In The Garage: An Interview with Dawson Denim
Dawson Denim is one of the biggest names in British-made denim goods. Since 2012, the Brighton-based denim brand has continued to impress with their host of charming products made with passion and pride by husband-and-wife denim duo, Scott Ogden and Kelly Dawson. Until this year, Dawson Denim products were only sold on the brand’s website and a small number of hand-picked stockists. But 2019 has seen Dawson Denim open their very own bricks and mortar store—The Garage.
Nestled in a cobbled mews in Hove—part of the English city of Brighton & Hove—The Garage is a bright, minimal space that allows Dawson’s exceptionally-made products to take center stage. We paid Dawson Denim a visit at their new retail space and sat down with them for a quick Q & A.
This is your first retail space, how have you found translating the Dawson experience to bricks and mortar store?
We found translating the experience an absolute blast. We’re old enough to remember The Style Council’s “My Favourite Shop” and with that visualizing our own imaginary shop. We have a fairly defined visual language which was heavily considered from the outset. We chanced upon the garage where we used to MOT our Lambretta. The guy mentioned he was moving out and the space was perfect for the brand. It was big enough to house the workshop and shop; a rare thing in Brighton and Hove, it’s a destination which is a nice surprise for the unsuspecting customer.
The fact its always been a garage (from carriage works to cars) fits perfectly with the brand, those who know all our branding links back to vintage motoring. The shop/workshop fit was done by us alone and took around 2 months. The focus was the shop upfront with exposure to the workshop so the customer would get a glimpse of the work behind the scenes and even get to see their garments being made.
You’ve chosen an old car garage tucked away in a cobbled mews. Was this the kind of location you were looking for or did you stumble across it?
Having looked for suitable business premises for a couple of years we lucked out with The Garage! I used to get my Lambretta MOT’d there and always thought it was a cool space in a good location. Our branding and lifestyle encompasses vintage motoring, so this tied in perfectly. Also, being tucked away makes us a destination shop. We are busy cutting and sewing when we’re not serving customers.
Had you always planned to have a physical store? What was the impetus for taking the online retail to face-to-face?
Our objective was to make our ideal garments without compromise, and after the first year using time-consuming manufacturing techniques on old machinery with very expensive Japanese selvedge denim and fabrics, we soon realized selling directly to the consumer would be the best way to proceed. Also, a key issue was customers wanting to “try before buy” which a website alone couldn’t offer. So yes, having our own shop where we could take time and consult with the customer was always our objective.
You’ve been a brand now since 2012, during which time your products have expanded from aprons to jackets and hats. Do you plan to expand your product lines even further with your new space?
We develop into the range when we feel like there’s something we need, we don’t work to seasons as other brands, because each of our styles and the denim that we use is timeless and doesn’t need updating. Also, once our customers find their perfect fit we want them to be able to come back and buy it again. We’re currently working on a new shirt and jacket.
You’ve recently added vegan patches as an option for your jeans. Are veganism and sustainability things that we will see more of with Dawson products going forward?
We listened to our customers and acted by introducing the vegan patch. The sustainability issue was always a concern for us which is why we introduced the free repair service/log book before any other denim brand. We work with our Japanese mills because they put environmental needs first the Japanese government has strict laws on recycling that includes the water used in dyeing. We have also visited each mill we work with to see each process first hand. All staff involved in our business are paid a living wage too.
You’ve already had social events with Jocks & Nerds and have one coming up with Men’s File. Do you feel your new space gives you more opportunities to host these kinds of events?
Yes, social events (Saturday Sessions) and guest talks are really important as it introduces new customers to the shop that may not have heard about us previously. Bricks and mortar shops have to give something extra nowadays that the internet can’t give. At the Dawson Garage, you can meet the maker of your jeans and shoot the breeze with us over a beer—I can’t think of any other UK store that does that! It helps that our store is located in a private cobblestone mews (1883) as we can open the Garage doors and have a party.
With your physical expansion, do you see the Dawson Denim team growing as well? Or will you strictly keep it husband and wife?
There are already three of us in the team between us we have almost 50 years’ experience, but yes, absolutely we’d love to have more onboard. We’re not a small unit anymore, the business has grown.
Each Dawson Denim product is handmade in Brighton, England, and numbered/signed by its maker. Dawson Denim offers free repairs on all of their products. This comes in form of a ‘Log Book’ inspired by the golden age of motoring, which can be used to log all repairs or alterations made to the product.
Dawson’s range of products is a well-balanced ensemble of heritage goods that draw inspiration from the early-to-mid 20th century. We’ve taken our picks of some of the core and standout pieces in the current Dawson Denim collection.
Wide Tapered Fit Jeans
Seen here in 14.25oz. Japanese red selvedge denim, the Wide Tapered Fit Jean is Dawson’s latest silhouette. Cut with a lower rise than their Wide Leg fit, these jeans have a reduced hem width which creates a gentle taper from the knee down, making them perfect for both classic and modern silhouettes. This particular denim is rope-dyed with pure indigo and woven in Japan on vintage Toyoda looms. Each pair is finished with copper rivets, donut fly-buttons, and a fully felled inseam made on Dawson’s Union Special 35800.
Available for £250 (~$310 USD) at Dawson Denim.
The Engineer Jacket is Dawson’s take on an early 20th-century workwear staple. Coming in an archetypal collar-less design, the Dawson Engineer jacket features roomy patch pockets, internal hunters pocket, and triple-stitched raglans sleeves. Each piece is finished with Dawson Denim branded buttons, felled seams, and a selvedge hanger loop at the neckline. In addition to the 14.5oz. raw white selvedge denim and Indigo Sashiko editions pictured above, the Dawson Denim Engineer Jacket is also available in Indigo Stripe Hickory Twill.
Available for £280 (~$345USD) at Dawson Denim.
Wide Leg Jeans
Inspired by overalls from the early 20th century, the Wide Leg jean by Dawson Denim is a finely curated pair of wide jeans presented in a lightweight, steely-blue 13 oz. white selvedge hank-dyed denim. The Wide Leg jean features a full, roomy leg with a high rise. Each pair features a two-prong cinch back fastener and host of beautiful details like Japanese herringbone twill pocket bags, donut buttons, and a selvedge fly.
During our visit to The Garage, Scott was kind enough to show us a well-loved pair of these jeans that were in for repair. As you can see from the images above, the patina that had developed on this particular pair was something to behold.
Available for £260 (~$320USD) at Dawson Denim.
The Dawson Denim Ball Cap is inspired by baseball caps of the 1920s. Handswen in Brighton by the Dawson team, the ball cap is seen here in 10oz. natural undyed selvedge twill, but also comes in Wabash-printed indigo twill, and Dawson’s ‘neppy denim’. All caps come with an adjustable strap closure with copper buckle.
Available from £95 ($120 USD) at Dawson Denim.