As far as denim aficionados go, Ash Black is as hardcore as they come. Three years ago he was cleaning his premium jeans by putting them in a plastic bag and freezing them. At one point, he walked into the ocean with them on.
Anyone who has invested in raw denim will know that throwing your jeans in the washing machine compromises the dyes and messes up the fades. Care labels differ from brand to brand, but the bottom line is always: wash as rarely as possible.
The problem for wearers, then, is how to keep their blues true while maintaining a respectable level of hygiene. Denim enthusiasts have their methods (the freezing and ocean-wash solutions among them), but Black wasn’t convinced.
That’s when he thought of creating a product to specifically address the problem. One year later, Mr. Black Denim Refresh was born. It works like this: wear your jeans for however long. When they start to feel greasy, spray the product on both the inside and outside, then let them air dry for 10 minutes. The result is clean jeans, no water necessary.
Black, now 34, has spent the past decade working on various projects across retail and hospitality. One of them was a range of eco coat hangers made of recycled paper. He calls himself an ideas man who sees opportunities in everyday conundrums.
To date, Black has never washed his jeans. Doing so is not just easier on the denim, but needless to say, less washing is easier on the environment, too. That was something Black kept in mind for the brand, which uses biodegradable ingredients. “Neither me or my business partner Greg Hargrave had a background in chemistry,” he says of the formulation process. “It took a lot of trial and error to find professional help and to get the formula right.”
The pair travelled across Asia on the hunt for a chemist but in the end they found someone in Melbourne to create their anti-bacterial and de-odourising base formula. Now each component of their products is made in their home city.
The Denim Refresh spray put Mr. Black on the map, taking it from a niche local outfit to an international business. In the beginning, it involved trade shows and building a network of international distributors. Then it was about getting as much feedback as possible. “We put a product onto the shelf and, as you can imagine, it doesn’t sell itself. It’s about putting time and effort into explaining it to storekeepers,” Black says.
Retailers clearly noted the gap in fabric-care products. Since its inception three years ago, Mr. Black has grown from denim care to encompass a dozen products for other fabrics including wools, cashmeres, linens, sports gear and sneakers.
“There’s been a general shift in consumer purchasing,” Black says. “People are buying less but buying more key pieces that are supposed to last longer. The next step then is how to care for them.”
The brand now counts 71 Australian stores and overseas giants such as Selfridges and Neiman Marcus as stockists. “We’re really proud of being a Melbourne initiative,” Black says. “We grew from the support of small independent stores in Melbourne so some of the conversations we have around the world are quite overwhelming. We’re constantly learning.”