As part of our continued series of exclusive interviews, we were fortunate to pick the brain of the illustrious Ande Whall – founder, owner, and designer of Ande Whall denim.
For those unaware, Ande Whall is based out of New Zealand and a one-man label that combines vintage seaming techniques with well-sourced Japanese denim (from the Okayama Prefecture).
Maintaining a true Artisan spirit, proprietor Ande Whall leads all facets of the business including design, pattern drafting, garment construction, branding artwork, website design, photographer, sourcing raw materials and sales.
His passion for denim is unquestionable and you can see it in his amazing collection of denim. Let’s find out more about the man behind the label.
What is the significance of raw denim for you?
I see it as the quintessential ingredient. As a jeans maker I want to use the best denim available, so it’s a simple choice really.
What’s your earliest memory of denim?
There was a New Zealand brand when I was a kid called “Skin Jeans“. My two brothers and myself had a pair, they were really dark denim with white stitching. I remember thinking they looked cool when they faded, the knees were bright white from doing kid stuff.
What were you doing before starting your denim line? Was there a particular person or event that inspired you to enter the denim world?
I worked as a machinist at an embroidery company in my twentys. I moved into the art room after a year or so to work as a digitizer, which is programming the stitch patterns for logos to run on the big twelve head sewing machines. I also ran a small street/skate label.
There wasn’t really anyone or an event that inspired the denim line, I guess I just fell into it. I was more interested in making jeans and streetwear than frocks. I learned how to screen print t-shirts at high school art class, so I would knock off Stussy t-shirts for myself. Interests in skating and streetwear all lead into the denim thing really.
Your craftsmanship and eye for detail is second-to-none, whether it be in regards to your denim or marketing collaterals. Where did you acquire your skills in pattern drafting, stitching, and design? Do you have any formal training in textiles?
Thanks man. With the skate/street label I always struggled to find good factories to produce stuff and do samples, so I went back to school to learn the basics.
I did a year and half at a course in Fashion Design and Technology, I dropped out when the subjects started to disinterest me; such as lingerie, suits and kids clothing.
My main plan was to be able to produce patterns and samples to take to factories for production, but I ended up being quite good at the hands on stuff and got really into it.
It’s amazingly satisfying to make something from scratch and be able to wear it, it’s addictive. You can’t learn about denim at school, so after that it was trial and error, reading about other people’s experiences and just working hard to make the best gear I could.
I made my first pair of awful jeans in the first year of fashion school, I skipped ahead and read the course book on how to make a zip fly and made them after class. Horrible things.
I often think how the hell did I get into this crazy business. It’s great though, I love it and it’s a really cool job and lifestyle. I never had formal training in design, I was always drawing logos and painting from an early age though and google taught me a little photoshop on the way.
The earthquake earlier this year was devastating and temporarily derailed your business. Where were you when the earthquake happened? How did the denim community react to the tentative loss of your workshop?
Yeah, the February 2011 Earthquake was a life changer. I am just very fortunate that my friends, family and myself were not hurt. Thankfully I was not at the workshop when it struck, I was there in the morning and then went to pick up the car from getting fixed.
I was back at my flat in the city to drop off the car which is about 15 minutes walk from where my studio was. I was actually just about to leave for the walk back to the studio when it happened, so it was just lucky timing I wasn’t back there or walking there, as a lot of old stone parapets fell into the street along with whole buildings on the work route.
The studio loft was on the top, third floor, and roof collapsed over where my bar tack machine was, it was a loft in a heritage building made of old red brick. So just very grateful to be ok.
I tried many avenues to rescue the contents of the workshop, but it was just too dangerous to get in there. The city centre is still cordoned off today. 1,200 buildings are on the demolish list, they have completed about half.
The studio was demolished in October last year. It was a very dark winter indeed, finding myself homeless, jobless and my little cat ran away. I am lucky to have great friends, family and huge support from my customers around the world.
I stayed out at my brothers house by the beach and sort of mentally recuperated, read a bit, sketched and planned the new line and took Vinnie the dog for long walks.
My friends rallied around for some start up funding, customers kindly and generously donated through the website and I applied for a recovery business grant so I was able to get a new studio set up in Sept and start creating this thing again from the ground up.
I can’t tell you enough how great it is to be back making jeans! It is still a very weird place to live and we are still having quite bad quakes which experts say are decaying unusually slow, but hopefully the city can recover and be cool again.
How did you come up with the back pocket design for your Ande Whall denim? Is there a particular inspiration for it?
There were quite a few different designs in the early days, possibly 6 or 7 different designs and I could never stand still with one, which irked me. One day I was just mindlessly looking at the main AW logo with the flying jeans and the penny dropped – duh! Try some wing type design. It took a while before I got all the proportions right. So really it was there all along, waiting in the wings. That sounded cheesy.
What’s your most cherished denim possession?
I had my favorite old Cone Mills denim jeans I had worn for a few years, they were patched up multiple times. They went down with the old workshop along with most other pairs, which is a shame.
So yeah I don’t have much denim, one pair with paint all over and one everyday pair. I do have this great denim wallet given to me by a cool dude at Cone Mills, it’s looking nicely beaten up now.
We heard a rumour that your denim will be mass produced next year in Okayama. True story? If so, how come you chose to take this route?
It’s not set in stone, just looking at this stage. I am not a huge ‘rusher’ of things, I like to get it right, thats why it takes me so long to get a new product ready for sale, haha, I go over and over the pattern, details, stitching until I think it’s absolutely ready to go.
Currently, I’m doing this with a new jacket design. I have made a few connections in Japan, but still working and thinking on some things.
It’s either made in Japan or start a mini hand made jeans factory here in New Zealand. I’ll let you know how it pans out!
What’s the reason behind fit names of Ande Whall Jeans?
I love animals, fascinated by the funny things they get up too.
What’s the plan for 2012 (and 2013)? Any significant changes in terms or your denim, stitching, etc.?
The main plan is to get the new styles online for sale, so new jackets and shirts to make it a more rounded out denim line.
Also bringing back the Special Roll jeans, every month or two I will bring in some of the amazing denim available and make 20 pairs at a time, which gives more denim options to those who already have the main line denim or those who want something a bit different.
So yeah it’s great to be back, the first few steps taken and hopefully a great year and a bit of growth!
Thanks again, Ande, for shedding some insight into your brand – if you have any additional questions or comments, feel free to leave a note below!