Raw Hands Denim Repair took their first repair order back in 2013. Since then, they’ve garnered respect from denim heads all over the world, but continue to keep things small. It’s a story of denim love first with the business end being somewhat of an afterthought.
There’s no website, not even a Facebook page. That’s how Raw Hands likes it. Despite a limited internet footprint, their Instagram and forum postings have created relationships with stitch master and eccentric Julian Dash and many others.
The team consists of Jordan Bailey and John LeGarde. And the two go back quite a ways. They are both part of the same commercial carpentry business, where LeGarde took Bailey under his wing ten years ago. They spend their days doing a lot of wood finishing for businesses and homes. Doors and hardware are their meat and potatoes, but more interesting tasks are common enough as well. Once the day job ends, these guys enter the denim dungeon, “where hit points are real and the jawns are broken.”
Both were shocked and flattered to have me reach out to them, but that’s more of a credit to their unassuming nature than their pedigree. What was supposed to be a cut and dry Q&A turned into an hour long session of denim nerding where everyone was more than happy to participate.
LeGarde was the first of the two exposed to the land of raw and selvedge. Back in 2006 he bought a pair of Shrink-to-Fit Levi’s. He fell in love with how the denim evolved over time and began exploring more options. He was hesitant to plunge into the world of premium denim, but inevitably his collection began to grow. He joined Superfuture by the end of 2007 under the moniker jyoni, and his addiction just snowballed.
Superfuture was accompanied by a plethora of other forums, so it wasn’t long before he was neck deep in denim knowledge. He started entering contests and over the years accumulated quite a few highlights. He won Cultizm’s LVC contest, finished runner-up in Left Field’s sweatpant contest and more recently won the Ooe-Yofukuten competition. He has also moderated mynudies low buck Levi STF contest. Anyone who has seen fades created by those who work on their the feet all day, and with tools in their hands, can attest to the beating these people put on denim (take a look at this pair of Samurai if you’re skeptical).
It’s almost unfair to think of the advantage over a raw-wearing desk jockey. But the flipside of all that heavy wear between washes is a greater likelihood of blowouts, tears, and hardware damage. Despite all of the accolades and socialization over the net, LeGarde was on his own for repairs in his hometown of Minneapolis. So, falling in line with his fellow raw denim DIYers, he aspired to do his own.
He says he’s never outsourced his repairs. Considering how long he’s now been a part of the scene, that’s a whole swatch of holes and tears needing a needle and thread. Once those skills were sharp, LeGarde started to receive requests from others for repair work.
It was inevitable that Bailey would end up following in LeGarde’s footsteps. Unlike LeGarde–who initially championed affordable denim like Levi’s STF, Evisu’s Made In Macau, and even Converse’s $30 selvedge at one time or another–Bailey took a dive right into selvedge’s deep end with LVC’s 1947 501s. He’s never looked back since.
In the four-plus years since the denim duo formed, Bailey expanded his collection to include brands like Left Field NYC and Pure Blue Japan, but his heart has settled on Skull’s 5010XX. The look upon his face when talking about them is an unmistakable grin that makes it hard to see him moving on from his current pair any time soon. Like LeGarde, Bailey took to the needle and thread for his repairs as well. He described himself as always needing to be doing something with his hands; consequently, when he gets home he’s sewing. If it’s not for a customer, it’s on his own garments. LeGarde’s the same way.
Hand patching denim is labor intensive and has evolved as LeGarde and Bailey’s skills have refined. For them, it used to be a simple task of examining the damage and ensuring that the patch reinforces the entire area of weakness. Then it became a matter of stitching on, the denim patch and trimming off any excess. Now that it’s less of a student-teacher relationship and more partners in crime, things have escalated.
Patches are now adorned with embroidery or intricately patterned sashiko stich, depending on their idea or the whims of a customer. Crotch blowouts are tucked and folded into their original seams. Rivets and replaced buttons are affixed with leather washers for added durability. The artistry found in their utility aligns with the Japanese concept of beauty within practicality and usefulness.
More recently, the pair were interested in experimenting with darning and it ultimately led them to Julian Dash. Dash is the owner of Holy Stich! and Dash Etc., along with previously providing Self Edge SF with hemming and darning services. He’s a unique avant-garde when it comes to the world of denim repair and an indisputable force with a sewing machine. After working with Raw Hands, Dash told them that what they were doing “synergized” everything that he hoped to do with his own work. Despite darning not being Raw Hands specialty–LeGarde states he’s never had a problem with a patch failing–they created a cherished new collaboration that featured both of their talents.
For customers, though, the cost of such repairs isn’t cheap. Due to the complex and constant back and forth that accompanies their services there’s little to no fluidity in their pricing. Raw Hands charges about $65 for something simple like a knee repair, or $115 for more complex issues like blowouts.
It’s a lot of money, especially considering that most repair shops might charge quite a bit less. But the process is talked through with each individual customer, and the results are undeniably eye catching. Not to mention, these repairs can take over 10 hours to do by hand.
If you’re reading this, chances are you know a thing or two about raw denim, selvedge, fades and the culture around it. You love the intricate details that don’t stand out at first. You love the craft in how the denim is milled. The fact that something is done in a slower, old fashioned way flutters your pulse and nods your head in approval. So why shouldn’t your repairs be done with the same thing in mind?
If you’re not going to do it yourself Raw Hands Denim Repair provides an intriguing alternative to darning; celebrating the wear once felled upon your jeans like a battle scar, instead of hiding it away like a foggy memory.
Get in touch with them for your own repair on their Instagram or through their email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All images by Elle Halls, Nouvelle Design Studio.