San Francisco: Denim Bruin

Last weekend, the West Coast saw the second annual Denim Bruin event, a unique weekend in denim’s “Hometown” of San Francisco.

Set up by Mark Randal, of the well-known Denimbro forum, the event was intended to unite lovers, makers and collectors of denim in the West Coast, particularly the San Francisco Bay area. The weekend was packed full of events and gatherings including a Levi’s Archive event hosted by the renowned Lynn Downey, a static exhibition of mine-found denim and book signing with Mike and Charla Harris of Jeans of The Old West, and a shop night at the famous AB Fits store featuring a photo exhibition of work by Cory Piehowicz and Farhad Samari.

We couldn’t attend in person, but we sent down ace photographer and Denim-head, Ulysses Ortega to take some photos of the crowd and events.

We asked Mark a few questions about the event, how he decided to start it up and what his future plans are for the weekend.

Did you do anything differently this year; any notable new concepts, brands or happenings?
“The first Denim Bruin was comprised and produced entirely by smaller brands and manufacturers, but this year a comparatively very large company, LVC (Levi’s Vintage Clothing) stepped in and hosted a night at their headquarters. They displayed some very rare, and in some cases quite fragile, early clothing items from their archive. This was definitely the largest venue for a Denim Bruin event yet, and was pretty awe-inspiring. We want to have new brands and manufacturers presenting their wares at Denim Bruin every year. This year Hollows Leather, Mastersons HQMG, Railcar Fine Goods and Rogue Territory all traveled to San Francisco and set up shop for one night at AB Fits. We also had back Rising Sun Jeans, who joined us last year, and hopefully will remain a Denim Bruin anchor brand.”

Do Do you have any favorite moments or weekend highlights?
“During Saturday afternoon setup for the AB Fits show, I walked over to nearby Washington Square Park, where a lot of DB attendees were having an informal swap meet. In the shade of Saints Peter and Paul Church one of the vendors, Michael Masterson, was sitting on a park bench calmly sewing buttons onto the shirts he was due to sell in a few hours. I sat down and talked with him for a few minutes, then did a little trading at the swap meet before heading back to AB Fits to finish the setup. It was a lovely half-hour.”

Has the event grown much since starting up last year?
“It did seem to be a bit larger this year, but not problematically so. Our events are all fairly small and intimate, and we wouldn’t mind at all if they stayed that way.”

You’re the brains behind the Denim Bro forum; what started you on that and what did you do previously?
“A core group of people who knew each other from several other online forums expressed some interest in having an online space which was less divisive and commercial than some other options we had become disenchanted with. We set up Denimbro.com to be a better mannered place, and have strived to keep it free from soft advertising and some of the dramatic action that we’d all grown tired of. Of course, any venue that is based around commercial goods and their admiration and purchase is going to have some element of marketing and commercialism to it, by the very nature of the subject, but we try to keep those elements from exploding.

Before, and still, I am a gardener by trade. Neither Denimbro nor Denim Bruin are profit-making ventures, which is how they will stay. I will be happy to roughly break even on throwing Denim Bruin, and have been close to the mark both this year and last.”

What nudged you to hold the event in the first place? Was it the success of Denim Bro?
“Michael and Charla Harris were visiting me in San Francisco about two years ago and were talking to several small local manufacturers about making reproductions of items from their 1870s/80s clothing collection. Several pairs of jeans were due to be finished that summer, and a few other projects were due to wrap up around that same time.
We thought, ‘Hey, if this all works out, we should have a party.’ That was the first Denim Bruin. Our forum, denimbro.com, did give us a platform to share what we had in mind with a slightly larger community than just us and our close friends.”

Do you find that the West Coast is more of a hive of denim activity and brands or was it just coincidence that you lived in San Fran and wanted to set up the Bruin in your home town?
 “No, the east coast has a lot of artisanal and Makery activity going on, and maybe even more brands producing made in the USA items than the west. Cone Mills, who supply a lot of American-made fabric to manufacturers both large and small, is also over there. We originally started with the concept that Denim Bruin would be about Made in California denim and workwear, since all three of us live here and know a lot of people in that profession, but there are so many interesting people producing things in the rest of the states, it seemed fairly arbitrary to close the doors at the state line.”

“We even had Blue Blanket Jeans attend as a special guest last year. They are Italian, but design and manufacture in their own country – this is exactly what Denim Bruin is about – not outsourcing labor to the cheapest, meanest source. And of course making nice things.”

Do you own a huge denim collection? Is it mostly new or vintage?
“Larger than is strictly advisable, I would say. It is almost entirely new, some repro pieces and some of modern design. I feel kind of spoiled – I know some people who have very large collections of vintage clothing that I enjoy seeing and can access at will, so I don’t feel the need to start collecting in that field myself.”

Do you have a favorite brand or model?
“Denim-wise, for work I prefer the LVC 201. It is a full cut 1920s reproduction, with plenty of room to move around in. The denim is extremely durable as well, amazingly so considering its fairly light weight. When I am not working, and am less likely to have to climb a tree or crab-walk along a lawn edge, I like Roy Slaper’s straight leg jeans, which are a nice trim, modern counterpoint to the 201s.”

Mark created a really beautiful Denim Look book from the event that you can view here at Denim Bro. Here’s to next year’s amazing event! And another thank you to Ulysses Ortega for the beautiful images.

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