Perhaps you're familiar with the phenomenon of $300 jeans. As an alternative to the lightweight, cheap, tear-prone dungarees you'd buy for maybe $60 at most, you can get premium denim that's usually selvedge (jeans sewn using a single continuous thread folded back onto itself while on the loom, or "self-edged") and sold raw (meaning unwashed and untreated). The product is a stiff, coarse, and misanthropic pair of pants that eventually breaks in and, as advertised, conforms to your legs and develops wear patterns unique to your pair. They'll last for years, possibly decades. The consequence is a three-figure price.
Denim jeans, as they existed in early incarnations in the late 19th century, were made to survive the abuse of manual labor. A century later, jeans are a given in any closet, and manufacturing responded with increasingly efficient production and cheaper materials. But in the way of such trends, selvedge jeans are coming back around to appeal to that part of the market willing to invest in the long-lasting stuff. For advocates of this sartorial philosophy, enthusiasts at GQ, Hypebeast, Complex, and even The New York Times have anointed San Francisco-based shop Self Edge as the greatest monument to denim in the United States.
"I go out looking for the best stuff," says Self Edge co-founder Kiya Babzani. "It all just happens to be from Japan." Why Japan? "They have this otaku culture for this, they're obsessed with Americana," he says, "otaku" being abundant enthusiasm for a culture. Enter the shop on Valencia Street and you'll see the rows of $300-plus jeans from the Land of the Rising Sun. There are exceptions, like Roy Denim, which are made by one man, Roy Slaper, in a tiny Oakland studio. Babzani only carries clothing designed and sewn by artisans as monomaniacal about denim as Babzani himself – otaku not being limited to Japan.
These being jeans, though, and not diamonds, the problem of a hole in the pocket or a split crotch does arise from time to time. The solution is a novel one: Instead of building specialized machines for repairing these pants, use the vintage technology that was fixing them the first time around. Self-Edge's repair shop is outfitted with colorfully named machines of yore: two different types of 1950s Singer Darning Machines, a vintage 43200G Union Special Chainstitching Machine, and a 1920s Steel Kick Press. For $20 ($40 for non-Self-Edge jeans), busted jeans will be fixed and likely look even better for wear. Just in time for the late shift at the salt mines.