A few of the people who answered our questions here made me laugh (and normally make me laugh)… but Ross takes the prize (and no, I didn’t forget you were a guy!) for his witty, honest and surprisingly politically correct answers – after all, journalists aren’t really supposed to have an opinion. Why did we feature him then? Because there are few people with more information on where the denim industry is going and how they’re getting there. Plus, he’s a University of Michigan fan… and that always gets points in my book.
Enjoy the interview!
You’ve been writing about Denim/Textiles at WWD for quite a few years now. How did you get the job, and what’s the biggest perk about it?
I joined WWD in late 2003 as a financial reporter and was part of a sort of internal wire service. We wrote up earnings and business features for WWD, DNR (our former men’s weekly magazine), Footwear News and Children’s Business. My current position opened up in 2005 and I was lucky enough to be offered the job. In addition to denim I cover the global textile industry and global trade issues. So, I go from writing about cotton farming to the latest $200 denim brand every week. It’s the kind of job that I’m pretty sure could only exist at WWD.
Biggest perk: Well, I’ve gotten to go to some pretty unusual events. I got a tour of a brand new cargo ship. I know, sounds dorky, but how many times do you get to get on a ship that can carry 5,000 containers around the world. A couple years ago I was at an event hosted by a denim brand and James Brown was a surprise performer. I was about five feet away from the Godfather of Soul. Pretty amazing. Then he died about three months later. For all I know, I may have seen his last performance. Aside from that, I like getting to know the people behind the denim brands I cover and learning about what goes into making their jeans. I feel like it gives me a leg up when I go into a store.
Is there a denim brand that’s your favorite? What did they do right?
Ha, nice try. The journalists’ code that I have tattooed in large script font across my back prevents me from taking sides or expressing a preference. Since I’m covering all these brands I can’t say who might be a favorite, because I don’t want to be accused of bias. And really, nobody is reading WWD to find out what my favorite brand is. My job is to cover what’s going on in the industry, so my favorites wouldn’t really matter anyway. That said, I’m a person and of course I have some brands that work for me better than others.
What was your first pair of premium denim (if you remember)?
I do remember the first pair of premium denim I got. Again, not going to divulge brand name, sorry. Now, I wasn’t a fashion guy, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that prior to getting into this beat I wasn’t the type to shell out more than $50 for jeans. In my defense, I had been working as a financial journalist for a number of years and I generally worked in offices with 6-8 guys. Financial publications are not hot beds of fashion. I basically wore baggy khakis and button ups to work. I usually purchased two pairs of jeans at a time, both under $50, and wore those out over the course of a year or two. Then I got this job and I realized pretty quickly that I was going to get some strange looks if I walked into a denim fanatic’s office wearing khakis. Might as well tape my glasses and get a pocket protector. So I picked up a pair premium jeans. I was skeptical. I thought the price was ridiculous. Those thoughts didn’t last long after wearing them for a couple hours. I was a pretty quick convert after that. At that time you really did need to spend upwards of $150 for premium styles. The good news today is that you can get great quality brands for closer to $100. It’s amazing what a global economic collapse will do isn’t it.
Where is the future of denim going, and how will it look different compared to today’s styles?
Denim is a huge industry and just keeps growing. I think for men and women combined sales in the U.S. Are around $13 billion. That number has only risen, so the industry will continue to grow. Styles, like everything else in fashion, are cyclical. Right now is an interesting time because there’s not one trend that is dominant. The denim legging is very popular, but women can and do wear almost any denim style – boot cut for kicking around, denim trouser for work, dark wash in a straight or skinny for work or going out, boyfriend jeans for the weekend etc. It’s all over the place. I shouldn’t say it’s all been done, but it feels like it. So things may be relatively quiet on the style/trend front at the moment, but I’m sure somebody will dream something up that will capture consumers’ attention and ignite another denim frenzy.
What is your dream pair of denim (if it exists, share that. If not, tell us what it would look like)?
Uh, you know I’m a guy right? I don’t dream of denim, or really any clothing for that matter. And you of all people know there could never be just one.
Have any future plans for starting a line of your own?
Well, I haven’t really considered it. The apparel industry is really quite difficult. It requires a mix of science and art. You can nail the science of it – knowing how to run your business properly, using the right fabrics, using the right wash house, making sure your fits work etc. But even if you do all those things perfectly you’re not assured success. In fact, many brands can’t run their businesses well but they may hit the market at the perfect time with the perfect style. I hate to see small brands and designers that know what they’re doing and are really passionate fail because they just can’t capture the attention of store buyers. It’s just the nature of business though. I’ll stick with my current day job. Or maybe I should open a doughnut shop, everybody likes doughnuts right?
If you had one personal tip for DD readers, what would it be?
I like what you do on DD because you’ve got the freedom to honestly address the most important part of the industry, the fit. Every brand tells me they have the best fit, that’s right after they tell me that they invented denim. Fit is obviously a subjective thing, but I like that there’s people out there delving into it.
I’m often asked by men and women alike what the best brand is. My only response is, “the one that fits you.” Doesn’t matter what brand it is or how much it costs, the one that fits you and you feel comfortable in is the best. The brand that your best friend swears by may not work for you because, after all, women are like snowflakes in that no two are the same (cue eye-rolling and sad trombone).
Also, focus on the quality. It’s denim, it’s supposed to take a beating and last. If back pocket stitching is coming out or the fabric is wearing thin in spots after only a few months, ditch that brand. Your jeans should really only get better in the months after you buy them as they mold to your body. Oh, and quit washing them all the time. You lose color and some character every time you do.