At 62 years old, Glenn Liburd has finally mastered his craft of making jeans. He wouldn’t ever admit that he’s a master, let alone perfected his craft. No, like a true master, when I asked him about the moment he felt he had reached this elevated status, he responded with “Every garment you make, you see where you went wrong. You just keep learning and learning.” He’s always been learning, constantly reaching for what is in his mind essentially unattainable. There’s always something to learn, and from what I’ve seen having visited his cramped studio space in Brooklyn’s South Slope neighborhood, Glenn’s learned a lot.
The story of Glenn’s Denim starts back in Trinidad, where he grew up. His family had a sewing machine in the house and, as Glenn describes it, it was like another piece of furniture—a permanent fixture that saw use every day. As such, his mother would teach him basic sewing skills and give him small projects like how to sew curtains. His interest in sewing grew from the home and, when Glenn was still just a teenager, found its way into a small workroom that manufactured clothing for the local oil workers as well as small designers. In that workroom was where his passion for denim was planted. Not Instagram, not Tumblr. Glenn noticed that the oil workers would often return from their trips to the U.S. wearing jeans. Infatuated with what he saw, he had to have a pair for himself.
He tried to replicate the jeans he’d seen as best and as accurately as he could and eventually made his first pair, a rudimentary attempt. But it didn’t stop there. He came to realize that once he was done with secondary school, he would follow his passion instead of going to college.
Glenn continued to hone his skills and, in his early twenties, he landed an apprenticeship with a master tailor who had returned to Trinidad to set up shop after having trained in London’s prestigious tailoring mecca, Savile Row. With his nascent sewing skills, he started at the shop from the bottom, working his way slowly up the ladder. A few years on and Glenn had progressed enough to make his own garments which employed his now-acquired advanced tailoring skills.
Into his mid-twenties, he and a few of his colleagues from the tailoring shop broke away to start their own operation. Their shop ran the gamut from making bespoke clothing to manufacturing for designers to creating their own designs and selling them locally. Among that work was, yes, denim. Here was where Glenn had rounded out his skills which now included fine tailoring, workwear, and sportswear.
In 2002, Glenn made his way to America. “What brought you to America in the first place?” I ask him, foolishly. Nonchalantly he answers, “I wanted to make jeans. I said, ‘Okay, if I really want to make jeans, I should make jeans in America.” In pursuit of his craft, Glenn immigrated to the country that birthed the blue jean and began, once again, to work his way up in the industry.
Fast forward to 2011 in New York City when he sees a newspaper article about a local tailoring brand, Brooklyn Tailors. In that article, a photo of one of their shirts caught Glenn’s attention. So much so, in fact, that he was compelled to see it in person and visited the shop. There, he met Brooklyn Tailors co-owner, Daniel Lewis. The two had an immediate connection over tailoring and craftsmanship and it wasn’t long before their introduction turned into conversations about working together. Tailored clothing and bespoke denim seemed like a perfect match for Glenn.
It was also around this time that Glenn had the opportunity to work for the most famous jeans brand. After sending in a few jean samples as his résumé, Glenn got in with the newly minted Levi’s Lot No. 1 program making bespoke jeans as their lead denim tailor. By this point, he’d been making jeans for over 30 years, and yet, working for the mother of blue jeans still had some things to teach him.
Years would pass and throughout this time, Daniel and Glenn had fostered their friendship every so often toying with the idea of eventually doing something together, something beyond just helping with patterns and alterations at Brooklyn Tailors. Something involving jeans. When any of their ambitions would ever even come to fruition was a mystery. Heading the Lot No. 1 program wasn’t an easy thing to leave, either.
If you don’t know, 501 is a big number for Levi’s. It’s the model number for their most popular jean, the jean that changed the world. They even celebrate ‘501 Day’ (even though it doesn’t occur on 5/1). Though each team member at Lot No. 1 works with their customers one on one, it just so happened to be Glenn who would craft the SoHo store’s coveted 501st jean. The momentous occasion was met with its own celebration including a replica of the milestone jean made in its commemoration. Fittingly, with one milestone came another and Glenn asked himself, “What else there is to do now?”
Glenn left Levi’s shortly after and, along with Daniel and Brenna Lewis (co-owner of Brooklyn Tailors, and Daniel’s wife), they launched Glenn’s Denim. With Daniel behind the designs, Brenna behind the books, and Glenn behind the bespoke, it’s an exciting brand with the chops to back it up. On top of being one of the coolest looking 60-somethings around, Glenn’s line is as top-notch as you’d expect for a pedigree like his. As I was surveying the jeans, I saw a lot to love. It seemed like I had a comment for every other detail I came across. The time he’s put in in the industry really shows, and not just in the craftsmanship, but also the references. If you look closely, you’ll find details from the various brands he’s worked with over the years, from his days back in Trinidad working at a factory that made Maverick jeans, to his time at Levi’s, and even his career as a tailor.
Beyond construction, Glenn’s Denim also takes after influences from the 70s and 80s, Glenn’s formative years. The burgeoning radical art scene, the emergence of punk and hip-hop—it was all happening in New York during this period and it was all brought together through blue jeans. As Glenn says on the Glenn’s Denim website, “I was interested in these tough, functional clothes from the start, especially when I realized that so many of my favorite characters—cowboys, bikers, and musicians from all the American films I was watching—wore these sorts of clothes as well.”
The ready-to-wear collection is made in New York’s Garment District and consists of the classics: five-pocket jeans, work pants, trucker jackets, and chore coats. The selvedge denim is made custom for them, but not from a Japanese denim mill. They’re all woven in America and from a new denim mill, which is another story altogether. But if off-the-rack doesn’t interest you so much and you want the full Glenn experience, you can go the custom route and get a one-of-a-kind, made-to-order piece crafted by the master himself.
There’s no dearth of denim startups these days, blurring together to form a blue blob of similarly weak backstories; college grads who recently discovered raw denim and tried to jump on the raw denim wave, mostly through branding and marketing rather than skill. But Glenn was there before it was ‘a thing’. He was there when most jeans were raw by default. He’s been making jeans longer than most small-batch jean companies have been around. While we’re not short on young denim brands whose greatest forte is marketing, we are woefully short on masters of the craft.
As we wrapped up our conversation at Glenn’s studio, Daniel had this to say:
“You’ve gotta have the branding and the presentation. But you have to, first and foremost, back it up with substance…With Brooklyn Tailors, we’ve done so much work in Japan and my friends and I really admire this Japanese idea of dedication to your craft. You don’t get to be the frontman, you don’t get to take center stage until you’re so advanced in your craft that you’re a master. I love that idea. Our generation really loves that idea and I think Glenn really represents that…He got to that point.”
To learn more about the brand and to see their newly launched collection, visit the Glenn’s Denim website.