New York Denim Days Interview with Andrew Olah
Few festivals are able to connect the denim community from the designers to the dyers to the weavers to the cutters to the consumers. Amsterdam Denim Days is the hub for all of these pieces to interact and connect. The weekend-long festival has been an indigo melting pot that continues to ferment and grow the denim culture as a whole.
At the end of this month, the highly successful festival will jump the Atlantic and touch down in Manhattan for its North American counterpart, New York Denim Days. Integral player to the denim industry, Andrew Olah is the founder of Kingpins, the premier denim trade show which further weaves the denim industry together. We sat down with Mr. Olah to talk about the start of Kingpins and what we can expect at the very first New York Denim Days.
Heddels: What led to you starting Kingpins?
Andrew Olah: The denim industry didn’t have its own sourcing event, which is crazy, because we’re not exactly a teeny niche within the larger textile industry.
The global jeans industry is the size of the global music industry and there was nothing that spoke to us, met our specific needs, gave us a platform to address issues or build a sense of community. We were the hole in the donut.
Not any more. Now besides our Kingpins shows in NY, Amsterdam, HKG and China, there are tons more shows in Paris, Dhaka, Ho Chi Minh etc. The whole supply chain show genre is quite big.
Kingpins was meant to allow us to gather and create space for the players in the denim world that wanted more from a trade show and from our industry.
Thirteen years later, we have grown and the industry has grown — and there is a lot to still do.
We launched Kingpins Transformers in 2015, a summit series focusing on the transformative members of the denim community who are investing, inventing and, implementing the changes that need to happen in the jeans industry to turn sustainable. The future is in the hands of Transformers and we want everyone to know who they are and what they are doing.
This fall we completed our second annual denim sourcing show/road trip through mainland China called the Kingpins China City Tour.
We go to three cities in five days and this kind of bizarre China thrust is both exhausting and inspiring. China is starting to “get” jeans and as this product appreciation grows we will be there to assist the market growth providing both intellectual content and supply connectivity.
H: What has Kingpins’ role been at Denim Days in Amsterdam and New York?
AO: While the Kingpins Show has participated with ADD since its premier, the concept and execution in Amsterdam is all from the amazing teams at Modefabriek — who are actually the owners of the Denim Days brand — and those at House of Denim, and HTNK who all pitch in as needed. It’s this entire troupe of people that is worth noting, not just us.
The Kingpins Show fell under the Denim Days umbrella because they were looking to make Amsterdam Denim Days an event that spanned the entire denim industry – from sourcing and production through retail and consumers. As a denim sourcing show, Kingpins was able to fulfill the B2B aspects of the festivities. It also gave us the opportunity to connect our participating mills and manufacturers directly to consumers and provide a platform for members of the denim supply chain to tell their stories in a way that hasn’t been possible before.
That said, our team at Kingpins is leading the charge on the concept and execution of NYDD, in partnership with the Amsterdam Denim Days team and all those that collaborate in Amsterdam. We intend to keep the spirit and DNA of the original event in Holland, but we can’t help infusing the special American feeling and New York City vibe as our consumers are essentially New Yorkers.
H: Amsterdam Denim Days has had a lot of success since its first year. Why New York? Were Los Angeles or San Francisco ever on the table?
AO: I loved the Denim Days concept the minute I saw it — the connecting of all parts of the denim community giving consumers a chance to see how the industry innovates and functions at all points through the supply chain. ADD inspired us since they do such a beautiful job of bringing the European denim community and consumer together. We saw the value of a similar event in the US that would give brands, retailers, factories, and designers the opportunity to engage and educate our consumers. And where else can you find amazing LA, NY, Japanese, and European brands all in our room? This is no mall. This is an amazing group of denim brands, retailers and jeans lovers ready to give jean consumers the best day of their lives.
Actually, Los Angeles was our first choice to bring Denim Days to the USA and this idea was fully explored. Oddly, I backed off because I felt a reticence in Los Angeles, where brands seemed to be uninterested in collaborating. Which I found odd since Miramax, Sony, and other film companies collaborate at Film Festivals. Anyway, I felt launching a new idea was best to do at home where I know so many people and where collaboration is naturally embedded in the core and guts of most New Yorkers.
Now we’ve been asked to add cities, so 2018 might have some fun news for all of us.
H: What makes this festival different than other industry festivals?
AO: The idea of bringing consumers in to rub elbows with insiders isn’t a new one for other industries. Denim Days is about the entire jeans and denim supply chain giving attendees the opportunity to share insights as well as allowing those that want to get their hands dirty in a literal and a figurative sense. We’ll have indigo dyers, a weaver, repairs, sewing, and embroidery all available as well as key industry heroes to talk to and hang with like Adriano Goldschmied, Piero Turk, as well as Amy Leverton and others.
We’re trying to stuff enough “insider,” true-blue, indigo-lover goodness to keep denim geeks busy for 2 days, but we will also appeal to a wider, more diverse audience. Denim is a democratic fabric, and we are a democratic crew so if our event is packed with only selvedge jeans-wearing guys, we’ll have failed to bring together all the diverse and interesting people that wear jeans, love jeans, and buy jeans.
H: Being a festival that’s not just for those who work in the industry, what will consumers get out of it?
AO: Ultimately, consumers will have the best denim day of their lives. Period. Their denim senses will be maxed out.
They will come to shop or learn, and eat. We’ll have an amazing array of food trucks at our street fair on October 1st.
Our event is about community and building a greater understanding and appreciation for all that goes into a jean and our industry — the passion and craftsmanship that denim makers put into their product and a working knowledge of their role in shaping where denim goes next.
H: ADD first got started four years ago, the industry has changed a bit since then and certainly since you started Kingpins. I feel like it got really popular around the late 2000s, especially with workwear. That’s sort of waned since then, but where do you see the industry going?
AO: I am the last person to profess to be an expert on fashion but over the last 41 years in business I have come to be pretty comfortable and accurate saying that the denim industry has consistently globally grown 2% a year, on average, and will always be driven by a Flintstones or Jetsons dynamic. I think that vision is clear enough but in case its not, we will always celebrate and enjoy the vintage aspect of our product, all the while new tech is coming at us at high speed and changing our assumptions on everything we once assumed. Those two elements drive jeans and always will. No upturn in jeans demand lasts, no downturn lasts. We consistently grow globally. This statement includes the understanding that jeans consumption in Europe, North America and Japan are pretty stable. The growth for all of us comes from all the pent-up foreign demand that scours our traditional jean shows.
H: How does NYDD look to keep up with and advance the industry?
AO: NYDD is a team from Amsterdam and New York. Our wide core comes to work each day not only with a long history in our industry but with a love rooted in denim fabric, jeans in production design and trade shows. The NYDD group then is a kind of dream team with our members knowing the entire global industry. Our group definitely has our hands on the industry pulse in the USA, Europe, Japan, and Asia. We will advance the industry by pointing out the best in kind at all levels of production and product — both aesthetically and environmentally.
H: Will there be more American brands represented at NYDD versus ADD?
AO: Yes of course. Just as there are more Dutch brands at ADD then NYDD.
H: What can attendees expect to see at NYDD?
AO: A veritable denim buffet of information, experiences and shopping. It will be a like jeans “choose your own adventure” experience, depending on what they are interested in or looking for. For some, it’ll be a purely shopping event where they can find a bunch of different brands and retailers under a single roof. For others, it’ll be a place to meet like-minded individuals and snag really great products that speak to them on a personal level. For others, it’s a place to meet their denim heroes and see production take place.
H: What can industry insiders expect to see at NYDD?
AO: We were talking about this the other day. When you go to a store, whom do you meet? Who will take you around the store? What does that person add to your experience? How many years has that person worked in jeans? How long will they be at that store?
At New York Denim Days, I will host guests, as will our colleagues from ADD, from Kingpins etc. We are all experts in denim and jeans and we will take consumers around.
This is just a small element of what we are bringing to the event because all we wish to do is connect consumers with experts in the industry — to start a dialogue.
As retail is changing, consumers are showing that they want more from brands and more from the retail environment, so we’re throwing a two-day event that basically plops the entire global industry down one spot. The room of jeans with no one to talk to, will be altered dramatically.
H: Is there anything else you want people to know?
AO: YES, I do. I want people to know that our event is a first of its kind. That means it’s a work in progress and likely full of “Oh next time, we’ll change that…”
While it may be imperfect, the intent and belief in what we are doing is entirely and genuinely a project my colleagues and I have inadvertently prepared for our entire lives. We want to hear what people like or don’t like so we can make it better and better.
A massive “thanks” to all our exhibitors (tons of them) who believe in us and to Heddels; you are, and remain, inspirational.
New York Denim Days runs from September 30th to October 1st. For more information on the event and tickets, visit their website.