Amsterdam Denim Trip: House of Denim Jeans School

After discovering the House of Denim Jean School earlier this month, we scheduled a visit in at the school at the ROC van Amsterdam to meet with the students, lecturers and founder, James Veenhoff.

A new adventure kicked off in the denim industry this month with the launch of the world’s first dedicated Jean School, an exciting partnership between the House of Denim foundation, Amsterdam’s ROCvA education board and the Amsterdam & International denim communities. Since its official announcement earlier this year, media response has been astounding; with The New York Times full online feature as well as Dutch national press and many international fashion blogs and magazines reporting on their story. We took a trip over to the newly founded school in the south of the city to speak with the founders and the gaggle of newly enrolled students to find out more.

Housed in the ROCvA’s new venue opposite the Rai convention center in Amsterdam Zuidas, the bright and spacious studio boasts all workshop aesthetics that you come to expect from any of todays bespoke denim brands. Built specifically for these budding denim craftsman, the denim atelier is fully equipped with industry standard tools and machines like twin needle stitchers, loop and chain stitch, irons and waistband machines as well as rustic features like reclaimed wooden tables and steel stools. Laundry graphics are placed throughout the studio detailing specific wear patterns and reinforcing the denim theme throughout the space.

We spoke with James Veenhoff, co-founder of the school and a former director of the Amsterdam International Fashion Week, about the story behind the school. “In only 3 years we’ve gone from 1st ideas to students-in-a-classroom.” His ambition was to train the next generation of denim developers and designers. The founders see the school at the crossroads of old fashioned craftsmanship and new concepts of sustainability in design. When students graduate they will know the conventional trade — skills like cutting, sewing, stitching and washing — and will have also learned new elements to the business.

The first 2 weeks of school have been a promise of great things ahead. The first day alone was turbo-charged with guest lectures by some of the finest people in the Dutch denim industry: Alex Jaspers of Scotch & Soda, Menno van Meurs of Tenue de Nîmes and Wouter Munnichs from the Worn-Out Projects. James has plenty more additions in the pipeline too. In the forthcoming weeks the students will visit the LVC HQ for a intimate lecture on the history of the 501 jean with design director, Miles Johnson, as well as a special technical lecture from denim fabric specialist, Rinze Koopmans. With James’ broad network in the denim industry, he even has have plans for denim luminaries Adriano Goldschmied, or François Girbaud to cut blue ribbons at the grand opening of the school in November.

The blueprint curriculum was developed by James’ consultant firm, Fronteer Strategy and HTNK in conjunction with ROCvA and a large number of denim industry experts from various professions – including Maurizio Donadi, Jason Denham and Tony Tonnaer. “We started out with an expert cocreation workshop during Amsterdam Fashion Week last year and in the summer and fall of 2011, a string of expert interviews and site visits was conducted in Amsterdam and California, followed by online input & feedback”. Along with this, the school initiated a pilot class of 20 2nd year design students that took a 10-week micro class of the first year in spring 2011. The process was wrapped up in December with the outcome of a full-time, 3-year, MBO4 ‘Denim Developer’ course.

The tight class of 18 students (5 girls to 13 boys), come from varying backgrounds. With an average age of 23, the class ranges from students fresh out of college who are pursuing their passion for denim and hopes for a career in the industry, to the more entrepreneurial types like Michael, a 24 year old who has already launched his own denim label, Purple Denim, along with 2 of his friends in Milan. “Joining the school was a brilliant opportunity to develop myself in the denim industry, to get to know so much more about it and become more specified in the subject of denim.”

Throughout the 3 years, the students will be trained in all aspects of the industry, but with a heavy hands-on component: a lot of time will be spent in mills, stitching rooms and laundries. Sewing skills, pattern making, fit and wash design will be taught throughout the course, with a specific part of the development cycle as the key topic, changing every ‘term’ of 10 weeks.

Now in their second week of the first year, the students are working on the solid basics of handling denim, cutting patterns and working with specialist tools and machines. It’s not only the practical parts that the students are required to learn, they will also take classes in Photoshop, Illustrator and Lectra systems to learn pattern making and cadding.

The second year see’s the students take on a greater depth of knowledge in the cycle, such as fabrics, cut & sew, laundry and wash. These skills are developed through a practical project where the students design, sew and launder their own jean. Along with this, students will take field trips to Turkey to visit factories and denim mills to give them a chance to see production in real-time. Additionally, throughout the three year course students are required to take part in various internships; the first an in-store internship where they will learn the retail business and the second, a design internship and in the final year the students will select their own specialist area that they hope to work in upon graduation.

Mr. Veenhoff explained that a major element of the House of Denim Jean School is teaching sustainability — green methods of producing and washing jeans. “We want to make the industry dryer, cleaner and smarter so we’re really going to have to have some technological innovations.” The school have partnered with KICI (Netherlands largest independent clothing collecting charity) who will be providing the students with recycled denims to work with. Additionally, the school and KICI together will also be developing their own domestic fabric using recycled denim and locally grown hemp and woad. This is all part of Veenhoff’s 3-5 year scope and school motto: “Heading for a Brighter Blue.”

When asked about his future plans for the school, Mr. Veenhoff spoke about his vision to creating a professional network, an archive and a denim lab, all under the name of House of Denim. “The denim lab will be an innovation lab and knowledge institute where all the sustainable tests can be catalogued along with historic pieces in archival style.”  James also sees potential for a House of Denim brand with an apprentice workshop creating hand-crafted products. “With the story behind the school and the student workforce, we see some enterprise that will create self funding and solidity to the school.”

To find out more on the school you can visit the House of Denim website or visit the brands  pop-up “Denim Embassy” at the F/W 13 editions of Bread & Butter and Modefabriek.

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