Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Denim. . .

…But Were Afraid to Ask.

Denim is a funny thing. On the one hand, it’s easily the most ubiquitous fabric in the United States, if not the whole of the western world. On the other, the vast majority of people who buy and wear the stuff know very little about it. Especially, when it comes to what separates good from bad. For that reason, I’ve asked a man who breathes, eats and sleeps denim, 3sixteen co-founder Andrew Chen, to show us what makes one pair of jeans, like those from his label, better than another, in this case, ones from a certain three-letter-named French brand. Though the differences may seem slight, it’s precisely those small variations that’ll keep one pair chugging along, long after another’s been reduced to shreds. Take it away Andrew.

Ever since we launched our jean collection in the fall of 2008, we’ve gotten inquiries from customers who are curious as to why they should choose our jeans over a certain popular French brand’s. We respect said brand’s jeans for their minimal aesthetic and modern fits, but, feel that the jeans themselves leave much to be desired from both a fabric and construction standpoint. Here are some key differences:

1. Fabric Details / Origin
Ours: 14.5oz raw indigo selvedge denim custom woven in Okayama, Japan
Theirs: 12.5 oz raw indigo selvedge denim woven in China

We have the privilege of working with Okayama-based Kuroki Mills – one of the most famous denim mills in Japan – to produce our own custom fabric. This is a major challenge for small companies like ours as costs and yardage minimums become preventative factors, but, it was important that we offer a textile that is completely unique to our jeans, something that no one else can buy. We put a lot of thought into our denim and ended up with a fabric that’s not too light, but heavy enough to offer significant durability over time. We also opted for open-ended weft yarns (most denim utilizes ring-spun weft yarns) which results in a much softer hand on the inside than your typical crunchy, painful raw denim. The denim is the most expensive part of manufacturing our jean, and has gotten even more expensive over the years due to the weakening dollar against the yen, but we’re still committed to keeping our jeans at a reasonable cost even though our fabric is far superior to other jeans in our price range.

2. Location of Manufacture
Ours: San Francisco, CA
Theirs: Macau, China

The country of origin doesn’t always determine the quality of construction. I do, however, think it’s important to be able to visit the place where your products are being made easily so that you can ensure that your goods are being ethically and properly produced. For us, it was important to make our jeans in the USA because that’s where our company is based. We wanted to be able to monitor production and make adjustments and improvements along the way without having to travel far. That, and the factory we work with is amazing. They’ve been making jeans for decades now, so we are in good hands.

3. Leather Patches
Ours: Heavyweight natural tan leather patch made by Tanner Goods in Portland, OR
Theirs: None

About five years ago, I came across a small Portland-based company making leather goods out of natural tan English Bridle leather. I ordered a belt and a lanyard for myself and loved the quality, so I reached out to them to see if they’d be interested in making leather patches for our jeans. They told me that this would be a first for them, but that they’d love to give it a shot. We released our first run of jeans in 2008 with Tanner Goods leather patches on them, and they still make them for us to this day. We’ve become great friends with them over the years, as their company values fall right in line with what we do. What I love most about the patches is that they age alongside the jeans: as the denim wears out and lightens up over time, the leather patch darkens beautifully and softens up.

4. Hems
Ours: Chainstitched hem
Theirs: Previously chainstitched; now topstitched

Chainstitched hems aren’t stronger than topstitched hems, but we like using them because that’s the way all jeans used to be hemmed. It’s a nice vintage detail that lets the customer know that there was thought put into all the different stitch types and stitch counts.

5. Additional details
Ours: Selvedge fly and hidden selvedge coin pocket detail
Theirs: None

We don’t like flashy details, which is why we chose to keep the coin pocket selvedge hidden. That being said, we do enjoy small touches that only the wearer sees, things that let our customer know that their jeans were thoughtfully put together.

To see the full 3sixteen denim collection, visit 3sixteen.com.

  • David

    Can anyone recommend a decent pair of jeans WITHOUT a leather patch? Quality Mending Co. seems a bit too baggy for my taste, and other than them I haven’t been able to find a pair without a patch.

  • http://www.selfedge.com kiya


    You can remove the leather patch off a pair of jeans in seconds with a seam ripper or razor blade, it leaves no mark.

  • Stephen

    Unbranded from Urban Outfitters is a slightly lower quality line from Naked & Famous, but still quite high quality. I believe they don’t have a leather patch.

  • working_on_it

    David; You could just carefully use a seam-ripper to pull out the stitching on the leather patch (Emphasis on CAREFULLY). Typically, the stitching holding on leather patches and things like that on jeans is not integral to the structure or sturdiness of the rest of the jeans. That being said, if you have the chance, inspect the leather patch before buying to be sure the stitching isn’t integral.

  • http://www.jonasdees.com Jonas Dees (@jonasdees)

    You could always get a pair of 3sixteens and have the patch removed. From the style of stitching they use it wouldn’t leave much (if any) ghosting on the denim.

  • Otis

    David, you can easily remove a patch with a seam ripper (cheaply purchased at any fabric store) without harming the jeans if you do it carefully. Any thread holes will be small, and will be hardly noticeable or resolve back into the weave of the fabric with time and wear.

  • Jake

    A little bias without interviewing someone from A.P.C. no?

  • Jon

    David…your best bet is to find the jeans you want based on quality, fit and price, and then simply removed the leather patch. Very easily done. You’ll have way more options than if you only look at jeans that are sold without one…

  • Dan

    If you don’t like the leather patch, just snip the threads and take it off when the jeans are new. It’ll look like it was never there.

  • AnImp

    Pair of jeans w/o patch- you can often just cut off the patch. Cut the stitching from the outside of the patch with a knife, pull the stitching out, take off the patch. If you’re worried about the holes left behind, you can do this before the pre-soak if it’s unsanforized, or wash the denim if you don’t want to soak. This should close the holes.

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  • Kirsten

    David, if the problem with the leather patch is that you’re vegan, I know that Railcar Fine Goods has made jeans without the leather patch by special request for vegan clients. I’d suggest getting in touch with them. I have a pair of their Viper X003’s and I love them.

  • Ring

    This has to be one of the most useless articles I’ve ever read.

    APC is a fashion brand. 3Sixteen tried to be and failed miserably.

    Get over it.

  • Daniel

    I prefer my advertising up-front instead of this poor attempt at concealing it as an interview.

  • andy

    seriously, you don’t even ask APC founder Jean Touitou what his thoughts on jeans are? Companies like 3sixteen weren’t even doing their streetwear when APC’s started their denim line. This article proves how ignorant some people are about buying denim based on internet hype.

  • Travis

    Yeah but 3sixteen jeans are indeed superior to A.P.C. with regards to construction, it’s not really debateable.

  • http://www.denimgeek.com liam

    IMO both are great jeans that are suited to different people. Each to their own.

    @Stephen Unbranded Brand are a good jean for the price but do have a blank leather patch on the back. Believe they have a 21oz jean on the way next season.

  • WW

    For an article titled “Everything you always wanted to know about denim”, this is poor workmanship: Letting a knock-off brand list five (mostly inconsequential) ways that their jeans differ from A.P.C. So your jeans have a leather patch, and some strange details in the crotch…this actually makes your jeans look worse.

  • Ryan

    Imogene and Willie jeans have no leather patch. Made in Nashville.

  • steviegsus

    HA HA HA, interview Jean Touitou? Why so we get an arrogant response? “I’m the only one that knows anything, and did it before everyone else.” He says that in EVERY article I’ve ever read from him. Good for 3 sixteen having integrity making their product here and holding to their standards. APC products only fit man-o-rexic toothpicks.

  • David

    Thanks Kirsten and Ryan for the tips!

    Thanks everyone else too, but Kirsten hit the nail on the head. I’d rather there be no leather to begin with.

  • Chris

    I feel like 3sixteen jeans are about 50% more expensive than they were a couple of years ago.

  • Jean Claude Van Damn

    A.P.C’s denim is woven in Japan, even though they’re manufactured in China, check your facts!

  • Dan

    Pretty biased and useless article. The number 3 selling point is a leather patch, really? Andrew failed to mention that his jeans are significantly more expensive as well.

  • Tom

    Biased or not, the article presents facts on both jeans that aren’t up for dispute. I’m surprised no one has mentioned the fact that APC’s prices have gone up significantly over the years (I remember when they were $145 not too long ago) and yet the construction and details continue to cheapen. If you want to talk about internet hype, there’s no jean brand that is internet hyped more than APCs in my opinion. Some of it is warranted, some of it definitely is not.

  • Unhip

    NOTHING is made in Macau except for billions in gambling (not “gaming”…gambling) profits for Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn. It is most likely made in nearby Guangdong, China which borders Macau.

  • Kevin

    To say nothing of the fact that APCs just straight up LOOK better and more classic. The elongated pockets on 3Sixteens have always struck me as odd-looking and streetwear-ish. More importantly, for my money nothing compares to the way APCs wear in. I love the fit, the minimal detailing, and the silvery color of the denim — from the first wear to the 750th.

  • Chris

    I’ve been into raw denim and breaking them in since ’06. My first pair was APC. Since then I’ve tried many of the niche japanese brands and been very happy. But here I am years later and my most recent and most favorite jeans purchased are…. APC. I love all the vintage details but what I’ve learned is that fit is by far the most important thing. APC gets the fit spot on.

  • Locke

    A.P.C.s are nice and all, but they sure as hell don’t hold up. I’ve never gone through a pair of raw denim jeans as fast as the A.P.Cs I bought last year.

    Also, it really does matter that the leather patch is Tanner Goods. That company does not mess around when it comes to quality.

  • Chip H.

    Great article, but just want to point out that Open-End spun yarns actually have a harsher hand than ring spun. This is due to the fact that that more cotton fibers are parallel in a ring spun yarn, where in open end yarns, the fibers are quickly twisted in a rotor, giving it a hairier/harsher hand. Usually jeans are either OE/OE (both warp and weft are open end) or OE/RS (Open end warp with ring spun weft). Most true vintage jeans are OE/OE, so love the nod to that, but the fact remains that having ring spun yarns in the weft creates a softer hand. If your interested, Google images should have examples of OE next to ring spun yarns. Fascinating stuff if you are into textiles!

  • KORN

    Thanks for your question, David. I have also been looking for raw denim with no leather patch!

  • HLDM

    Having owned both brands products, I am deeply in the 3Sixteen camp. Now, this has much to do with fit which is quite personal and subjective. That said, 3Sixteen does offer many quality details that you do not find on APC. One very small but cool detail is the dual belt loops at the back of the jean (often found on khakis and trousers). Something small that helps prevent belt rolling. Fading has been great! Regardless, buy what fits your butt and your wallet.

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  • http://Noahzagor.tumblr.com Noah

    I’ve been selling and working with high-end denim since ’02 and I must say, APC has risen in price while simultaneously decreasing in quality over the years. In ’02, at the height of the distressed designer denim trend, APC was a beacon for classic simplicity and one of the only companies (sold in the US) aside from a handful of specialty Japanese brands and the old Levi’s Selvedge store in NoLita where you could buy raw selvedge denim. And, it was a great option. APC’s were light, comfortable, great fitting, and broke in quickly and beautifully with perfect fading and whiskering. They were cult favorites amongst artsy New Yorkers in the know. They were also priced at $115. It wasn’t till around ’08, when the americana trend exploded that APC began selling to third party retailers (aside from Steven Alan and a one or two others) and really raising prices.

    These days, for too many reasons to list, there are more brands producing selvedge denim available in the US since all jeans were made that way. Most of these brands are somewhat artisanal in their approach and mostly produce incredibly high quality garments. 3sixteen is one of those brands and Andrew does an amazing job keeping the prices more than competitive. Comparable denim from obscure Japanese brands can sell for triple the price.

    These days if someone tells me they are looking for their first pair of raw selvedge denim and want to experience the break-in process at a unrealistlcly fast pace, I send them to APC, with the caveat that they are sort of like training jeans for those curious but not committed to the process. For their sencond pair, I’ll send them to Andrew. They might be a little stiffer and heavier, and they may take far longer to break in, but there’s no comparing the two brands’ quality and attention to detail. 3sixteen really does come out miles ahead.

  • Sue

    Until I see 3sixteen carrying denim for girls, I will stick with Baldwin.

  • Cillian

    @Sue 3sixteen do carry denim for girls, It’s 3sixteen+ 99BSP

  • Kyle

    I got my friend some 3Sixteen SL-100s last Christmas and they’re terrific jeans. It’s funny watching the APC fanboys contort here, APC is coasting along on good cuts and hipster rep. 3Sixteen’s jeans are superior for all the reasons mentioned and more:

    – The pockets on the 3Six jeans are different from APC.
    – 3Six’s denim doesn’t stretch very much, so they’re much easier to size than APC’s freaking vanity sized, insanely stretchy denim.
    – 3Six’s jeans age much better. APC’s fades are ugly, washed-out, and gray looking. 3Six holds its color much longer.
    – 3Six’s jeans are much easier to size. Trying to properly size APCs is a gamble, to put it lightly.

    There are lots of good inexpensive jeans out there – 3Sixteen, Left Field, Railcar, Rogue Territory, etc. The likes of APC and N&F get way too much attention and quite frankly make jeans that don’t look or age nearly as good as those other brands.

  • aggressive horse behavior

    I always spent my half an hour to read this web site’s content every day along with a mug of coffee.

  • Matt

    Wow, amazing the ignorant anger from APC fanboi’s.

    3sixteen offer a superior product for a higher price. I own a pair and they’re really wonderful jeans.

  • Trevor

    @David. Despite what this article says APC is a perfectly fine denim brand without a denim patch.

    @Stephen. Unbranded has a patch on the back. It’s just a plain patch with no branding.

    @Noah, If Andrew does an amazing job keeping the price competitive than why are they more than APC?

  • worldwidewebster

    David, I second the person who recommended Railcar. I myself do not wear leather or buy it, so whenever a jeans company boasts about having a chunk of animal hide attached to their otherwise lovely jeans, it’s not exactly a selling point to me! I’m sure the folks who recommended that you “just snip it off” mean well, but they don’t understand. Anyway, I just got a pair of Vipers from Railcar and they made me a great looking patch out of heavy brown denim at no charge.