Built on the pillars of quality and craftsmanship, 3sixteen is a New York City-based clothing company specializing in men and women’s jeans. Founded in 2003, the brand has always been dedicated to selling well-made products. So when, in 2007, co-owners Andrew Chen and Johan Lam felt that there was a need in the market for high quality, well-constructed denim, they decided to fill it themselves. Going into it, they had criteria. They never wanted it to be about the label on the back. Rather, it was about the production. “It had to be made of raw selvedge denim from Japan, because that’s what we believe is the best in the world,” Johan shares. “And it had to be constructed in the US so that we could closely oversee production.” So, with those stipulations in mind, Andrew and Johan paired up with the Kuroki Mills in Okayama, Japan, to spin their denim. Once the materials are spun, the 3sixteen jeans are constructed in San Francisco, California.
Recently, Andrew and Johan traveled to Japan to visit the denim mill for the first time in the four years they’ve worked together. The guys got a special tour of the mill, and photographer Martin Kirby, who spends part of his time in Japan, was there to photograph it. For his set of mill images, Martin relied on VSCO Film® 02‘s Fuji Superia 800 as a base, adding his own adjustments for a customized look. He says, “I think what’s special about the VSCO presets, in this instance, is that the photos look like they shared the same processes as the denim does in the mill — almost as if they were printed to paper, hung on a production line, dragged through the beautiful indigo dyes, and left to dry in the vast shadows and peering sunlight of the factories.”
Many people know raw, selvege denim as the mark of quality jeans. What is even more special and unique is the fact that 3sixteen is spinning their own. Most brands of their size use pre-spun, stock fabrics, which in turn leads to an industry full of similar washes and cuts. 3sixteen works with their mill to create their own custom textiles. As a result, their denim is unique to their brand, leading to singular cuts and styles. This is an important element to Andrew and Johan, one that is well worth the cost. “Although it was a big risk for us to produce our own custom denim at first, due to the high minimums, it was important to be able to produce something that met the specific goals that we wanted to accomplish with each jean we designed,” Andrew explains.
Though Andrew and Johan were already familiar with the process of weaving their fabric, being in the mill in person to witness the process was powerful. It reminded them why they are dedicated to doing business the way they do. “We witnessed cotton threads transforming into finished denim over the course of a day,” says Andrews. “One thing that I was reminded of was how complex the process really is. At any given step, so many things can go wrong, and it takes a highly trained individual to operate and monitor each station. That kind of attention to detail is something we want to try to apply to every facet of our business. Johan and I left our mill tour inspired and energized.”
It’s details like the textile creation process that matter to Andrew and Johan. They don’t want to be a brand disconnected from their resources, and they don’t want their customers to be disconnected from them either. Andrew explains, “Learning more about the end-to-end process of how our denim is woven allows us to speak more directly to both retailers and customers about how much care goes into making the final product they are receiving.”
The guys describe their brand as versatile and broad. There’s no one 3sixteen customer, rather, everything is designed to suit a wide variety of people. “You don’t have to dress a certain way or be a certain type of person to incorporate [3sixteen] into your wardrobe,” says Johan. “At the core, each of our customers value the thought put into our garments, from the fabric to the fit.”
Andrew and Johan are thoughtful when it comes to their clothing line, both what they curate and what they produce. “We always ask each other a few questions when we’re developing a new piece for the collection. Is there a demand for this item? Are we adding anything to the world by creating this product? Are we making it better, or more affordable, or more functional? Sometimes the answer to these questions is a resounding ‘no,’ in which case we table the discussion… We want to make sure that we’re not just making clothes to make clothes, but that we are somehow furthering the conversation.”