I came from a small town on the outskirts of Detroit. Places like New York and London fascinated me, and I would pour over any magazine I could get my hands on. I also started cutting up and customizing my own clothes, although with zero sewing skills I had to be a bit creative and I really took to hand distressing, cutting up and shredding denim in my late teens. Looking back I can see that this was sometimes horribly done, but hey it was fun.
I moved to London about a month after I graduated from studying Social Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan. I started as a PA for Penfield, an American heritage revival brand specialising in men’s outerwear, and just worked my way up. From then I went on to MiH and Victoria Beckham. They were both totally different experiences, but I guess what stands out is at both companies I was working with really inspirational and strong women. I started at MiH when I was in my early-twenties so I had a lot to learn, but I think just getting yourself in a good environment and working hard for awesome people is the way to grow and build yourself into who you want to be.
I decided to go out on my own, because I reached a point where I realized that I wanted to build something myself. I’d been doing denim development and production for about 10 years and I didn’t find any denim dens focused exclusively on women’s product. All the denim shops and industry felt like such a boy’s game, I wanted to build something authentic that wasn’t fluffed up based around selling an outfit and a tencel t-shirt. I wanted wood and rawness as a backdrop for just denim.
I had a really strong concept of what I wanted to achieve with Bad Denim. Given my industry background, working on the shop look and feel, range plan, buying structure was all straightforward. Also it turned out that working for small brands is a great education, as there aren’t necessarily departments to pass things off to. As such, I was used to getting stuck into the admin, budget, profit and loss sheet, accounting – all the guts of the business. I think the difficulty in setting up a business comes in dealing with industries or tasks that you have never touched before – for me managing the actual shop build was holy living hell and in the end I had to get down with the power tools myself. If you want to succeed, I think the concept has to be something that excites you and you find fascinating. Then sit down and work out a profit and loss sheet and project the first 5 years and see if it is a viable business. In the first six months, I read a lot of books. I also spoke a lot to friends and basically everyone came into contact with about the shop and what I was doing. I think there is this weird human trait that kicks in where you think that someone is going to copy you if you let out what is inside your head business wise. FYI – they aren’t, so talk about it.
When people ask why denim, my response is always that it’s a pretty awesome fabric, no? It’s hard-wearing and just looks better with age. There’s such a depth of variation in the fabric – it can be stiff as cardboard or open and lofty or draped, worn threadbare. It’s so easy to wear everyday in nearly every situation, it’s increasingly being used on the catwalks and has been echoed in everyday looks even more. It’s been elevated out of a pair of Sevens bought at the mall, which premium denim got stuck in for a while. Denim was once in the background but now it’s in the foreground.
Denim has been huge in the move towards basics and capsule wardrobes. That’s one of the reasons why denim is so amazing, because it plays both roles of being edgy, cool, sexy while also being a go-to comfort food that you know you can rely on. The only other time I’ve seen that improved is when sweatpants had a fashion moment. My dad got a kick out of that.
When I built Bad Denim I wanted to build a place that focused exclusively on the fabric. Where women could come for real advice and a conversation about what works for them. I do all of the buying and try on of very piece so I know the fit and fabric and really stand behind every single jean I have on the shelf. I guess we’ll see whether it works or not, but I buy what I like, would wear and excites me. I don’t think buying for a customer that is not in your taste-zone would come across as authentic. Past the styling, after working in production and development for so long I really scrutinize the quality of the stitching, fabric, wash and general feel of the brand so it all has to tick all the boxes.
I chose Clapton, in London, to open to store because I thought it had the kind of on-the-edge feel. It’s like in Brooklyn where you’re just wandering around and then there is this amazing boutique that has popped up where it really shouldn’t be. Kind of like an amazing surprise. I also kept just repeating “If you build it they will come” when I was working on the shopfit…
I think my customers fall into 2 main categories. I get the woman who has been searching, they want a perfectly cut pair of jeans in a great fabric that will last and make them feel amazing every time they put it on. They want their wardrobe staple. Then I also get someone who is looking for something new, they want an interesting denim silhouette or embellishment, they are tired of the skinny and want to find the perfect carpenter dungaree or high-waisted tapered-leg pair. They’ll take the time to flip through the vintage rail and try it all on as well as everything that is new in. Generally though, my customer is anyone who desires an amazing pair of jeans. I love talking to people who have time to try stuff on and have come especially to spend some time here. We get a lot of customers making a trip up to Clapton to see our brands and edit which is really flattering. We’re currently the only UK stockist for Kapital’s women’s product and have some exclusive NSF things so there are a lot of designers and denim-obsessives who pay us a visit.
I travel all over to find the right pieces. Tokyo is just mind-blowing denim wise – they’re really into the vintage Americana denim vibe and are total purists. The Kapital shop, for example, is a total sensory experience, and there are so many vintage shops, it seems that all of that 1970’s Californian denim now resides piled high in tiny unmarked dens on the side streets. In LA you’ve got all the American production of denim so Paige, Frame, NSF, Current Elliot are all based here. For vintage it’s the Rose Bowl and Pasadena City College fleas. When I’m in Detroit, I’m usually digging through these incredible huge hanger-warehouses looking for the interesting pieces like denim patchwork biker jackets, Lee big-twill and uni-suits.
Alexa Chung and Chloe Sevingy nail their style every time. They’ve got that delicate balance of preppy kookiness while still looking powerful, sharp and flashing some leg. Emerging designers are also important to me – I’m most excited about like Adam Selman, Rachel Comey, Marques Almeida and SJYP.
Naturally, I own a lot of jeans. I try to cycle them out and pass on to friends or it gets overwhelming. I have a lot of vintage pairs for design reference, and I wear a lot of Current Elliot, Rachel Comey, Kapital and MiH – my fiancé teases me that literally any box / drawer / cupboard he opens has denim in. I’ve got some incredible indigo-dyed Moroccan textiles that I’ve put up in my shop and home and really enjoy looking at, at the moment. Jeans and looking for basically anything indigo-dyed has become a sidebar to my life. It’s a great thing to hunt for and I constantly have pieces that are going in and out of my collection. Every holiday, anytime I’m out and about I’m looking at what people are wearing and buying and what is coming next.
My one style vice is red lipstick. I wear it with whatever pair of jeans I’m currently obsessed with, until I forget about them and wear another pair to death. Must haves are also my old raw Wrangler wide legs, Lee skirt, Landlubber one-piece suit and thread-bare selvedge 501’s. I think when you start working in fashion, you wear black out of fear of making a misstep. Then with time your own style evolves and you can get more directional and kooky until you finally get the balance right.
Photography by Dvora with art direction by Naomi Mdudu