In many ways, what makes 3sixteen’s jeans great is what makes the brand great too. There’s nothing extraneous. No gimmicky branding. No self-serious posturing. Just quality you can count on, at a price you can deal with. Since it’s founding 10 years ago, 3sixteen has become one of the most respected denim labels operating today. And, again like their jeans, they’re only getting better with age. While their ever-impressive denim line-up remains the core focus, a number of new complimentary pieces have been added to the collection, all of which not only pair great with their jeans, but also offer the same level of quality and character.
3sixteen’s cofounder, Andrew Chen, recently took some time out to answer a few questions through email. Here’s what he had to say.
Well Spent: You celebrated your 10th anniversary back in September (congrats!). What would you say are the biggest differences between the brand you started with, and the brand you have now?
Andrew Chen: The biggest differences are the experience, knowledge and resources that my partner Johan and I have acquired over this past decade. When we began, we had no idea how to make a garment, but we knew we wanted to create a product that was representative of our own passions and values. We began with t-shirts and slowly grew the line over the years until the brand became a full head-to-toe collection in Fall 2008 – there was a lot of on-the-job training involved.
Experience, both as designers and as retailers (we partnered up with Kiya & Demitra Babzani to open up the NY and LA branches of Self Edge back in 2010 and 2011), has taught us how to keep looking for ways to improve our offerings, even if they are small details that might not be noticed by the consumer.
Knowledge, not only of garment construction but also of how to run a business, has taught us that it’s ok to tighten up and focus on the category – namely, denim – that performs best for us, so that we can put all of our resources towards making a good product better.
And resources have changed. We used to depend on payments from the shipments we sent out to finance our next run, and there would be delays if anything didn’t happen at the exact time it was scheduled to (which was always). While we’re still trying to keep up with demand, things have gotten a lot better.
What’s stayed the same?
Our commitment to making the best product possible has not changed. Back in 2007 when we started to make sweatshirts, we began by sourcing the best fleece that our mills had to offer. And when we realized that there were other brands who were using the same fleece as us, we set out to design our own fabrics so that we could have a unique offering (those who’ve been following the brand for some time might remember our pinstripe and salt & pepper fleece).
When it came to jeans, for our first run we selected Kaihara selvedge fabrics that were durable and aged beautifully. But a year in, we began working towards developing a custom fabric that would be softer and easier to break in from day one, but still fade impressively. Our custom 100x fabric from Kuroki Mills – that we still use today – is the result of that development. We’ve always approached the challenge of making clothing with the same mindset: how can we offer the customer a superior product while keeping prices reasonable? We’ve made many improvements to our jeans over the years, without taking any steps to lower costs on our end.
With so many different US-made premium denim labels to choose from these days, what sets 3sixteen apart?
Cuts are subjective, so I’d say our construction and our fabric are what set our jeans apart. I already made mention of the process of developing custom denim, and that’s one of the first things that I share with customers and retailers: we don’t just make jeans, we develop our own fabrics too. Almost everything we make – from the flagship 14.5oz denim, to the heavyweight 17oz and the loomstate 18oz that’s featured on our 3sixteen+ jeans – utilizes textiles that are produced exclusively for our brand. Beyond that, I hope that our aesthetic and our track record – from how we design to how we treat our retailers and customers – speaks for itself.
Since denim is – and has been – the brand’s bread & butter for so long, do you ever feel pigeonholed, or like there’s a limitation on the kind of products you can make?
Yes and no. Sometimes we miss the days of designing brand new collections every season and launching new lookbooks to showcase them, but then we remember the challenges associated with that and are thankful for the choice that we made four years ago to stick to non-seasonal basics that don’t need to get dumped to an off-price channel a few months after they’re released.
All kinds of design work must happen within constraints, and we enjoy the challenge. This season, though, we are introducing a few new shirts for Spring/Summer. We plan to continue this approach by making short runs of fun pieces that compliment our core jean offering, without overproducing and risking wastefulness. The core of our business has been, and will continue to be, our denim.
Between social media, blogs and various forums, 3sixteen has always maintained a strong online presence. In what ways has that helped the brand? In what ways has that hindered it?
It’s helped us immensely in terms of connecting with people all over the world, whether they be customers or fellow creatives who take pride in what they make and how they make it. It takes some thought and planning to put good content together on a consistent basis, but the benefits have far outweighed any downsides that I can think of. In fact, I can’t think of one way it’s hindered our business.
We communicate visually and Instagram has been the most natural way to keep people updated on what we’re working on, what’s new with the brand, and what a day in our office looks like. And of course, when we travel, it’s a great way to bring people on the road with us to experience the amazing cities we are visiting.
In addition to co-running 3sixteen, you also head up Chapter & Verse Agency. Can you tell us a little about that, and how it got started?
Johan and I started Chapter & Verse Agency a few years ago as an overarching business that we could run 3sixteen wholesale through, along with any other potential clients that might turn to us for sales or marketing help. At the time that we started it, we had a few clients that we were already lending a hand to. In the years that followed, though, 3sixteen grew quickly and required our full attention. So, we have elected to put the agency on the back burner for now, but are confident that it will play a role in future happenings.
Finally, are there any upcoming product drops, collaborations, or other brand happenings you want to tell us about?
What’s foremost on our minds is our upcoming trip to Japan next week. We’re going to be visiting Kuroki Mills in Okayama to document our fabric being woven, from start to finish. We’ll be photographing the experience and will release the images after the trip, but those of you who want to see real-time updates next week can follow us on Instagram.
We’re also getting set to release a number of Spring/Summer shirts in the coming weeks. My favorite is our 3/4 Sleeve shirt that’s made of a super-lightweight woven jacquard fabric that has indigo-dyed threads. And this fall, we’ll be adding a few more outerwear staples to our line, including a denim jacket that’s made of our shadow (120x) and double black (220x) denim. There’s lots more to come – stay tuned.
For price and purchase info, visit 3sixteen.