Who designs your jeans? A look behind the scenes in Turkey

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Design & Product / Technology

A few weeks ago I visited a yarn and weaving factory as well as a denim manufacturer in Turkey. I learned that it is not only the designers of the brands anymore that are responsible for how your jeans look, a lot of the innovation comes from the suppliers.

This is how most of us think fashion design works:

Genius designers travel the world, are being inspired, lock themselves in, sketch like mad and come out with their designs.

Isn’t it?

 

IMG_2805

Cotton prepared for yarn spinning (Calik Denim)

 

Well, this might be how it used to be and a few lucky designers might still work like this. However, for most brands design is a collaborative effort and it doesn’t end with your own team, especially when it comes to denim.

A few weeks ago I went to Turkey to visit a yarn and weaving factory as well as a denim manufacturer. I was surprised how much research and development (R&D) is actually done by the suppliers.

Hamit Yenici is managing director at Calik Denim. Their headquarters are in Istanbul, their actual yarn and weaving factory is located in Malatya in East Anatolia.

About their R&D he tells me, ”We need to be different and we need to do it right if we want to survive in today’s challenging markets. You don’t want to be a follower. You want to be a company with its own ideas. You have to feel future trends and adapt your product to those trends. You have to be extremely open-minded, your eyes and ears need to be everywhere. Not just in the denim industry, also on social media, in the chemical industry, electronics, whatever’s important to the customers needs to be important to us  too. It’s not just about cotton, yarn and indigo. It’s not that simple anymore.“

An example: when vintage becomes a trend, people want their denim to look like the old 501’s. But do they want them to feel the same? No. The old denim is thick and rigid. It is way to warm for today’s heated flats and back in the days you had to buy them two sizes bigger and sit in the bathtub with them to shrink them to your perfect fit. Nobody wants to do that anymore and this where the innovation from suppliers come in: denim that looks like it’s from the 60s but is bi-stretch, for example, so it fits right after you buy it.

Where does the innovation come from, the designers or the suppliers? ”I would say it’s a loop”, says Yenici, ”One of the best sources for new ideas is our customers. You might think you had the best idea but you need to listen to your customers and what they want. Then you need to adapt. If you’re in that loop, you’ll do good business. If you’re not, it becomes difficult. I couldn’t say that we are the starting point. Sometimes a very simple tip from the customer could be the beginning. Finding out what our customers need is the best source for new ideas. There is no clear beginning or end when it comes to research.“

Orhan Baykan is general manager at Baykanlar. Their factory is only a couple of minutes by car from Calik’s mill. This is where denim fabric is cut and assembled into jeans. When the Baykan brothers started out 20 years ago they took on orders to produce what the designers and labels would ask for. Now their role is a more integrated one, sometimes it is even reversed. It is not rare for designers to consult Baykanlar on upcoming trends. The manufacturer develops 5,000 unique styles per year for their customers. They need to know if skinny is still a thing or if women all over the world will soon ask for mom styles or embellishment.

„Our designers, washing experts, fabric procurement and sales team visit the key markets and trade fairs all over the world for inspiration … The process has turned into a collaboration. The times when our clients sent us through their designs and our role was to simply produce them, are over. You need to collaborate.“

Read the entire interview with Hamit Yenici and the article on Baykanlar in the 2-2017 issue of JNC.

And here are some impressions of how denim is produced.

 

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Raw cotton (Calik Denim)

 

Spinning Process (Calik Denim)

 

Indigo Dyeing Process (Calik Denim)

 

Indigo Dyeing Process (Calik Denim)

 

Dyed Yarn

Dyed Yarn (Calik Denim)

 

Weaving Process (Calik Denim)

 

Weaving Process (Calik Denim)

 

Laser Fading (Baykanlar)

 

Robot Spray Arms (Baykanlar)

 

The pictures and videos above were taken by me. Photographer Christoph Mack took more pictures on the trip. You can see them here.

 

 

The Author

Bjoern Luedtke is a freelance journalist, editor and writer specialising in fashion and marketing

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