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RAW PASSION

Raw Passion Landscape

To us, this is new-generation London,” says Charly Jacobs, head of design at Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, as we survey the brand’s converted 1920s factory in Walthamstow. Large windows flood light into the room populated with machinists, who busily cut and stitch strips of rich indigo denim. In the far corner, founder Han Ates chats to prospective clients, while Pedro Passinhas – who runs the supper club that occupies the factory by night – fires up the ovens in his adjacent kitchen. Down the corridor, leather craftsman Jonatan Staniec is putting the finishing touches to a new wallet and textile designer Katherine May is examining her latest crop of Japanese indigo, grown on the local allotment. Visiting the operation, it becomes clear that the label ‘business’ or ‘factory’ isn’t enough to encapsulate the broad vision of Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, which has become a hub of creative energy and community-based enterprise in an unlikely corner of north-east London. 

Lois B-E
Fashion

ESTABLISHING ETHICS
The innovative project is the product of Ates’s gradual disillusionment with the fast-pace, high-waste ethos of the contemporary fashion industry. From his humble beginnings as a presser, Ates worked his way up to owning his own clothing factory. Despite years of success in the fashion industry, as mass-manufacturing boomed and prices began to drop, Ates found himself forced to relocate abroad – first back to the home of his ancestors in Turkey, then to East Asia. In the face of increasing demands for cheaper products, regardless of diminishing quality, Ates quit fashion and created Homa – a sustainable, organic restaurant with an emphasis on provenance. The restaurant’s success revealed a public appetite for quality ingredients and supply-chain transparency, inspiring him to apply the same principles to fashion. From this, the idea for a London-based selvedge denim brand was born – producing high-quality jeans made ethically and sustainably from the finest raw materials.

To help realise his vision, Ates teamed up with Toby Clark – formerly of Margaret Howell – and together they set out the key principles of Blackhorse Lane Ateliers. “They wanted to create a community-led project that gives customers contact with how their garments are made,” says Jacobs. This transparency forms one of the most refreshing aspects of the brand, which operates an open-door policy that enables customers to meet the artisans making their jeans and hand-pick their favourite style and type of denim from the rolls on display. The importance of full transparency means that even the wholesale price of each pair of jeans is displayed for all to see in the factory. “We do this to demonstrate how reasonable our mark-ups are and also where our profit is going – funding this entire community we’re creating,” explains Jacobs. As part of these ethics, all employees are also shareholders in the company, and on top of earning a living wage they receive a cut of all profits. The project also supports future talent by providing three craftspeople with free studio space, who in turn reach out to the community by offering workshops.

JeansATTENTION TO DETAIL 
A far cry from its mass-produced equivalents, each pair of Blackhorse Lane Ateliers jeans involves hours of labour. “We offer eight fittings per style,” says Jacobs. “Even in high-end fashion you would normally only perform three or four.” Every care is taken to make sure the jeans are created to the highest possible standard, using Japanese selvedge denim – a market that leads the field – as a benchmark for quality. “We spent months training our staff up to a Japanese standard, so our stitching is incredibly refined,” says Jacobs. The brand has also developed a technique for creating a one-piece waistband – a notoriously difficult feat to master. “We’ve found our own method which makes the cut much cleaner and means it lays even better on the body,” explains Jacobs.

Finding machinists with the skillset to execute such complicated design is a challenge. “The most complex part of the jeans is the yoke – a V-shaped section at the back of the jeans that incorporates 16 layers of fabric. Our test for potential employees involved getting candidates to stitch through all of them. It took us three weeks to find one person.” 

With so much attention poured into the design and execution, working with the best materials is of paramount importance for the brand. Only the finest raw denim is used, finished with copper rivets and hand-stamped patches made from English leather. At first glance, the finished product may look like a standard pair of jeans but, on closer inspection, reveals itself to be an exceptional feat of design.

However, despite this painstaking attention to detail, Jacobs is not precious about how customers wear her designs. “Denim is made to be worn,” she says. “I can’t wait to see our pieces in 20 years’ time when they’ve been broken in.” In this spirit, customers are encouraged to refrain from washing their jeans for a minimum of six months, occasionally spritzing them with neutralising spray or popping them in the freezer to kill bacteria. “It preserves the authenticity of the fabric,” she explains. “Denim obsessives like to take pictures to document how their jeans are wearing, so I’ve designed a ‘Wash Diary’ to be printed on the underside of the pocket which allows customers to log their washes.” All of this helps preserve the natural qualities of the raw denim that Ates and his team hold in such high esteem. “For me, what I love is the integrity of the product,” says Jacobs. “It’s the most honest product that I’ve ever worked with.” 

www.blackhorselane.com

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