What is the difference between a $5 and a $500 pair of Denim Jeans?
On the surface the difference would clearly be the quality of denim fabric and the finished wash. Looking a bit further would point to the trims and the construction. Beyond that the desirability for a pair of jeans overall remains with the fit.
Designer jeans are separated merely by their label. A name or brand attached will either add more or less desirability, depending on the stigma attached to the brand name.
“At the end of the day it’s only a pair of jeans” is a quote I completely disagree with. Knowing what it takes to create even one pair of denim jeans, one pair of top quality blue jeans is beyond that of the average garment.
Someone who is into a great pair of jeans might be willing to pay what it would cost to buy a custom made suit.
A well made and finished pair of designer jeans is a work of art and an investment. The average pair of jeans can last for years as long as the wearer remains the same size even through heavy wear and tear.
The fascinating beauty of a pair of jeans is that they get better with age and wear so the value of a pair of jeans is quite remarkable even at 500.00 a pair! If they last a minimum of 10 years a pair of denim jeans would cost less than 14 cents a day!
So why the big price difference and what goes into the making of a pair of jeans? The better quality goods and construction that goes into the garment the more expensive the garment is to create.
The items we need to take into consideration are the type of denim fabric, the quality of construction, the trim components used to piece together the garment and the fit. Below I will dive into each area involved in making a pair of jeans so one can see what is really involved.
I will touch upon the fabric from fiber to finish, the pattern for cutting the garment, the sewing and customizing the finished look, throughout the wash testing and final wash phases.
Denim Fabric – Required for a Pair of Blue Jeans
The most expensive part of the denim Jean garment is the fabric, on average it takes about 1 1/2 yards of 60″ wide fabric to construct 1 average sized pair of adult jeans, of course smaller sizes use less and larger sizes use more fabric so you have an idea of the cost more or less.
Great cost consideration is taken for the type of denim used, whether lightweight, heavy weight, left or right hand twill, and of course how the garment is finished.
Equipment Needed to Construct a Pair of Denim Jeans
Constructing a pair of denim jeans in the sewing process takes between 12 and 15 different types of machines so you can see that the best way to make any kind of money creating denim jeans is to make mass quantities.
We have learned from the mass production processes that it becomes more and more cost efficient when an assembly line scenario is utilized. To save time and materials it is best to have the machinery for the different operations already set up. Besides the different sewing machines required, special equipment for attaching the trims will also be necessary.
Some machines may require up to 4 or 5 thread spools to create just one stitch. So the set up and pre-planning can get pretty complex especially if the designer wants to have several contrasting color threads for the stitching throughout the blue jean garment. Each operation would be set up separately because there are different color threads required for different parts of a blue jean garment.
There are also a variety of stitches required for different parts of the garment for functional reasons. For example the hem might use a chain-stitch and a seat seam may need a felled stitch for reinforcement since that part of the denim jean garment has greater stress from the wearer. One area may need a single needle stitch where another area might use a double needle stitch.
Denim Fabric Construction
For many years blue denim for jeans was made from all cotton fibers. In the last 10 -15 years there’s been a trend towards blended fibers to create a more comfortable garment with greater ease of movement for the wearer.
First and foremost the fabric called denim is a durable fabric made from a special twill weaving process where the dyed yarns run the length of the fabric called the warp and the white or undyed yarns run across the width direction called the weft.
The weft threads are a thicker coarser yarn that may contain slub fibers. Slubs are desired since
they will cause natural variations in the weave making the blue denim fabric more unique when it’s washed down.
Slubs create greater highs and lows in the fabric which cause more abrasion during the washing process to the highs, and less abrasion to the lows allowing a greater contrast within the blue jean garment. This can add value to a denim garment since it adds a unique character.
The thickness of the yarns will also determine the weight of the fabric, the average weight of denim used for a pair of blue jeans is the10 -13oz denim. A lighter weight may be used for novelty denim styles or summer wear.
There are denim fabrics that can have a weight of up to 24oz. Some of these heavier weight denim fabrics are used in the higher priced blue jean garments. The higher weight garments would be made in limited editions another reason for higher cost.
Denim fabrics are made in a variety of widths which also affect the price of the denim blue jean. The more narrow the denim fabric, the higher the cost of the blue jean garment simply because more fabric yardage is required.
On some narrower width denim fabrics, along the selvage, which is the finished outer edge along the length of the fabric, you can find a contrast thread interwoven.
This will add value to a denim blue jean garment made to incorporate this selvage edge. The pattern for this garment would need to be engineered to have the side seams cut along the selvage of the fabric.
So in this situation the selvages are as important as the fabric between them.
Colors woven into the selvage edge may come in a range of colors most popular are the red, blue, and green. There are even gold lame threads interwoven into the selvage edge which would be a specialty request.
Some companies use this feature of the fabric as a trademark since it is more difficult to duplicate.Needless to say this would add value to a denim blue jean garment. Some companies will extend the length of the out-seam so the wearer can turn up a cuff to show off this particular feature.
Denim Twills – Left and Right Hand
Another interesting feature within denim fabrics that’s worth mentioning is the direction of the twill in the weave which is called either a left or right hand twill. These will be recognized by the upward direction of the diagonal twill on the face of the fabric. Right hand twill goes up from lower left toward upper right.
Left hand twill goes from lower right up toward the left. Left hand twills are more desirable due to the strength and durability of the finished goods. Right hand twills have the tendency to stretch out and stay baggy until washed. Washing in a sense resets the fabric if you will.
Garments made with right hand twills would not get as fully reset as a left hand twill would. When the fibers are twisted, spun into yarns, then woven into fabrics, a right hand twill continues with that right hand twist creating a fabric with a more flexible diagonal weave.
The fabric of a right hand twill is more forgiving and makes up a more comfortable garment that will more easily conform to the wearers shape but will have poorer recovery to the garments original shape.
A left hand twill naturally has the ability to lock the weave in place allowing the yarns to have more of a north and south east to west directional weave.
Since the yarns are twisted to the right and the fabric is woven to the left the yarns will have a tighter twist to the weave, giving a flatter tighter more securely woven fabric. Needless to say the left hand twills are more expensive and desired.
There are also many variations of twill creating a tighter or looser fabric. For example a 1×2, 2×2, 2×3 which refers to the number of yarns over by the number under in the weaving process this refers to the relationship between the warp and fill yarns.
Due to the nature of the fabrics construction, the more narrow the fabric width the better the quality, since there is less chance of flaw during the weaving process. A wider fabric would have more chance for error during the weaving process.
Denim – The Dye Process
The yarns in denim fabric are colored with a natural dye made from the indigo plant which gives us that gorgeous purplish blue color that is most desired even when faded. The reason it can fade so dramatically is because the indigo dyestuff under normal
circumstances never totally penetrates to the core of the thread.
Today more and more synthetic or man made dyes are used to color the fibers which have made the dying process more cost effective so today there are fewer denim fabrics woven with yarns using the natural dye process. Garments made from denim fabrics that have been through the natural dying process would be one more reason for a higher priced garment.
Pattern – Requirements For a Pair of Denim Jeans
For a traditional pair of denim jeans there are a minimum of 12 pattern pieces, or a total of 21-25 or more individual parts. There’s a lot of preplanning that goes into coordinating these parts.
Besides them needing to fit together as a garment, the parts will need to fit together well in a marker.
A marker is a layout which may include various sizes pieced together to create the best utilization of fabric for a particular order placed by a customer to the manufacturer.
The main pattern parts are called the front and back panel, front facing
and back yoke, minor parts are those remaining pieces, coin or watch pocket, back pockets, right and left fly pieces and then the pocket bag which is cut from a separate fabric type called simply, pocketing.
Some styles will use a 1 piece pocket bag, used more on mens styles. and womens styles will use a 2 piece bag which can serve as a tummy control if it has the right shape and is attached to the center front of the garment. Of course the more pieces,the more labor that goes into taking the complete garment, this is another indicator that the cost will be more.
Initially the pattern needs to go through an entire process in itself to get started, a grain-line is established and proportions front to back deciphered. Then specific design details are taken into consideration, such as pocket shape, leg shape (boot cut, slim fit or classic fit etc.) and where the waistline of the garment should fall.
There are a series of specific measurement points taken from the body that the pattern-maker needs to know and include when developing the pattern. The pattern is created by meeting these specific measurements at those established measurement points then completed by connecting the dots.
Once the base measurements are applied to the pattern, seam allowances will also need to be applied to the pattern pieces. It is important to note that different machinery may require a specific amount of seam allowance to make a secure seam.
Another consideration that needs to be addressed with the pattern is the shrinkage. Once the pattern is created there may be several samples developed in order to achieve the desired fit. In addition to the desired fit shrinkage is added so the approved denim jeans can reach the desired after-wash measurements.
Denim has the tendency to fray easily and can begin to affect measurements if too much fraying occurs before piecing the parts together. In addition to the seam allowance, a certain amount of shrinkage needs to be applied to the pattern to accommodate for the fabric shrinkage. Needless to say shrinkage testing needs to be performed on the target fabric before the sample garment is cut.
There is also quite a bit of engineering and working with the sewers needed to eliminate bulk created by the seams. Since there are a number of issues that can arise from creating a pair of jeans, it becomes easier to understand why they can get pricey. So after the initial pattern is created a marker is made to cover the fabric and then cut for sewing to get our first sample garment.
If the garment does not fit well or is not cut or sewn correctly or was not finished properly in the wash the entire process will need to be repeated until the desired garment is created. So you can also see how dependent each step in the process needs the cooperation of the other to be without mistakes. It can become very costly to repeat the process if it was fruitless.
Since the loops and most waistbands are rectangular in shape it is more efficient to cut them in a shared lot or by strips. A lot would be garments made from the same dyed roll or rolls of fabric. So to avoid what they call shading it is wise to cut parts from the same lot of dyed fabric. The parts are usually cut in pairs face to face so there is less chance of shading.
Denim Jeans -Prewash and Specialty Washes
Within the last 15-20 years prewashed jeans have become the norm. Before that you either bought unwashed which is also called rigid or rinsed jeans which were just that rinsed and dried so they could get softened up a bit. The prewashing also helped with some of the dye stuff that bleeds from the rigid garment due to the natural dying process of denim fabric.
As we learned that prewashing helps sell more garments, the popularity of bleaching jeans to help lighten up the shade quicker also became more popular. Time goes on and washes became more and more sophisticated, and today you can buy a pair of jeans brand new made to look like those broken in and possibly up to 100 years old if enough time and effort went into the wash testing phase.
The wash phase needs to be taken into consideration because denim has a high cotton content. Cotton fabrics will have a range of shrinkage anywhere from 1% to 12% or more. In each direction, length and width of the fabric. Length may shrink different from the width so it is important to add that shrinkage amount back into the pattern before the pattern is cut.
The preplanning is very important since to finished garment with the final wash outcome needs to be approved before the pattern is finalized since a garment with more processing will probably shrink more than one with less processing such as a rinse versus a heavily bleached garment.
The fun part of specialty washes is the sandblasting, and dremeling and hand sanding, the whiskering and the over-dyes to create that worn or antique look. So much practice goes into creating the perfect look, so you need lots of samples to practice on, which can get expensive. So you can see why there are so many bad garments out there and the value goes up for those that are perfect!