Photos from the denim distressing factory

Photographer David Friedman visited a Kentucky "distressing" factory where skilled laborers expertly age denim for the benefit of high-end designers, and produced a sweet little photos essay of these artisans at work. Photo Essay: The Denim Factory (via Kottke)


  1. Thank you for posting this, those bladders they use to inflate the legs so they can be worked on, well… I just found a new customer to call on. Yay!

  2. I remember couple of years ago, shopping for pants, when I realized that I had become a hopeless fuddy duddy.

    First thing I generally do is check the clearance racks – I am quite slim, and sometimes perfectly nice pants that fit me end up remaindered because the larger sizes have all been bought up. I checked through the pants, and thought “Well, I see why these are on clearance – they’re all threadbare around the pockets.” Little did I realize they were on clearance because they were insufficiently threadbare.

    I was already hip the the deer-butt-effect bleaching, and the pussycat whiskers, but paying extra to buy pants that are on that razor’s edge between looking threadbare but almost still presentable, and disintegrating in the wash was new to me at that point.

    I did not buy any pants that day – I like to wear out my own pants, which apparently makes me painfully unhip.

  3. Pretty much sums up our care of the planet. Purposefully taking something new with a reasonable lifespan, ruining it and then discarding it after an all too short lifespan.

  4. I did not buy any pants that day – I like to wear out my own pants, which apparently makes me painfully unhip.

    Indeed. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, people like us are so unhip it’s a wonder we can wear pants at all.

  5. You guys are missing the point. Here we have an actual factory making real things. It doesn’t look like it is a horribly polluting industry. And it is for a fairly basic product- pants. I would think this factory might be a small bright spot in an economy like we… oh, let’s not even get into it.

  6. Actually all the cool kids are wearing raw selvedge denim and breaking it in themselves…just so you know.

  7. It’s interesting isn’t it, Wolfiesma?

    It’s a factory that makes real things alright. Yay domestic manufacturing with fair wages and low pollution!

    But it’s a factory whose inputs are relatively inexpensive, durable jeans, and consumables like peroxide, sandpaper, and UV bulbs, and whose output is relatively expensive jeans that will not stand up to many washings. I would call it a factory for destroying perfectly good pants, but we’ve already established that I’m an old fuddy duddy.

    In a depressed economy the market for pricey jeans that fall apart quickly might drop off. But then it might not, I dunno.

  8. Indeed. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, people like us are so unhip it’s a wonder we can wear pants at all.

    I thought it was “you guys are so unhip it’s amazing your bums don’t fall off”

  9. I can’t get over the 500 dollar jeans I saw advertised several weeks ago. They had white paint on them–studiously applied to make it look like the wearer had been doing ACTUAL MANUAL LABOR!

    I have several pairs of these jeans, except they got paint on them by working, so that makes them totally uncool.

  10. these are great images, i’ve always wondered how it was done. i’m glad it’s manually done, so a worker can get paid, rather than just a bunch of machines scrubbing away.

    i also think it’s interesting to click the links on boingboing articles to other blog-type sites, because they always seem so aggressive on the other ones. boingboing is usually pretty friendly, and funny, and informative.

  11. I read an article about jeans factories in Asia where the cotton dust produced by sanding apparently causes lung problems (as breathing in any fine dust tends to do) as the workers are not provided with masks. Interestingly, the people in these photos are not wearing masks either.
    Anyway, I’d rather have clothes that last a long time, cause less waste, etc.

  12. One of the craziest, most stupid, shallow,idiot ideas [i]ever[/i] — clothes made to look old before they are even worn.

    I cannot see that any but crazy, shallow idiots would fall for this fashion marketers’ nonsense.

    Sad for the world that are there are so many people!

  13. Is anyone else reminded of Herbie Hancock’s video for “Rockit” from looking at this picture?

  14. I guess I was ahead of my time in high school (in the early 90s) when I would go to Goodwill and buy well-loved jeans from the 99 cent basket. Surprisingly, one pair of jeans stayed intact enough to wear all the way from freshman to senior year, and then got reincarnated as cut-off shorts.

  15. I was thinking that a better way of doing this would be to cheaply sell the jeans to people who do heavy manual labor, and when the old ones get sufficiently worn offer a new pair with a return deposit.

  16. I like that the pants distressing factory exists. It
    looks like it could be a fun place to work.

    I still want my jeans to look new when I guy them.
    And I want the fly to have buttons, not a zipper
    with metal teeth.

  17. A.P.C. offers a “Butler worn out denim”. Yep, no factory needed, they hire people to wear out and break in your jeans before you buy them.

    I’m more in the “suprised my bum doesn’t fall off” category, I actually spend ages to find a pair of pants that wasn’t distressed, discoloured, faded or anything. It’s quite difficult to be as uncool as I am.

  18. Years ago, I had all the same feelings in a Restoration Hardware store upon discovering distressed furniture, which cost thousands of dollars.

    This is urban camouflage for the wealthy.

  19. “April 3, 1989 Marakech.
    The chic thing is to dress in expensive tailor-made rags and all the queens are camping about in wild-boy drag. There are Bowery suits that appear to be stained with urine and vomit which on closer inspection turn out to be intricate embroideries of fine gold thread. There are clochard suits of the finest linen, shabby gentility suits … felt seasoned by old junkies … loud cheap pimp suits that turn out to be so cheap the loudness is a subtle harmony of colours only the very best Poor Boy shops can turn out.” William S Burroughs, The Wild Boys (pub. Calder and Boyers, 1969)

  20. geez, people. why bother buying pre-made clothes at all? it’s not that hard to just make them yourself, right? back in the day, you would just sew your own wardrobe from scratch. what is it with kids these days, wasting money on convinience.

    sometimes people aren’t practical, aren’t 100% rational, and aren’t considering your curmudgeonly opinion when they decide what to do with their lives. in terms of class warfare, there are more important and effective battlefronts than distressed denim.

  21. What? You mean jeans aren’t made like this?

    “…every stitch, every detail is made with love…”

    Next you’ll be telling me that Zack isn’t really a Lego maniac and that Bartles and Jaymes don’t really care to thank me, personally, for my support.

    (on preview: old anonymous is old.)

  22. Brian Eno pointed out that what we love about rock music is the distortion, all the ways it grinds against the edge of chaos. It gives the feeling of being real instead of manufactured. Ignoring the fact that the amp loses fidelity if you turn up the gain too high–is that wild and reckless or deliberate?

    Food broiled until it’s got crispy black edges.

    Steampunk clothing, accessories, furniture, appliances, houses.

    All of the forests in England were deliberately regrown from when the country was nearly barren.

    Restored historic houses with modern interiors and insulation.

    Having faux things is living in art, living with beauty and meaning on purpose. Even when the meaning is problematic or rebels against beauty and meaning. “Art is the lie that tells the truth.”

    #11 loganbouchard: “i’m glad it’s manually done, so a worker can get paid, rather than just a bunch of machines scrubbing away.”

    I tend to think building a machine to do it would open up better jobs for those workers. Operating and managing whole factories. Building and maintaining more factories and machines. Programming new “distress” patterns for the machines. Managing growing distribution. Anything that lets the same people do more, means more money and more interesting work for those people.

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