Unbeknownst to many occidental denim fans, Thailand’s Pronto Denim has quickly become what might be the most successful raw denim store in the world. With many stores throughout Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Pronto quickly emerged as the heart of Thailand’s denim scene, drawing denim enthusiasts of all ages to their stores. Pronto offers a wide range of brands, from more affordable options such as Nudie, April77, Cheap Monday, and Unbranded, to the top-tier Japanese labels such as The Flat Head, Iron Heart, Pure Blue Japan, The Strike Gold, and Full Count.
Pronto has gained a slightly higher profile thanks to their annual Pronto Carnival event, which brings many of the premier denim brands together under one roof for one of the the biggest denim events in the world. But despite the store’s massive success and numerous collaborations with prominent Japanese brands, Pronto remains largely unknown outside of Asia.
The mastermind behind Pronto’s success is Chnanon “Dan” Sachdev (above center), whose success stems from his genuine enthusiasm for raw denim. In anticipation of the upcoming Pronto Carnival held on November 30th, we sat down with him to learn about Pronto and the unique denim culture found in Thailand.
Heddels: How did Pronto begin? Can you tell us about your first store?
Chnanon Sachdev: Pronto’s first store started nearly eight years ago in the Siam Square shopping area. The first store was set up in a very tiny space. We only managed to squeeze in two changing rooms and a rail of jeans, and that was utilizing nearly every square foot of the space.
I had been very opposed to wearing designer products prior to this. I didn’t see the quality for value and why people should spend so much just to show that they are one of the people who ‘has it’. It was at this point that I began to see what was special about jeans, which consumed my interest. I became really passionate about it and found myself wanting to learn and know more. This opportunity came from my other business, which allowed me to travel on a regular basis. I was able to come across some really cool multi-brand stores that were quite different from what we were accustomed to in Thailand.
The store had paid attention to the design, props, layout, and especially the product it was carrying. There were no rules, so the store would really express who the owner of the store was, and what he’s really passionate about. It became clear to me that this was what I wanted to do: share the great products from around the world to the Thai people in a great shopping atmosphere.
RD: What challenges did you face in bringing raw denim to a retail store in Thailand?
CS: At the time we started, the market was dominated by pre-washed jeans–the sort that had dragon embroidered on the back pockets, distressing and patches with flare legs. When we started with slim raw jeans, it wasn’t easy. This was the complete opposite of what the trends were at the time, and the raw denim market was almost nonexistent. We had to educate most of our customers about how to wear raw denim.
When we showed our customers worn-in jeans, many couldn’t believe the results was from wearing out raw jeans. This grabbed their attention and they started telling their friends and their friends told their friends which then spread on to local forums. It quickly became a phenomenon. For most, raw denim became more than just garments, it became a part of their lives where there is an interaction between the jeans and the owner, both aging together.
We kept working to find brands that we thought are best at what they do, which got us started with Imperial, Flat Head, Pure Blue Japan, etc. We would share information from the brands to customers and vice and versa. This got us to start some collaborations that enabled us to introduce the best of the brands into fits and details that appealed to our customers. It is really what contributed to success of these brands in our region. At that time, we also started to see the birth of local brands as well as international denim store franchises in Bangkok, which pushed us to work harder than ever.
RD: How do the style and preferences of Pronto’s customers differ from denim fans in Japan and North America/Europe?
CS: Since I’ve been concentrating on our region, I really can’t say much of what’s popular in other markets. I would imagine the US market has similar preference to ours, judging from collaborations with similar fits, yet the U.S may be more subtle when it comes to branding. The tapered fits have been successful for us since it suits the body types of many of our customers–yet recently we’ve begun to see people experimenting in other fits and fabrics, which has given us the opportunity to be able to offer more.
RD: Can you tell us a little bit about the Pronto Carnival event?
CS: The idea came to me after having first visited Japan’s Inazuma Festival five or so years ago. We got to see customers meeting the people behind their favorite brands, enjoying the opportunity to interact with and meet people who share their common interests. The only difference is that at Inazuma, many brands use it as an outlet to clear off old stock or discounted garments. But at our event, we want to introduce new ‘event-exclusive’ items and limited editions.
It was never created to be much about business, rather it’s about sharing stories and experiences, activities, meeting people, and also winning prizes–hence the name Carnival.
RD: What are some of the collaboration models that Pronto has done?
DS: We have been fortunate enough to work with almost all the labels we carry in the stores. Most brands are flexible and have allowed us to do almost whatever we could think up, from developing new denim to changing fits and other details. Others may not be as flexible due to the necessary minimum from their factories, but we do appreciate where they’re coming from.
There are quite a few projects soon to be released for this year’s event. We’ll be seeing the first release made with The Real McCoy’s, a project we first thought of since the brand joined us five years ago. It will be the first time the crew visit our stores and meet Thai customers, so the timing is perfect. Unbranded will again be offering a new denim for us, after a very successful 18oz. brown weft last year. Iron Heart has made a new denim for this event. With Japan Blue we are experimenting with a very limited run of pre-distressed denim. I know most denim enthusiasts would prefer to have it raw but there are few customers who have been asking for this, so we made it happen – plus, it’ll bring some variety to the event, too.
We have been asking PBJ about the possibility of doing slubby denim in 18oz. and they made it. We have agreed for them to release the natural weft version as part of their regular line so those that have interest can also check that out in the future. With Flat Head, we spent the past sixteen months working on a special project and we hope fans will be pleased with its outcome. Stevenson Overall is doing jackets for the event and we’ll also be seeing Zip and Yuya who will present some limited IrregulaR branded products. Imperial‘s collaborations has always been well received and we’ll be seeing a new one this year. In addition, Cameron will be showing new KIBATA loomstate denim made for their regular series, which fans of Dukes and other regular fits will be happy to know. This is just fresh off the production line.
Mikiharu from FullCount has again made a special denim for us based off last year’s 18 oz, yet we think this year is even more special with a really interesting weft and texture. Nudie Jeans will be offering an event limited edition jeans using denim they have never offered in their regular line called Dry Forest Green which is what this year’s Carnival theme is all about. Besides this, we’ll also be seeing the Tenjin Works team showing their tailor goods and as usual the show will be covered by Lightning crew who have prepared some great stuff as well!
RD: Can you tell us a little bit about Pronto’s exclusive brand Crossover Denim?
DS: It’s a very small project and we make them in really small batches, with enough stock for only three of our stores. Each project uses different details or denim and is always changing. It’s really just putting together all my passion into a pair of jeans. Here you’ll find signs I’ve brought out from defunct German clock companies, inspiration from the many visits to local ship breaking yards, or little ideas from old/odd stuff I come across together with the kind of denim and the details we love, assembled by factories or people we think would do the best job based in Japan and U.S.
For example, our most recent hang tags drew inspiration from a wine label recovered from the Hindenburg crash, there were about seven procedures that went into just making this paper label. We have been pretty well received from our very first launch amongst local consumers and as we didn’t do any publicity or do any English write up, it’s really only known in a small circle, which is fine by us.
Thanks again to Chnanon and Pronto. The Pronto Carnival is being held in Bangkok on November 30th–today. For more info, check out Pronto’s website.