Meet The Jean Maker : Denimsmith’s Vinh
In today’s Denimsmith blog, we want to help you make an essential connection: that connection between the sweet Denimsmith threads you wear and the maker who carefully constructed your jeans. Often, we forget about the maker of the products we wear so intimately. Sometimes it’s because we’re encouraged to disconnect with how a product is made because of ethical issues to do with mass-production – other times it’s because we’re not provided with the opportunity to meet the maker behind our garment.
Denimsmith is all about making that real, local connection: we’re so proud of being Brunswick East made by local denim artisans. Today, we introduce you to Vinh – Denimsmith’s passionate denim advocate and jean maker. Among others, Vinh is one of the key makers who bring your jeans from being a design concept into being worn around postcode 3057. Here, he shares his story – encompassing migration to Australia, a love for denim and the importance of keeping manufacturing in Melbourne.
When did your passion for jeans begin?
My passion for denim jeans began as a teenager in Vietnam. There was a strong American influence in fashion in the 70’s-80’s. I come from a family of 11 children and we all shared our denim jeans – my brothers were older than me and I admired their style. I arrived in Australia in 1989, and my first job was working for a denim manufacturer. I enjoyed the factory life, learned English and enjoyed the denim community. I continue to make jeans with the same enthusiasm I had when I started.
What do you enjoy most about the jean-making process – and what are two steps in the process that most consumers are not aware of?
In my birth country I was a mechanical engineer: what I enjoy most about the jean-making process is that the machines we are surrounded by at Denimsmith are both vintage and automatic. I spend most of my day tinkering with them; some of the computerized machines we have invested in are truly remarkable. They’ve evolved so much in the last 2 decades.
When customers visit our factory, they are able to observe our jean-makers. They’re often surprised our jeans are made by hand, from our cardboard hand-made patterns to being hand cut and machined. Another surprising fact is customers believe the fabric is already prewashed: they are not aware each jean is in garment form then individually hand customised using sandpaper and tools to make the aged appearance.
Do you have a philosophy about making jeans? How is this philosophy realised with Denimsmith?
My philosophy is to make a quality garment with premium fabric and trimmings. Where possible we source Australian made goods – that is very important to us. Denimsmith jeans have a slow make, and this is integral a good quality jean. I strive for perfection, not how many jeans I can churn out of the factory in a day.
How did you learn about manufacturing, and what do you love most about the process?
I had a good teacher in my oldest brother. He taught me how to cut a jean, how to use the cutting equipment how to make accurate markers to limit wasting fabric. I still continue to cut today, I love unrolling a freshly woven roll of denim and making the first cut – creating something from scratch is very rewarding.
It is an increasingly tough environment for Australian manufacturers: what keeps you motivated and sets Denimsmith apart?
Yes, it is very tough making locally made garments a viable business – but I continue to believe we need to keep jobs in Australia! Our factory is a family business and I want to look after my family both now and in the future. My relationships with other Australian-based manufacturers also keep me motivated: we wash our jeans 2km up the road from our factory, and also collaborate with knitwear companies just around the corner.
You are renowned for your collaborations – how do you select other creative minds to collaborate with?
We are a design-based company, so we choose brands that share our ethos. We do not go overseas and copy garments, we align ourselves with brands that have similar ethics, as being creative and authentic is very important to us.
Is there a Vinh ‘Denimsmith’ signature style or look that you are known for, or pride most in your work?
What I pride myself on is my technical skills in manufacturing, I enjoy making the designer’s vision come to fruition – even if sometimes at first I think it’s impossible! I think for many days, tinker with the machines and I always do find a way to make it work.
As Australia is increasingly flooded with imported fashion products, do you feel that the consumer still values clothing made in Melbourne?
When I shop with my wife, we are so surprised today to see the poor quality of garments in the marketplace. It’s clear they will only last a few months before you’ll need to throw them away. Also the fits is often poor – leaving the customer to believe that the reason clothes don’t fit is because of their physique. This disappoints me greatly! Yes, I have to believe there is a market for good quality, well-fitted Australian made garments otherwise I would close my factory doors tomorrow.
How long have you had your factory in Brunswick East, and what attracted you to the area? Has it changed much in the time you’ve been there?
I have been in Denimsmith’s Kirkdale Street location for over 10 years: previously I was in a smaller factory in Barkly St, so I have been in the Brunswick area for over 15 years. I love this area because it has friendly people and a great community. It has changed a lot – the streets used to be a lot quieter and the culture wasn’t as diverse as it is now. It is wonderful to see interesting small businesses popping up everywhere, it builds a creative buzz northside.