New York may be where fashion gets made, but Los Angeles is where clothes get made. With more than a third of U.S. apparel production happening in the Los Angeles metro area, it’s where many of the made-in-USA t-shirts, jeans and handbags in your closet are produced. And denim giant J Brand is one of the city’s most influential leaders. J Brand CEO Jeff Rudes, who founded the label in 2004, is widely credited with bringing the skinny jean to the forefront of denim trends. (Where it has stayed for almost a decade.)
At the end of 2012, Fast Retailing — the Japanese company that owns Uniqlo, Theory, Helmut Lang and others — bought a big chunk of J Brand (80.1% to be exact) for a reported $300 million. While the company is undoubtedly transforming, Rudes’s dedication to Los Angeles and more particularly, clothes made in Los Angeles, is unwavering. Almost every pair of jeans J Brand sells is made in its downtown LA headquarters. Which, between the corporate offices and distribution center, takes up a full city block.
Just days before Fashionista‘s Los Angeles conference earlier this month, I paid a visit to J Brand’s headquarters to meet several of its 235 employees. Click through to see how a pair of jeans gets made, from concept to shipment.
Welcome to J Brand. This is where creative director Donald Oliver and his team get shit done (i.e., map out each collection). Oliver was hired by the company in 2011 to design its ready-to-wear collection. Before J Brand, he held top positions at several big fashion houses — other gigs include DKNY Jeans, Gap and Calvin Klein.
A rack of pieces from the Spring 2014 collection.
On to marketing. This is where the public relations team keeps track of its press placements.
The marketing team might not be designing, but they do sit amidst thousands of samples, archival pieces and new product that is shuffled in and out.
Next up is the pattern room. This is Star, one of the pattern makers. She drafts her patterns by hand, but most of her coworkers use a computer program. “It just depends on where you were trained,” she says of the differences in technique.
A blown-up version of what the pattern labels look like.
This is the sample room, where the originals for every design are sewn.
One of the master sample sewers, hard at work.
The sample room’s extensive thread inventory.
One of many racks of archival samples. When asked how many pieces are in the archive, a J Brand spokesperson said, in all seriousness, “Too many to count!”
One of many fabric rooms.
Finally, the production center! This is where almost every pair of J Brand jeans in the world gets made.
This guy is steaming down the seams of every pair of jeans in the facility.
This gentleman sews pockets onto every pair of jeans with this nifty machine.
Quality control time. Every pair of jeans must be examined for flaws.
This is me with Blake, a J Brand PR coordinator and my tour guide for the day, and Mrs. Kim, who runs the factory. Mrs. Kim has been in business with J Brand’s Jeff Rudes for decades, and is known for her incredible attention to detail and unwavering obsession with high quality.
The storage room, where all inventory is kept before it’s shipped out to retailers.
Stacks of denim.
A shipment of jeans being prepped to send out.