatives for it, and at the same time get our denim quality tested. Working at an office it takes time to wear in a pair of quality denim jeans so we had to find a faster way. We were interviewed by a Sami magazine and mentioned our idea in that interview and got loads of people that wanted to participate in this “Project Ware Outs”.
We chose 7 people for this project – 4 reindeer herders, 1 deacon, 1 female part-time herder and 1 Handicraft man. We did this in order to get different angles and of course a little difference in wear-ins. We rented a car and drove 5,000 km in 5 days to hand the jeans out.
As I mentioned earlier, the Sami are Nomad people, so it was sometimes pretty hard to get to them. If we called ahead and scheduled a meeting in one village,we found that once we arrived they could be another 300 km away. We hardly ate anything, slept in the car or drove all night in order to reach everyone. We had a photographer with us that documented everything.
The rules were simple: wear the jeans for 6 months, every day, and do not wash. We required that they had to send in a picture of their jeans every month so we could show everyone that this was for real and just not some made up public relations story. After 6 months we made the same trip once again to collect the jeans. Only this time it was winter so we had to add 2 days.
The pictures from these two trips became a photo exhibition shown in Sweden, Netherlands and now, as we speak, in the US. All 7 pairs were totally different from each other, and they were absolutely lovely. We chose 3 out of these and created exact copies in Japan. Each recreation was named after the person who wore them and produced in 75 pairs each.
Because of this we got in to all four of the big newspapers in Sweden, interviewed on radio channels, morning show on TV, local papers, local TV and radio…so big news! It started on the first day of trip 1, and kept on going for all 6 months.
This is an ongoing project: all 7 original participants still wear our jeans, and after 6-12 months they send their jeans to us and get a new pair in return. Still an excellent way of getting inspiration for our washes.
RD: What does the future hold for Denim Demon?
OS: The future looks bright. We have two big and very exciting projects launching Fall/Winter 2014. I don’t want to say too much at this point, but it will be one new collection, made with Sami people in mind and locally produced jeans.
We’re also launching our own Red/Blue/Green Selvedge made together with Kaihara. These are the South Sami colors, so it will be our own Sami Selvedge. As soon as this is ready to be shown, RawrDenim will be the first to know…