Interview: Duke – the custom belt maker without a name

What makes a good belt? Talking with custom belt maker Michael, or Duke as I know him (and will call him in the interview) on the denim forum Superfuture and Instagram, there’s at least two sides of the coin. The sole purpose of holding up our jeans and meeting the crowd’s expectations on one hand, the many layers of craftsmanship that goes into pushing a belt from good to excellent on the other hand.

It has spurred my interest in knowing more about leather and the craft. Maybe this conversation with Duke will stir up something in you too. Let’s dig in!

A custom belt is not necessarily good

So, what does make a good belt? In Duke’s mind there’s no clear answer to it. It can pretty much take on any form, even a piece of string could qualify if that’s what the wearer wants. There’s an arrogance in proclaiming a belt is good simply because it’s cut from the finest leather, hand stitched and adorned with a silver buckle.

“I think a good belt is the one that’s been created specifically to the customer’s requirements and one that he or she will want to wear often.”

To make something joyous for the wearer, that belt that keeps being worn over the years, there are many different skills needed to make it: measuring; cutting, edging, skiving; carving; sewing; painting; adding jewels, studs, ornamentation etc. But not every belt needs every skill. 

All parts of the process should be relevant to make something that the customer enjoys, be it an off-the-peg belt or something very specific that the customer is after. 

It’s not some boastful arrogant talking, Duke doesn’t want to hear any talk about being called a craftsman, but in the lines I see someone who cares for the craft and details that go into making a good belt.

Duke Mantee
The Duke himself

Twists and turns

But let’s rewind the tape first before diving into the belt making properly. Duke grew up in the United Kingdom in a family of steelworkers, with both his dad and granddad in the profession. It has played a big part in influencing his attitudes with a dislike for bullshit and shallow people (who are fools to themselves, according to Duke).

“My mother always said I don’t suffer fools at all even though I have a lot of patience.”

Speaking with Duke it all makes sense that he likes honesty. It’s a straightforward conversation with a lot of kindness at heart. It doesn’t come as a surprise that it translates into his belt making and customer service, maybe even the very core of what he does, but more on that in a bit.

“Effectively I signed my own death warrant with regards to my career which was made worse because it coincided with the covid pandemic; c’est la vie.”

He was the first person in the family to get a degree and used to work as a consulting engineer. But now the situation is different after his employer wanted him to run the Middle East group while Duke wanted to be close to his daughter. Unemployed and caring for his four year old with multiple disabilities, reality is no longer the same.

Sometimes it just happens

It’s funny how a project that lies close to your heart sometimes can burst through the surface from seemingly out of nowhere. 

At first, Duke didn’t have any thoughts about making belts at all. Only trying to find out more about leather in general after feeling that the chatter on social media didn’t even scratch on the surface. He ended up buying pieces of leather, experimenting and reading a lot of how leather is made.

The push that finally sent him down the rabbit hole and road of beltmaking came from two coincidences: one of the most disappointing purchases in years (a Warehouse belt) and a chat with his friend Ryan, founder of kids denim brand Nippers that I interviewed a while back.

“Arrogantly I thought that even I could make a better belt (than the Warehouse one).”

Talking about items they liked but never bought led Duke and Ryan into a discussion of novelty belts, resulting in Duke deciding to try his hands at making a belt. Already knowing the basics and the general process, why not jump into the deep end?

Of course, it wasn’t an instant success. As Duke recalls it, the belt was ok, not as good as he wanted, but definitely wearable. Much like how the interest took off as about learning more about leather, the belt for Ryan gave a lot of insight on the process – how leather responded to cutting, punching and glueing, how different leathers respond to each other and so on.

The itch was there to experiment some more. Starting off making a belt for a friend and then folk who knew Duke from denim forums like Denimbro and Superfuture as well as Instagram. It all kinda just grew from there. There never really was an idea to set it up as a business; no timescale, budgets or business plan.

novelty belt

A quick look into novelty belts

For those of you who are familiar with Duke’s work you’ve probably noticed a certain style of his commissioned work: novelty belts. I guess it could be argued that a ‘novelty’ belt is one of the most complex types of belt you can make – it’s probably also one of the least popular styles. Too fancy for many. But Duke loves the look of those belts, he loves the great atmosphere of the originals from the 30s~50s, the clear history and how they look great with so many styles of clothing.

Striving to improve

From what you’ve read already it might not come as a surprise that Duke sets his bar high. No belt goes off his bench unless he’s happy with it and even then he still looks for ways to learn and improve belt by belt.

“Being essentially a carer for my daughter, I am at home a lot and this means I use spare minutes thinking, designing and making belts.”

The process of making a custom belt probably takes longer for Duke than a lot of other belt makers, but then it is also a deliberate choice of his, not rushing through to completion. Maybe it’s because it’s more of a self sustained hobby for him rather than his source of income but I’d wager the highly set bar and respect for the craft plays a big part as well.

Custom belt freedom

Choices, choices and more choices. Ordering a belt from Duke gives you a lot of freedom, there’s no real fixed menu. Any buckle, any leather, any style in any combination – a truly bespoke approach. A lot of his inspiration comes from historical styles that he adapts, but he also invents styles from the customer’s brief. It almost sounds nuts to have so many choices, hard to wrap your head around.

“I’m happy to source materials from all over the world – it’s not efficient in business terms but I think it allows the customer to create something unique.”

visual of a custom made belt
Visualisation of a custom made belt before the work starts

Of course an intricately made belt is built from the same foundation as a basic one, so all is possible and Duke helps with advice, design the customer’s idea and even create realistic visuals before the actual work even starts. As Duke puts it, it all comes down to listen to their needs and translate it in a straightforward way.

new belt in the making

Knowing leather

A more difficult part of the custom belt process is the know-how of how leather works. There’s a difference between looking at a belt from what you think looks good and taking the view on the characteristics of different leathers, what qualities a belt needs. For instance the leather one enjoys in a pair of boots isn’t always the best to use for a belt due to the leathers characteristics. Duke need to cross that difference in knowledge to help the customers realize their vision and make the best possible belt.

We went into a long discussion about leather myths, misunderstandings and what goes into making a good belt.  This will have to be a separate piece since we talked so much about it (something to look forward to!) but just to give you a little snippet: 

There are lots of different leathers for different reasons, some leathers are great for one aspect but less so for other purposes. As an example: bridle leather, harness leather or stirrup leather were leathers specifically designed for horse tack – they are strong, durable and even comfortable to the horse – so they are perfectly suited to making belts. These leathers are always made from cowhide because horsehide in comparison is extremely inconsistent in its thickness and strength.

custom made belt

What’s next

There are some interesting things in the pipeline for Duke that we can look forward to. Back when we did the interview he was investigating the ideas of different styles of bags, using both good leathers and unique cotton, linen and wool fabrics.

“Much like with belts I get frustrated looking at some styles.”

Potentially we’ll see a small tool bag, the ubiquitous tote bag and maybe even some larger bags.

Talking about whether he’ll try to scale up his neat work or keep it more like a hobby Duke comes back to saying that this has never been about trying to make money. To use his own words he’ll probably plodd along, creating belts we can’t get anywhere else. 

I hope this long read has piqued your interest in what makes a good belt as much as it did mine. And maybe you want to get a custom made belt yourself. Or maybe you have a decent name for his brand, Duke promises a belt in return for a name he could use. Give him a holler on Instagram @duke_mantee.


Nippers jeans – Born in Belfast, made in Okayama

An interview with Ryan Darragh, owner of kids denim brand Nippers.

The term ‘Coolest kid on the block’ have a new face and his name is Jack. Jack is the boy of Ryan Darragh – vintage fascinado out of Belfast and owner of the new kids denim brand Nippers. I had the privilege to chat with Ryan about his new endeavour. It’s a bit of a long read, stay with me.

jack on the beach in Nippers outfit

Nippers is replicating vintage clothing from a time when kid’s clothing was sturdier. Like many of its beloved menswear peers, Nippers are made in Okayama, Japan.

“As far as I know, ‘Nipper’ originated in the 1800’s and referred to a young child who ran errands for a group of working men so I thought it fit in quite nice to the whole workwear/amekaji style.” 

Ryan hopes people will ditch the fast fashion world of kids clothing, and instead give a chance to the idea of vintage and quality clothing that’s made to last.

His vision for the jeans is for them to become vintage. The jeans are going to last way beyond the length of time your kid wears them so they can be passed on to a friend’s kid or neighbour.

Ryan Darragh

A vintage seed is planted

The idea to start a denim brand for kids came when Ryan bought the first vintage pieces for his son Jack. The first pair Jack got to actually wear was a pair of 50’s 503zxx Levis bought from Marvins in Tokyo. 

As cool as it is with kiddos rocking vintage jeans it doesn’t come without troubles.  

“When he was wearing them I was always worried about him taking a fall as all kids do and ripping a knee (and obviously him hurting himself) or spilling a milkshake all over himself. There would definitely have been tears, from me at least.”

Having a brand new pair of reproduction 503zxx that Jack could take the tumbles in and climb trees made perfect sense.

A working man from Belfast

Ryan was born in the late 80’s Belfast. His dad was a truck driver, and his mother had different small jobs when he was a kid before she had to quit to take care of his grandmother when Ryan was still young. It was a pretty happy childhood, not exactly well off but they were happy with what they had.

Belfast has a long going industrial history and straight out of school Ryan went down the same path as many of his relatives working in metal fabrication and welding, continuing to do so for 15 years.

“The imagery on the patch is of the cranes at the Harland and Wolff shipyard here in Belfast. It’s the same yard that built the Titanic and represents a big part of the industrial history of Belfast.”

nippers NO1 patch
Belfast harbor cranes

A plan takes shape

Once Covid hit, like many others Ryan was put on furlough from his welder job and then made redundant. It wasn’t all bad though according to Ryan, a lot of time to think materialized more and more into an eagerness to give the idea of Nippers a go.

“If this gives me the option of maybe going part time at a regular gig and spending more time with the family then I’ll be stoked.” 

With zero experience from the clothing industry it has been all about learning on the job for Ryan. It wasn’t all that easy to get it running though. A couple of manufacturers declined to work with Nippers.

The jeans are made exactly the same as adult sized pairs so the way a factory looks at them is that the same amount of work is involved. Hence the manufacturing cost is the same.

An email to the lovable Shingo-san of Denimbridge fame changed everything. Although Shingo himself had his hands full making his own jeans he still helped out. Shingo set up Ryan with a friend of his that runs El Canek’s factory in Okayama, the denim heartland of Japan. 

The denimhead community also played its part in the budding Nippers brand. Helping hands aided Ryan with basics of photography, design work and what you need to think about when starting your own brand.

nippers NO1 front raw
nippers NO1 back raw

The Nippers jeans named NO1

For Ryan it is very important that the Nippers jeans are made the right way. No cut corners, no half-hearted attempt at a pair of selvedge jeans. Simply put he set out to make the best and most true to the originals one can find out there.

“I want these to feel like the real thing, like the vintage Levi’s they’re based on.”

The jeans Ryan set out to make are a reproduction of a mid 50’s 503zxx. Basically the kids version of Levi’s 501zxx, the zip version of the 501xx. 

Since it’s jeans for kids, the choice of denim was an important one. Not too heavy, not too slubby. After all, comfort is king for the kiddos. It can’t feel uncomfortable to the skin nor restrict the movements of playtime.

jack posing in Nippers NO1 jeans
nippers NO1 selvedge

The original denim used by Levi’s in the 50’s was perfect for what Ryan was looking for. The hunt began to find one that included the pink selvedge-ID used on vintage 503zxx.

After looking at samples Ryan settled on a 13,5 oz denim woven in Okayama at the famed Shinya Mills for his Nippers jeans. The same mill that supplies Full Count and TCB just to name two of the big guns. 

“The jeans are also made in Okayama so I like to think of the jeans as being born in Belfast and made in Okayama.”

nippers NO1 topblock
nippers NO1 jeans backpockets
nippers NO1 hidden rivet

Nippers is more than repro denim

Offering vintage is a key part of the brand. Vintage is the basis of the whole amekaji/workwear style so it makes sense to Ryan that it should be a part of the brand. For the site launch there is deadstock 60-70’s sneakers and deadstock (made in the USA) 60’s Hanes t-shirts available.

“Vintage is the heart of Nippers and it’s so important to the overall identity of the brand.” 

vintage sneakers
vintage sneakers 2
vintage hanes tee

The t-shirt design is loosely based on a 1930’s champion tag. The running man was changed to a young boy to be more fitting with Nippers and to make it a little more playful. 

“I really have to give credit to Paul for the design. I gave the outline of what I wanted and he ran with it putting his own spin on my ideas and I love the outcome.”

What’s next for Nippers?

It’s all about one step at a time, but Ryan isn’t short of ideas for what he will do next.  Continuing on the current path of the brand we can hopefully see a type 2 507xx jacket. And more deadstock vintage as well. Sounds perfect to me!

But there’s also other intriguing heritage based ideas in Ryan’s mind:  

“I would like to use linen in maybe an indigo dyed work jacket or trousers. Northern Ireland has a rich history in linen production so it’s definitely something I’d like to explore.”

Nippers quality clothing

Where can one buy Nippers jeans?

Head over to In the shop you’ll find the full range of deadstock vintage and of course also the Nippers NO1 jeans. 

Did you get more questions after the read? Want to chat about the product or just geek out about denim and vintage workwear? You can always contact Ryan on his instagram handle @nipperspw.

I hope you all enjoyed the read. Now go spoil your kiddos! Can’t deny them the same denim pleasantries we all love, can we?


Dye for Indigo – interview with Johan Åberg

Dye For Indigo is the brainchild of Johan Åberg. An indigo dyed adventure taking us back to the time of using our own hands to make something great.

Enough is enough. Poor quality, worse working conditions and large quantities pained Johan. After nearly 20 years in the fashion industry he had seen enough of it and opened up the store Göteborg Vintage in 2013. 

“I’ve always been interested in old things that have a soul”

This presented an opportunity for Johan to use all his experience and create a meeting place where the focus was on craftsmanship, quality and unique pieces of clothing. Vintage denim, workwear, army surplus and local brands. In other words: far far away from the fashion industry he left behind.

Arashi shibori and sashiko embroidery
Work in progress: arashi shibori and sashiko embroidery

With his roots in Swedish textile territory

Growing up in Dalsjöfors outside Borås, Johan had a proud long history of Swedish textile industry around the corner. Amongst them Almedahls, that has been around since the 1800’s. This was the place Johan worked at during the summers. 

Since then, textiles has been a part of Johan’s life in some way or another. Working as a designer, buyer, art director, arts craftsman or holding different courses. No wonder Dye For Indigo came to be. But what exactly is Dye For Indigo?

“Dye For Indigo is my reaction to the consumer society”

By shifting focus to the handicraft from the everyday consumerism Johan wants to showcase the joyous way to avoid getting worn out. Studies from the last few years even shows that arts and crafts have a positive effect on our memory. 

In our fast moving, technical and digital society Johan thinks it’s vital not to lose our connection to working with our hands. Bit by bit new innovations takes over what we previously made by hand. And the world keeps on spinning faster, faster, faster.

indigo powder

The start of Dye For Indigo

While working in the store Johan went deeper into the rabbit hole of textile craftsmanship. Here he found his answer to how he could express himself and his lifelong interest: indigo. 

“I wanted to learn everything about indigo”

The history surrounding indigo is nothing short of astounding. From what we know indigo has been used for over 6000 years and across all continents. There’s over 750 species of indigo plants. To dye with, use as a medicinal herb, for trading. 

It has played a big part throughout history with its many qualities: dirt repellent, antibacterial and flame retardant to name a few which made it very valuable for the working class.  

As an example, during the Edo period (1603-1868) of Japan there were laws stating what style, fabrics and colors the different classes could wear. For the common people of Japan, simple indigo dyed clothing were some of what was allowed. As a result, the deep blue of indigo became an integral part of Japan’s history.

During the summer in 2015 Johan went to the Swedish island Öland to attend a course in textile dyeing. For over 50 years Capellagården have held courses in arts and craftsmanship. Here at Capellagården, the interest Johan held for indigo dyeing grew and reached new heights. 

“Every vat of indigo I make is unique. It lives its own life”

Coming home to Gothenburg, Johan felt an itch to share his passion and knowledge. The idea was to keep using the store as an animated and local meeting place, but change its shape into an indigo studio and hold courses in indigo dyeing. There was a booming interest for the courses, the need to meet in a creative environment and make something by hand seemed huge. And it doesn’t stop. The workshops are always filled to the brim with participants.

The opportunity of trying out natural indigo dyeing and shibori have piqued the people of Gothenburg’s interest. Visits from several textile companies and collaboration projects keeps Johan busy.

But the success wasn’t a given. To properly put his mind to it Johan had to take a leap of faith and work less hours at his regular job. Something that obviously comes with a feeling of uncertainty at first. Thankfully it all played out well.

Arashi shibori flags
Arashi shibori flags on Brännö

What’s the trick?

According to Johan, a huge part of succeeding with his voyage into the crafts scene was pushing himself early on. Throwing himself head first into the workshops and running them taught him plenty. 

“Indigo and the different techniques is my big passion. I’m sure it shows during the courses, haha” 

Having a distinct profile, being personal and daring to give a piece of himself has been key. 

Dyeing in itself isn’t an easy task either. You have to be thorough and methodical. In other words, something that is pretty far from what we’re used to these days. Instead of rushing ahead, let it take its time and focus. 

Treat the dyeing with care, it’s not something that you can hit home doing half arsed.

Indigo pigments
Two types of indigo getting ready for use!

Once Johan was trying his hand at a technique called Katazome. If you’re not familiar with Katazome, it is a technique where you use rice paste to cover up the areas you don’t want to take up the indigo dye, creating a pattern.

“I found a traditional recipe that took hours to prepare. When I was dyeing the fabric, all the rice paste dissolved and disappeared down into the vat. I rushed it and the paste hadn’t dried yet. Doing it all over the next day, taking it slowly and methodical, it turned out great.”

Johan’s tips for indigo inspiration on Instagram

Drying fabrics after indigp dyeing
Drying in sun after a workshop on Brännö

Shibori makes it shine

During Johan’s courses you don’t only get to try your hand at dyeing. Part of the fun (and maybe the most fun?) is having a go at shibori – an ancient dye resist technique from Japan. From what we know shibori have been used for almost 1200 years in Japan to make beautiful patterns.

When I asked Johan about what he finds the most intriguing about shibori he gave me a very fitting answer: 

What really makes shibori interesting for Johan is how there’s so many techniques and ways of doing it. Everyone can do it and sometimes the easiest technique provides the greatest result. That is to say: you cannot fail.

sashiko on Levis 507XX

Mending with sashiko

It might not come as a surprise, a creative soul like Johan doesn’t stop at indigo dyeing and shibori. After that another idea popped up in his head and the mending workshops using sashiko was born. 

Just like shibori, sashiko stems from Japan. Sashiko is a form of decorative reinforcement stitching that has been around since the 1600’s. The embroidery technique was used to strengthen the clothes. Worn out clothes were pieced together to make new garments by using simple running stitches in different patterns. 

Back then it was born from a practical need. But now Johan is using it to further push his idea of sustainability and the joy of using your hands.

Perhaps you remember my vintage Levi’s 507XX? Johan was kind enough to mend it for me with antiques Japanese fabrics and sashiko embroidery. Turned out pretty neat, eh?

Want to learn more about indigo dyeing?

Interested in learning more about indigo dyeing? Maybe even try it yourself? Finding the right ingredients might be a bit tricky but here’s Johans best tips to get started:

  • attend a course!
  • there are plenty of blogs to devour
  • Google is your friend
  • Youtube is also your friend
  • read some of the many book on the subject

If you want to attend a course with Johan, keep an eye out on @dyeforindigo where he posts upcoming dates. And lots of gorgeous indigo dyed photos of course!

Books about indigo

What’s next for Dye for Indigo?

Today Johan is working part time with his indigo dyed business. Meanwhile, the workshops keep on running and commissions are rolling in from exciting partners. 

In the midst of it all Johan leaves for Japan in a few weeks time. Going to browse vintage shops in Tokyo? Nah, it’s an indigo dyeing trip of course! During the trip Johan will be bouncing across Japan, attending dyeing workshops and deepening his knowledge about shibori. After a trip like that, it will be very interesting to see how much he has grown.

All the fun stuff isn’t happening in Japan though. Back home in Gothenburg there are a couple of big projects coming up in the following months. Challenging in more than one way, according to Johan. Very secretive so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what’s in store!


The Rite stuff – Interview with Bryan Shettig

The Rite Stuff, the brand run by Bryan Shettig, has turned quite a few heads since he released the Heracles shirt in 2017. I felt an urge to dig a little deeper and had a chat with Bryan about the 1930’s, running your own show and what sets The Rite Stuff apart.

Introducing Bryan Shettig

Before we dive into The Rite Stuff, who’s the man behind the brand?

Bryan was born in 1984 in Scotland to an American dad and Mexican mother. Thanks to his father’s work, he’s moved around a lot. Egypt. Singapore. Venezuela. Different parts of the US. Studying journalism in Texas. And now, living in Taiwan.

Asian art and pop culture has always had a good pull on Bryan since childhood. Lots of rosewood furniture, wooden screens, and other antique Chinese furniture was in his house from the time his family lived in Singapore. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan flicks.

The clothing interest didn’t really show up until later. Being 12 and a metalhead was the first spark. But then it was in that particular world with its own uniform and clothing style. Coveting Vans checkered slip-ons, and snap bracelets was a part of the game.

A job assignment for a magazine in 2013 was the selvedge spark. A somewhat unusual one. The assignment was an article about the blog Menswear Dog. Back then the owner included a line in his bio that said something like, “and never washing my selvage denim”.

A quick Google session and Bryan was hooked. Not just the look of it compared to an overlock stitch, but alos the entire mythos and history behind it.

“In high school my major was history, so I’d always been interested in things from the past, especially things that were once better or more interestingly made.”

Pherrow's 441 jeans
Bryan’s old pair of Pherrow’s when they were pretty much new

A pair of Pherrow’s 441 jeans and one of their polka dot short-sleeve work shirts was the start. Although the Medium shirt was too small and the Large was too big, so they both had to be sold.

Pretty fitting for a man four years later starting a brand to set that problem right.

Early 1900’s – the years of innovation

The Rite Stuff takes a lot of inspiration from 1910-1930’s. These were the decades where we could see many innovative ways taking form. Something that came to shape much of the workwear clothing that followed.

Chinstraps (of various lengths and widths), triple-stitching, cigarette pockets, pencil pockets, gussets, interesting back yokes, pullovers, sleeve facing styles, buttons and tags are just a few of the details that have piqued Bryan’s interest. Details that you’ll find in The Rite Stuff line.

Sears Roebuck ad
From the Sears Roebuck catalogue in 1912
Workshirt photo from 1930's
1930’s working man. Notice the chest pockets and chinstrap.

Everything The Rite Stuff makes is influenced by these three decades in one way, shape or form. Both The Atlas and Heracles shirts are meant to fit into the 1930’s, but with a difference to it – the fabrics are better modern ones and the quality control is more rigorous.

For Bryan it’s not about making modernized versions of classic workwear per se, nor introduce intentional flaws into pieces to recreate an era. Details are included in his products, but not just for the sake of including lots of details. The fine line to walk is to capture that aesthetic without feeling too costumey.

Reliance Manufacturing Co. box
Photo: e-Workers

Reliance Manufacturing Co. of Chicago, Illinois has a special place in the heart of Bryan.

Reliance focused almost entirely on workshirts during the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s, with some forays into underwear, and then into jackets with their Yankshire line in the 1940s. So from about 1912 until the 1940s their main product line was work shirts, and were the biggest brand in the US to focus almost entirely on work shirts.

They made some of his favorite shirts and have been a big inspiration:

Overall they made more hits than misses in their design department. Many of their designs continue to be copied by workwear brands to this day, such as the Milton F. Goodman’s triple-stitched scalloped yoke and vent holes design, the Big Yank Flyer and its cigarette pockets, both the 1930 version and the ’40s version with the “gachapoke” pocket.”

Big Yank ad

The Rite Stuff, taking off

The Rite Stuff Heracles label

Like with so many great ideas, The Rite Stuff was born from seeing a gap in the market. There were of course great shirts being made on the Japanese denim scene, but they were made for a different body type than the western one. Sometimes too short sleeves, other times too narrow shoulder width.

Cold Summer/Kyle over on Superfuture posted the idea that someone should make custom, made-to-order workwear shirts out of Japanese fabrics but for Western guys. I liked the idea a lot and did a lot of mulling about it.

Liking the idea is one thing. Bringing it to fruition is another thing entirely. One of the first questions Bryan faced was whether to do it as a one-man operation or have them made with the help of someone else. It was a possibility, but in the end the one-man routine was thrown in the bin for a number of reasons.

The Atlas shirt. Salt and pepper chambray shirt
The Atlas shirt. Salt & Pepper chambray greatness!

Bryan’s short list of why not to do it yourself

  • I’d need a bigger place with more room for a workshop.
  • Then I’d have to get various sewing machines and learn how to use/fix them.
  • I’d need to learn how to make work shirts, but there’s no one here for me to apprentice under.
  • Then, I’d have to practice for who-knows-how-long before my shirts are any good.
  • If I were to make it, creating shirts would probably take up all my spare time.

There’s also the intricate problem of what the customers expect of a one-man brand. We all love it. The story of how our favorite gear is made by one man alone. It’s very difficult to keep that allure while bringing someone else on for the show and handle production. Something that’s pretty much a necessity if you want to make an entire line of shirts, tees, pants, jackets and even footwear like Bryan aspires to do.

“We’ve seen various one-man brands now in the denim, leather jacket and other worlds recently just sort of unravel or their wait lists get crazy long and I just didn’t want to end up letting people down in the end.”

Drawing of the Heracles shirt design
Drawings of the Heracles shirt design

Instead of burning out in all his glory, Bryan decided to have his product made for him elsewhere. But where? The US or Japan? Japan was the choice in the end. You can read more of why on Bryan’s blog. It wasn’t that easy though. Even getting replies from the companies was difficult.

Generally in those cases one needs to be introduced by a third party, such as a kind of agent, who vouches for you. Plus, fluent Japanese is usually a given in these cases.

The Japanese take their reputation very seriously and might not want to make products for just any guy off the street who turns out not to be trustworthy.

John Lofgren enters the scene

For The Rite Stuff, John Lofgren was the game changer in that regard. Previously John had done collaborations with Bandanna Almanac, ELMC and Papa Nui. A message to John, a positive reply and a flight to John’s headquarter in Sendai, Japan later and the ball had started to roll.

Sendai, Japan
Sendai, from Bryans first visit to meet John Lofgren.

“When I visit them in Sendai, we’ll spend hours and hours talking about clothing and going over fabrics, buttons, and ideas for what to do next.”

John and his team are full of experience and advice. Although the decision ultimately rests with Bryan, having John and his team around and helping by bringing up new ideas plays a big role for The Rite Stuff, according to Bryan. In a sense almost like a collaboration at times.

With John and his team entering the scene Bryan never had to learn pattern making and all the other steps of the craft. Having access to masters of the craft has its perks. Draw the design and let them do their thing!

“I simply draw my designs and then our master pattern makers in Japan turn those into a pattern to make into a sample.”

Bryan Shettig, The Rite Stuff founder
Bryan in the green version of the Atlas shirt

Fast forward two years and The Rite Stuff has grown its line of business since the Heracles shirt first entered the race. The Atlas shirt, pocket tees, the Harvester henley, an undershirt, scarfs and a bandana have joined the fray.

Stockists carry the word of The Rite Stuff in ten countries across four continents. Surely that’s only the first yards of the start.

Keep on trucking

I want you to wear my garments, not for my garments to wear you.”

Classic, ethically made, fairly priced. The goal of The Rite Stuff is to make the best workwear repro-style clothes in the world right now. That comes from experience with vintage, and seeing what others have done right and wrong, what was done to chase a trend and what was done to make something classic, and discerning what’s better now than in the past.

Wabash and hickory stripe scarves
Wabash and hickory stripes scarves

That of course doesn’t mean everything is smooth sailing. Just because the aim is high or something sold well once doesn’t mean you have the luck of the Irish.

“The big challenge now is trying to read the market and price things correctly. I see brands selling competing products for a fair bit less, and in some cases much more, and it makes me think: am I pricing this correctly?”

Bryan is a fairly quiet guy for the most part. Always one to just sit back and observe the world and people around instead of being the center of attention. Observation, taking it in and thinking it through. Something that’s pretty apparent when you hear about how he takes care of his customers.

Listening closely to the customers have become an integral part in how Bryan handles his Rite Stuff. Chatting with people, getting their feedback and taking it into account. To me that is a very sound way of doing business that will help it grow stronger over time.

Bryan Shettig, The Rite Stuff founder
Bryan in the Heracles shirt

The Rite balance

While running The Rite Stuff, Bryan still keeps on trucking his daytime job. It’s not an easy task getting everything booming, especially in the saturated workwear-fashion market we see today.

It’s not to the point where the daytime job and The Rite Stuff interfere with each other yet. Photos can be taken on the weekends. Posting on Instagram done on the commute or later at night.

“I figured when I started I wouldn’t be a hit out of the gate (I was right) so The Rite Stuff wasn’t going to pay the bills alone. It still doesn’t, actually, but every day it grows a little more and with enough support I think I’ll get there.“

Albeit having your own brand doesn’t take a lot of time most days, says Bryan. Samples takes months to be made, photoshoots a day or two, opening up for pre-orders and again waiting for several months for the product to arrive.

Getting help along the way is of course important in other areas than the help of John Lofgren and his team. The small loan Bryan got from his dad to kick it all off, a wife that supports and helps with inventory, bookkeeping and shipping. And of course everyone from customers to stockists who’s believed in The Rite Stuff products.

If it weren’t for them we might not get to see the Heracles shirt 2.0 in new colours or the selvedge denim chinos Bryan is thinking about.

“To those reading, I hope The Rite Stuff interests you, and if not, send me a message and let me know what you think!”

Make sure to check out The Rite Stuff. You can find his work on his website and Instagram. I know for sure that I will!


Love 1960’s jeans

The 1960’s jeans deserve a renaissance. As much as I’m a sucker for cinchbacks and 50’s cuts there’s something special with the 1960’s jeans that I adore. Time to throw a punch for the paper patch-era. Paper patch evolution is just as sweet as that of a leather patch in my opinion. Down below you’ll see some other features, or lack there of, from typical 60’s jeans.

But first, let’s have a look at some of that paper patch evolution.

Maybe the most intriguing example is when comparing the two patches below from Ooe Yofukuten. Most probably using the same paper. One pretty much new, the other battered after 1,5 years of wear. Seeing how it has twisted, creaked and begun to tear with wear is denim bliss.

An interesting take in our modern age is the use of leather vs paper for the patch when thinking of animals wellfare. Do we really need a leather patch? When designing my own jeans, the answer was “no”.

Ooe Yofukuten OA02XX paper patch
Warehouse 1105 paper patch
denime 66 paper patch
TCB jeans 60's paper patch
Resolute 710 paper patch
Ooe Yofukuten OA02 paper patch

Part of what I like about the 1960’s jeans is, though it might sound odd, that some of the neat features of earlier eras are no longer there. The V-stitch is gone, coinpocket selvedge is gone, hidden rivets are gone, backside of the rivets are changed to aluminum. One added feature is that the waistband gets a double chainstitch instead of just one of the seams. Below you see some examples of the features from my Denime 66 and TCB 60’s.

No coinpocket selvedge
No V-stitch or hidden rivets
Aluminium backsides of the rivets
Double chainstitched waistband

7 great books about denim

Yeah, Instagram sure has made sticking your nose into the denim scene very easy but I’m definitely not the only one who thinks that it has a lot of depth to it. Thankfully we can get dive deeper into the indigo dreams of denim in other forms: you have forums like Superfuture and Denimbro but of course there are some amazing books about denim out there. Here’s a shortlist of 7 great books about denim that are some of my own favorites.

The 501XX: a collection of vintage jeans

The 501 XX: A collection of vintage jeans

Like you might have guessed this book sticks around Levi’s classic the 501XX and its iterations throughout the years. Yutaka Fujihara and Naoki Kawamata has with help from their friends made the ultimate picture book for vintage denim lovers. Written in both Japanese and English they go through the tiny differences that helps us date how old the vintage 501’s are, all accompanied with both full shots and detail pictures.

Ametora - how japan saved American style

Ametora – How Japan saved American style

W. David Marx has written an excellent compressed story of Japans love story for American style and how it has changed and influenced each other. The books kick of in the early 20th century and takes us on a journey all the way to modern day Japan. Of course the trends of vintage denim, how the Japanese denim industry came to be and Osaka5 play their respective parts in the book.

Jeans of the old west

Jeans of the old west: A history

Need to update your knowledge of the history of jeans, the very first American brands and what was happening in the 19th century of the denim scene? Michael Harris book is a staple piece in my book. If you want to understand what the brands are doing today I’d recommend to read up on denim history – this is where a lot of the boys fetch their inspiration.

True Fit - a collected history of denim

True Fit – A collected history of denim

Swedish denim dude Viktor Fredbäck has one of the most unique denim collections in the world. In the book he tells the stories of his vintage pieces spanning over a 100 year period from the 1870’s to the 1960’s while also brushing up on the history of the classic denim brands and where it all started. All in all a great peak into denim history and one fine collection. You can read my interview with Viktor from a few years back to learn more about it.

All about vintage denim

All about vintage denim

Are you thinking of getting into the vintage hunting game? Better start studying then! If you’re only looking for Levi’s 501’s then you’re ready to soar if you pick up The 501XX: A collection of vintage jeans I mentioned earlier. But if you’re thinking of picking up something else. Maybe a chambray shirt from Hercules or a chorecoat from Lee? Then I highly recommend this comprehensive little book from Japanese Lightning Magazine. They go into differences on labels, hardware and have pictures from different eras. A perfect start to get you started in vintage paradise.

Denim dudes

One of the things I enjoy about denim is the warm community. Amy Leverton was kind enough to give out a book where you get to meet some of these denim dudes. A very nice and personal kind of book that differs from what I’ve read before.

Blue Blooded

Thomas Stege Bojer, perhaps mostly known for his blog Denimhunters, released Blue Blooded a couple of years ago. If you compare Blue Blooded to the books already mentioned here, Thomas takes a wider grip on the denim scene in his book. He has incorporated history, interviews with brand profiles but also – and to my enjoyment – a chunk about denim production. Definitely worth adding to your stack of denim litterature.

What are your favorite books about denim?

There you have it, 7 books about denim to boost the denim craze to another level. What are your favorites? Shoot a comment below.


Denim blog – Back from the dead

Visiting Shingo Oosawa, owner of Denimbridge, in hos workshop in Saitama in 2018

Hello denim blog. It’s been way too long. But it’s time to resurrect this little tomb of denim craze. I have so much to tell, so much to share and I can’t wait to get back to it. Exciting new projects, like my very own collab jeans I’m making with Denim-Base (Shingo, in the picture above, is part of it) and my friends at Göteborg Manufaktur, and loads of more jeans and jackets to geek out about.

Paper patch for the collab jeans, more info to come!

Make sure to drop back soon to read more on the new collab jeans, a few new vintage additions, Ooe Youfukuten, Conners Sewing Factory and much much more. The denim blog walks yet again.

// Alex


Japan Blue Jeans – behind the scenes

Stepping into the heart of denim making with Japan Blue Jeans

Denimbridge Sidetracks

Interview: Shingo Oosawa of Denimbridge

A meeting about when enthusiasm grows into something more

Me and my friend is standing in the shade outside of Harajuku station in early september, it is still hot in Tokyo and Harajuku is busy like always. We’re waiting on Shingo Oosawa of Denimbridge fame and master denimblogger running, to arrive from his home in Saitama, little over an hour long train ride away.

We’ve been chatting a bit back and forth during my trip across Japan and I am thoroughly looking forward to meeting the man behind one of my favourite brands. Just before catching up I realised that I had never seen an actual picture of Shingo-san; for him it is all about the denim.

But even though we’re in Harajuku, not far away from denim heaven like Marvin’s and Berberjin it wasn’t very hard to spot Shingo-san walking towards us in the crowd. Wearing his Denimbridge lot.3 jeans, an indigo wabash cap, carrying a massive black backpack and a huge smile on his face he greets us.

Jeans workshop
Denimbridge 2nd CR in the making

Jeans workshop
Denimbridge 2nd CR in the making

A  bag full of jeans

I’ve always loved the fact that all of us have a relationship to jeans. Some of us fell in love with it so much that we wanted to share and spread or love and knowledge of denim. Posting on forums and starting blogs. Shingo Oosawa is one of us, running the Japanese denim blog since 2008.

We take a walk into Yoyogi park to find ourselves a place in the shade to chill, chat and have a look at all the faded jeans Shingo-san brought with like a denim version of Santa Claus.

Old, old pairs of Warehouse and Sugar Cane that he beat to a pulp doing manual labor in the harbor. And of course a couple of pairs of Denimbridge jeans. Including the Frankenstein version using two different denims to determine which one faded the best and then to be used for the official first run of Denimbridge jeans.

Denimba – sharing is caring

Wanting to convey how beautiful faded denim is, the blog Denimba was born. On Denimba we get to see not only his own jeans from working hard in the harbor. There is also faded jeans from lots of other denim nerds sending him pictures of their jeans.
– Denimba is short for denim-baka. Baka means nerd in Japanese, Shingo-san says and laughs out loud. Perfectly fitting for a blog completely crammed with faded pairs of jeans.

Shingo-san grew up in Saitama outside of Tokyo and first encountered raw denim in 1995 when he got a pair of Lee 200. Then he was hooked:
– It changed to a beautiful blue and I was impressed by the fades, Shingo-san explains. The aging of the jeans is still what he enjoys the most. How it starts out flat, changes its expression with wear and continue doing so.

The Denimbridge S Antique jeans

After a while we talk about the the S Antique jeans that Shingo-san brought with him. Unlike the earlier lots which have been made by either Yamaguti-san from Hands-on or Kuniyoshi-san of Double Volante fame, the S Antique jeans are made by Shingo-san himself in Saitama.

All done with single stitch construction. Shingo-san uses one machine and it takes about 20 hours to make one pair. A full on pair made by Shingo Oosawa of Denimbridge, something for the collection for sure!

Denimbridge S Antique suspender buttons
Denimbridge S Antique in the making

Denimbridge S Antique patch
Denimbridge S Antique in the making

The next step for Shingo Oosawa and Denimbridge

It might not come as a surprise that Denimbridge was born out of the same idea as Denimba: proclaiming the wonders of faded jeans.
– It all started when I met Yamaguti-san. He owns a denim repair workshop called Hands-on in Kojima. Yamaguti-san has a great knowledge about jeans; be it sewing, fabrics, buttons or washing, says Shingo-san.
In 2014 the brand was born and have since produced four different models.

For the first three models of Denimbridge jeans the same fabric was used: a 13,5 oz 7×7 denim made by Shinya Mills. Using Memphis cotton in a time when Zimbabwean cotton was the buzz. But the Zimbabwean cotton didn’t have the characteristics that Shingo-san was after.
– I chose Memphis cotton because it has the right amount of ”hardness”. For example, Zimbabwean cotton is too soft for my liking, Shingo-san explains.
Since the start of 2017 however, Denimbridge also uses a deadstock 14 oz 7×7 denim that Shingo-san got his hands on. For the S Antique jeans you can choose the fabric yourself. They look quite alike at first sight but the 14 oz fabric has a slightly tighter weave giving of a darker vibe.

Fuglen, Toyko

Looking for a new workshop

We went for a walk and grabbed a cold brew coffee at Fuglen. Keeping the late Tokyo summer heat at bay, talking about what the future has in store for Shingo-san and his young denim brand. At the moment he is looking for a new workshop in Saitama. But it is not so easy to find a good one floor workshop. The dream is to work full-time with Denimbridge but right now Shingo-san does sewing for another non-denim related company to keep afloat and support his family. At least he doesn’t work in the harbor anymore. One step closer to living his dream.

It’s very apparent how much Shingo-san loves denim. It almost feels infinite. I am thoroughly looking forward to following the journey of Shingo Oosawa’s Denimbridge and how it will evolve with all the geeky knowledge he has. Right now Denimbridge offers three different models. 3rd is a narrow straight, 2nd CR and S Antique are wide straights.
– For the next project I want to make a middle straight model, Shingo-san says with a smile.


The Flat Head weaving video

The Flat Head weaving their fabrics, who doesn’t like seeing that?

Yeah yeah, the video is already a month old but perhaps one or two of you have missed it? The Flat Heads founder, Kobayashi-san, walks us through the weaving of some of the brands’ shirt fabrics. Fantastic stuff. Not every day we get a glimpse into how our favorite brands, like The Flat Head, weaving processes.

シャトル織機 from THE FLAT HEAD on Vimeo.

If you want to hear more about The Flat Heads craft and the Japanese denim scene in a bigger sense I highly recommend checking out Weaving Shibusa.

It’s a great documentary made by David Leisher on proud Japanese craftsmanship and love of denim.

The Flat Head puts out some of the most marvelous stuff on the market. I throughly enjoy my flannels. There’s no pics of them on the blog but you can take a closer look on a pair of the 3005XX jeans or the wabash shirt.


Video: Why Japan loves the 501

Japanese collectors and designers talking of their love of Levi’s


Video: Making a pair of Deluxeware

A looking into Oldact sewing factory