Back in January we featured a small brand, Unwashed Denim, and its owner, Will Berman, as part of our One Man Brands series. I remember reading the article and being blown away that a young individual such as Berman was doing something this momentous all on his own.
I was compelled to share Unwashed Denim on the site again in the form of a one-on-one with Berman. So I reached out, and over the course of a couple weeks we got to chatting and put together this interview. It provides an in-depth look at how he first began making his products, what influences him in design and where he would like to go with the brand in the future.
So sit back, relax, and soak in all that Will Berman has to say. This kid is going places.
RD: Please state your name and role in the brand.
WB: My name is Will Berman and I am the founder, owner, product designer, web designer, fabric inspector, cutter, sewer, head packager, and shipping manager for Unwashed Denim. It’s all me from start to finish.
RD: Why did you choose to work with denim as opposed to another material?
WB: I didn’t really go out looking for a fabric to work with; it just sort of happened out of a natural progression from my interests. I started wearing raw denim a few years ago, and like many people new to raw denim was immediately hooked. Denim quickly became my passion, so I spent hours and hours a day learning everything I could about the fabric: the history of denim, how it’s made, the dying process, etc.
Making the jump from being a little (crazy) obsessed with denim to actually working with the fabric was sort of a slow progression. Many people refer to denim as a “living” fabric because it is one of the only fabrics that conform to the individual wearer’s daily activities and way of life. Over time your jeans begin to “tell your story.”
I loved this about my jeans and wanted to find other products I could use that would age and “tell my story” the same way my jeans did. So began my search for the perfect raw denim wallet. Sadly, it was nowhere to be found. I realized, then, that raw denim was only being used in a few different ways. Denim is such an awesome versatile fabric, so why not put it to use in other commonly used goods? I wanted to use denim to make products that would get better with age, just like my jeans.
My designs started with some colored construction paper held together by a few staples, but eventually I bought a sewing machine with some money I had saved up, taught myself to sew, and began prototyping with some scrap muslin. This was the beginning of my bedroom workshop.
RD: In your past releases you have done work with leather and printed textiles in coordination with denim. Have you been eyeing up other materials that you would like to incorporate into future releases?
I am still exploring the combination of denim and leather. Leather is such a versatile material that it works really nicely with denim. Leather is probably the only other material that gets better with age and can mold to the user. Vegetable tanned leather darkens with daily use, (sunlight, hand oils, daily back pocket beating), while denim lightens, so the two in conjunction can create really cool results.
Leather craft is a whole art form that I’ve gotten into lately. I’ve taught myself how to hand-stitch leather goods and I’m beginning to incorporate that more into my products for the future.
In terms of new fabrics, I would love to work with some type of waxed canvas. Waxed canvas has a really sturdy, rustic feel that I think goes perfectly with the aesthetic of denim and leather. I’m probably going to find a way to work some waxed canvas into a design in the future.
I’ve also been playing around with this old-fashioned mattress ticking I picked up at a fabric store in the garment district. It looks really good with denim, and it’s a classic American look. You’ll probably see it in the near future.
RD: How do you think that growing up in NYC has influenced the way you design things? With that being said, what inspires you the most?
WB: Just walking around my neighborhood for 15 minutes I see hundreds of people with their own sense of individual styles and design. There are design influences everywhere in NYC, and the more I have come to appreciate how clothing and accessories are constructed, the more those influences affect my own personal designs.
When I decide to design a new product, the cardholder for example, my first step in the creative process is always spending a few weeks examining every cardholder I see, either on the street, in restaurants, or in stores. After I have gotten a good feel for how a cardholder is constructed and what different styles it comes in, then I decide how I can incorporate denim into my cardholder as well as add my own personal design twist.
Another huge source for inspiration and creativity for me comes from walking around the garment district or SoHo. Being able to hop on the #1 train down to a fabric or notions store and walk around walls and walls of different fabrics, buttons, threads, clasps, and tools always helps me come up with new product ideas based on a material or notion that catches my interest.
The ability to go downtown and pop in and out of tons of cools stores and see what they are doing always inspires me. My most memorable trip downtown was when I stopped by Jean Shop to check out the store and their products. I didn’t realize their workshop is in the back of the store and I got to take a quick look and see what really goes on. It was inspiring to see how an established brand still manufactures all their products by hand in one workshop with the a high level of care and craftsmanship, right in the back of their store.
The city as a whole adds to my sense of design every day, whether it’s unconsciously or consciously. I am constantly exposed to all different types of design: different styles of architecture, art, music, and fashion. I definitely feel that the wide variety of design influences I get from living in NYC plays a big role in the way I think about design and the way I go about designing things.
RD: A lot of companies like to do collaborative works, is there anyone in particular that you want to work with for a piece or collection?
WB: There are so many people in the industry I admire and would love to work with, but if I had to pick my top two people in denim to collaborate with it would probably be Karl Thoennessen from Rogue Territory and ROY. I think Karl would be really cool to work with because he always brings his own subtle twists to classic products. All his stuff has small little unexpected details that make his products different than anything else, and I admire that.
I’d love to work with Roy as well because I admire the whole concept behind his brand and the level of craftsmanship that goes into everything he makes. The fact that everything is done by him from start to finish is also inspiring. His products are not in your face with tons of bells and whistles but they are of the highest quality and really clean designs. I strive for that.
Other craftsmen I would love to work with are Eric from Corter Leather and Nicholas from Hollows Leather. They both inspired me to learn how to work with leather and I particularly admire their passion for their craft and the quality of everything they make. As you can see, most of my inspirations are one-man operations.
RD: What is in store for the future of Unwashed Denim?
WB: At the moment I am still working on expanding my product line and using raw denim in new and innovative ways. I have been working on some new products that I’m really excited about so those should be ready to release pretty soon. I intend to keep making high quality, handcrafted products that express the unique qualities of raw denim.
Another goal of mine for Unwashed Denim is to expand distribution. Now that I am no longer in the early stages of getting my business set up and running smoothly, I would love to have my products in a few retail locations and online retailers. I think my products would be perfect in stores that specialize in raw denim and are interested in having a wider variety of products, as well as retailers who make it a priority to carry products made out of high quality materials and a high level of craftsmanship. I can also see my products in stores that focus on handmade goods and products made in America.
In the very distant future I hope to eventually move Unwashed Denim headquarters out of the middle of my bedroom! It would be awesome to have a separate workspace to keep all my tools and supplies. The space on my desk that used to be occupied by textbooks and a computer is now taken over by a sewing machine, thread, scrap fabric and a lot of crazy tools.
Despite my goal to grow the brand, I still intend to handcraft all the products myself for as long as possible. I think there is something really special about knowing the name of the person who made the item you carry or wear. When you look at an item crafted by one person you can really see the passion and creativity that went into it.