In Kentucky, Jeans Get The Right 'Wear'

The Sights "Wall of Glory." i i

Vintage jeans that were worn out by hard work serve as templates for brand-new designer jeans on the Sights "Wall of Glory." The 35-year-old pair in the center served as a model for Ralph Lauren jeans in Tokyo. Noah Adams, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Noah Adams, NPR
The Sights "Wall of Glory."

Vintage jeans that were worn out by hard work serve as templates for brand-new designer jeans on the Sights "Wall of Glory." The 35-year-old pair in the center served as a model for Ralph Lauren jeans in Tokyo.

Noah Adams, NPR
Bart Sights i i

Company founder Bart Sights says he's known for "wearing rigid." His Earnest Sewn brand jeans, are always dark indigo, untreated and uncuffed with the bottom turned up three or four inches. Noah Adams, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Noah Adams, NPR
Bart Sights

Company founder Bart Sights says he's known for "wearing rigid." His Earnest Sewn brand jeans, are always dark indigo, untreated and uncuffed with the bottom turned up three or four inches.

Noah Adams, NPR
Bin of Denim i i

For a high-end denim company, any scrap of worn fabric could mean magic. Noah Adams, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Noah Adams, NPR
Bin of Denim

For a high-end denim company, any scrap of worn fabric could mean magic.

Noah Adams, NPR

On the path to high status, many jeans make a stop in the small Ohio River town of Henderson, Ky. There, the Sight Denim Systems factory turns new jeans into worn garments that True Religion, Seven, Earnest Sewn, Rogan, Ralph Lauren and Levi's can be proud to call their own.

Company director Bart Sights has created a very successful business around the idea that the best jeans are old jeans. Once a batch has been sewn, companies send them to Sights for stone-washing. There, in an old tobacco warehouse, huge machines swirl and churn hundreds of pairs at any given time, adding dollars to their price tag.

Wearing down denim sometimes requires more precision than a machine can offer, so the Sights factory also has expert hand work. Following a design that might duplicate an actual 35-year-old pair of Levi's, workers distress the denim using razor blades, sandpaper, hairdryers and sandblasters. Wrinkles and creases are created, held in fabric memory with resin to create "behind-the-knee crumples."

Each detail must be perfect; Sights jeans' handlers use ozone gas to ensure that the white threads, or "bloom," exposed by the intense workout stay white.

"We liked the heritage part of the business and started coming up with ways to counterfeit old jeans so that people couldn't tell them apart," Sights explains.

Seven large clocks on the wall — Tokyo, San Francisco, Henderson, New York, London, Brussels and Bangalore — signal the international nature of the business.

"We have a team of technicians living in Bangalore four weeks on, four weeks off, and it's eleven-and-a-half hours ahead," Sights says. "We usually talk to them before we go to bed at night, and then again first thing in the morning."

Sights has traveled to Bangalore 10 times in the past year and a half.

Often, however, the denim designers come to him.

"These people come from all over the world, and they don't like to stay in Ramada Inns," he says.

In fact, when denim designers come to Kentucky, they generally don't stay in a hotel at all — Sights sets them up in a private apartment right in his shop.

"We need easy access to them day and night. Most people don't even rent cars when they come here," he says.

What kind of jeans does Sights favor? He says he's known for "wearing rigid." His Earnest Sewn brand jeans are always dark indigo, untreated and uncuffed, with the bottoms turned up about 4 inches. He'll wear several pairs for up to three years, collecting unique wear patterns. Then, when they are just so, they're promoted from everyday wear to denim model.

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