While mass-market denim players, from Levis to Just Jeans, offer jeans in limited shapes and styles, independent labels are becoming increasingly innovative. Take local denim label Vale, for example. Its designs are inspired by the Australian landscape and span jeans, vests and dresses. And Melbourne label Arnsdorf is breaking new ground in sustainable denim.
Melbourne label First Principles is by ex-investment bankers Rannia Al-Salihi and Supriya Dixit, and favours a personalised fit above all else.
“The idea came a year ago when I was going through the tailoring process for my fiancé’s suit for our wedding,” says Al-Salihi. She felt the experience of being fitted for a suit was crying out for a tech upgrade. “We spent an hour and a half measuring every inch to his body, [and then] not being able to access that information again to re-order a pair of trousers was disappointing.”
Al-Salihi called on her friend Dixit, and together they founded First Principles, a digital store for tailored denim. Customers visit the flagship on Little Collins Street to be measured with a trained specialist. From there, an individual’s digital patterns are stored in an online database, allowing customers to use a three-dimensional “curate tool” from the comfort of their home for future purchases. “We’re not asking you to come in for every pair,” says Al-Salihi. “We capture the full suite of measurements and can apply it to any style from there on.”
After a trip to Japan in 2018, Al-Salihi and Dixit chose the Kurabo Mill in the Okayama prefecture – founded in 1888 – to provide First Principles’ denim. “The [Kurabo team] has so much respect for their denim,” says Dixit. “They celebrate the process, use natural dyes and it’s all hand-loomed. We want to make denim that lasts a lifetime.”
Unusually for a denim shop, you won’t find any merch on display. It looks more like a tailor – with rolls of fabric, denim swatches, threads, buttons and zippers on a large console table in the centre of the store.
“Designing [the shop to resemble] a tailor’s apartment was the brief,” says Dixit of the store’s design. There are polished wooden floors and rendered brick walls, accented by flamingo-pink neon that reads, “Born in Japan, made to measure”. Two circular metal fitting rooms have heavy velvet curtains.
The customer is in control at almost every point of production, and can customise – using an iPad – the style, cut, hardware and waist height for the perfect pair. Within four weeks a parcel will arrive on your doorstep.
The concept isn’t a world first; India’s Make Your Own Jeans and Japan’s Zozo offer a similar service, but Broadsheet’s research found no other comparable Australian labels specialising in tailor-made denim on a digital platform.
“There are a few made-to-measure online denim systems where you take measurements at home and send them through, [but] for every pair you have to send new measurements,” says Al-Salihi, adding that it can be hard for people to measure themselves properly. “Denim is incredibly labour-intensive. [It] makes a big difference if you make a waist measurement at your belly button instead of an inch below or above. It’s technical and requires hands-on experience from the consultant.”
The two founders also have a low-waste process. They resist mass-market trends – instead focusing on timeless, classic cuts – and use quality fabrics that will last.
“Making sure every inch of denim in our rolls is accounted for is important,” says Dixit. “The government in Japan is very strict on this. For example, the Kurabo Mill’sCO2 emissions have to be negated. We also only make a pair of jeans when someone orders it – there is no square of material that goes to waste.”
The pair plans to eventually roll out more flagships across Australia.
194 Little Collins Street, Melbourne
(03) 9663 4459
Mon, Tue & Wed 10am–7pm
Fri & Sat 10am–6pm