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A Conversation With Imperial Brand Clothing’s Jordan and Cameron Votan

Although Jordan and Cameron Votan may not be your average household names, the duo’s shearer-inspired line, Imperial Brand Clothing, is quite well known among denim-heads and has gained a serious following over the past decade.

As Imperial focuses heavily on their product and less on any direct marketing efforts, not much is known about the Votan brothers. Thus we were particularly excited about the opportunity to hear their thoughts and learn more about their brand.

Raw denim is important because…

It’s a starting point.

We choose to keep off the radar and maintain a low profile since…

Imperial is all about utility. What comes from focusing on utility is an absolute obsession with quality both in the materials we use and the way we construct our pieces. This focus can mean we may not be the best marketers or self-promoters. Over time I guess it has just become standard practice for us to let people come across the brand by themselves and find out first hand what we do.

This approach is working as we seem to attract the most loyal customers. Not long ago we sent out a pair to a gentleman from Argentina who had bought his 7th pair of Dukes off us; with the first being a pair he bought while travelling to Australia ten years ago.

The name, “Imperial Brand Clothing“, and tie-in with Jackie Howe, graziers, and shearers was due to the fact that…

Without being obtuse, denim is like empires. Regarding the “Shearers”, I always found it interesting that Levi’s, Lee, and Wrangler had such a rich back-catalogue of styles based around utility. Australia also has its own rich history of workwear garments but unlike the American examples, very few of the brands exist today.

We set about digging up these historical pieces and updating them to modern needs. The “Imperial Shearing Pants” , or “Shearers” as they are better known, were our first example.

They mimic the shearing pants of old that were roomy through the seat and thighs to allow movement while shearing, narrowing from the knee down so the shearer could hold the sheep tight. We have two more in this series that are due out very soon – the Prospector and the Cattleman.

The homage to Jackie Howe on our website for the Shearer launch was really just to educate our customers from other parts of the world about the shearing culture, and the important part it played in Australian history.

Imperial Brand Clothing - Yanga Shearing Shed

Australia is…

An amazing place to live. The real problem we are facing (and I’m sure it is the same all around the developed world), is the dissolution of the denim industry here in Australia. About ten years ago the last denim mill moved all of its production offshore, which meant we were forced to import all our denim on the roll from Japan to be cut and sewn here in Australia.

However, more recently it has become even more dire, such as the limited supply of quality, working machinists. Most of the specialized, really heavy-duty sewing machines that are required to make a pair of Imperial jeans have either been sold on to other parts of the world or have fallen into disrepair. This is why all our production is now done in Japan – yarn, dye, weave, finish, cut and sew.

The primary challenge now is making time to get to Japan more often (which is a nice problem to have).

Imperial differentiates itself from all other denim companies through…

Unsurpassed strength and style. The only way to really understand the quality of a pair of jeans is to turn them inside out. No other jeans in the world are constructed to the standards we set ourselves; simply because most customers don’t care. Might sound crazy but we do care and we send our staff mad trying to execute against this obsession!

Imperial Denim

Our textile selection process and approach is unique because…

We know what properties we want the end product to have and start building this from the yarn up. Obviously we rely a lot on the expertise of our dye houses and yarn merchants, but we like to have a rather tight control on the process as it is a hugely important factor for the success of a style.

That is why we find it really interesting that most denim brands these days don’t have this approach. They often don’t even see the denim they are using until the washed prototype/sample stage or if they do, it is in tiny swatches.

One source of creative inspiration for us is…

The archives of the American workwear and denim brands. Levi’s, Lee, Wrangler, Carhartt, etc. all have amazing back-catalogues. Not so much for Imperial, but we are always talking about all the old standard-issue military outerwear and chasing down pieces when they become available.

We love their combination of utility and style; so much thought has gone into these things and the slow evolution of each has meant most are now enduring classics (think pea-, field-, trench-coat, etc.).

The story behind our back pocket design is that… 

My brother usually has a notepad by his bed and one night he woke up and sleepily sketched one pocket with the curve you see now. I still remember some of the early samples we made at this time when we played around with the orientation of the pockets – should both pockets curve in or out? Should they be identical, both facing right or left?

Imperial Denim - Back Pocket Arcs

The idea of Imperial expanding its offerings beyond denim is one that… 

We wouldn’t rule out but have no plans for right now.

In 2012 and beyond…

We’ll release three new cuts and also relaunch our website; which hopefully will make it easier for Imperial fans to connect with us. As well, we are in talks to open a few more retail partnerships around the world, though not too many.

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