The Essential Raw Denim Breakdown – Our 100th Article!

We’re happy and proud to announce that today marks our 100th article!  In our short-lived existence thus far, we’ve been fortunate to see some strong growth (over 100K page view’s/month) and receive some solid feedback. Thanks to all for making it happen!

When looking back on our past few months, it dawned upon me that we’ve been writing, talking, and tweeting about raw denim in many different respects - covering topics ranging from denim care (e.g. How To Clean and Wash Your Raw Denim) to hotter issues (e.g. 4 Years Later – Levis v.s. Japanese Repro Lawsuit Still Fair Game?), to our own special features (e.g. Fade Friday).

However, not once have we ever addressed the one single question – what is raw denim and what’s so special about it?

Many question the cleanliness of raw denim (which we think is pretty much settled now – see “After 15 Months without washing, Nudie pants show ‘normal’ bacteria levels”) and others assume they have to spend an arm and a leg to get themselves set up with a pair (again, a misnomer – see “5 Raw Denim Under $100“).

In light of today’s milestone, we figured why not take the time now to tie up all loose strings.

1. What Is Raw Denim?

Also known as “dry denim” for its hard texture, according to Wikipedia, raw denim is “a denim fabric that is not washed after being dyed during its production”.  In our words though…

Raw denim is denim that has been unwashed, untreated, and virtually untouched to the extent that it remains in its pure form.

Although the most common form is in jeans, there have been many other creative uses of the material (see – “5 Raw Denim Accessories You Need To Know” and “5 MORE Raw Denim Accessories You Need To Know“).

In terms of raw denim jeans though, while it is unknown exactly what percentage of denim jeans sold are washed v.s. raw, we would argue that at least 90% denim jeans are the former (note: over 450 million pairs of jeans are sold per year in the U.S. alone).

Samurai Jeans

Despite raw denim jeans varying between manufacturers, aesthetically speaking there are some features shared – including the rigid, crisp look and feel; industrial, clean design; and sturdy construction.

We won’t dig too deep into the anatomy, but there are some notable differences to look for. From a higher-level, some of the primary details that you should make special note of:

  • Material:  Raw denim jeans are typically (but not always) produced with 100% cotton and can be sourced from a number of countries.  Some folks will argue that a particular country has the “best” cotton (in terms of durability, resulting denim fades, and worn feel) and some of the most popular sources include U.S.A., Zimbabwe, and Japan.
  • Weight:  Ever notice how some raw denim feels really thick (and heavy) while others are much thinner (and lighter)?  That’s precisely what is referred to as the denim weight – or, technically speaking, how much a yard of raw denim fabric weighs in ounces (Oz.).  Putting aside the manufacturing process, the heavier the denim, the more rigid the garment (also due to starching) and more resistent it will be to abrade.
  • Fit: Similar to any pair of pants, raw denim jeans comes in a variety of styles, cuts, and fits; such as tapered, slim, skinny, and even anti-fit (i.e. loose/baggy).  One key element to be cognizant of is whether or not your raw denim is non-sanforized or sanforized.  If it is the former, then after your raw denim’s first soak/wash (see – Soaking Raw Denim: The Critical Preliminary Step and How To Clean and Wash Your Raw Denim), your denim can shrink significantly more (7% – 10%) compared to the latter (1% – 5%).
  • Other: There are many other details to pay attention to when browsing raw denim, from each and every rivet and button donut, to the selvedge and slubbiness.

2. When Did Raw Denim Come About?

The term “denim” originates from the French town, “de Nîmes”, where the fabric is said to have first been produced.  As the fabric was tough and hard, it was nicknamed “serge de Nîmes” (serge being French for “sturdy”), but later just shortened to “denim”.

In terms of raw denim specifically, it is difficult to trace back the exact time of raw denim’s first emergence, but it was likely between the late 1800′s and mid-1900′s.   At this point, raw denim was widely produced and worn on a larger scale in America by trades workers and miners – hence the vintage Americana appeal of some brands such as Rising Sun & Co.  It is worth noting that denim produced during this time was primarily, if not entirely, selvedge denim.

By the time the 1950s came about, WWII had ended and youth culture dominated. Denim became so popular that many American mills abandoned the slower shuttle looms to switch in faster, industrial machines with mass production capabilities.

What was done with the shuttle looms?  Long story short, the U.S. helped rebuild many of Japan’s industries, such as the textile industry.  Thus, Japan received many, many shuttle looms; kickstarting numerous denim mills, and leading to today’s “Japanese raw denim” craze.

3. How Is Raw Denim Made?

We’ll leave out some of the details here, but in a nutshell, raw denim jeans are produced via these steps:

1. Sourcing - Assuming the raw denim jeans are produced with 100% cotton, the first step is simply sourcing the raw cotton.  As mentioned, cotton can be sourced from many different countries, ranging from Australia to Zimbabwe; and some will argue to the death over one country’s cotton quality versus another.

How the cotton is harvested varies with location.  There are those that pick the cotton by hand while some employ mechanical techniques.  Steps taken afterward include cotton carding (i.e. cleaning), inspecting, combing, opening, and blending – essentially preparing the cotton for the next stage…

2. Spinning -  Now that the cotton has been sourced, cleaned, and packaged in nice long “slivers”, it’s time for it to be spun.  This is the process by which denim is pulled and twists into, creating yarn to be eventually woven to create the denim fabric.

There are several types of spinning, including open-end, ring, and double ring spun (a.k.a. “ring-ring”). Though there are many more details included here, note that ring and double-ring spun denim is of higher appeal – since it is thicker, leads to stronger fade contrasts (as it doesn’t absorb indigo dye as well as open-end spun denim), and has greater slubbiness (due to uneven threads).

3. Warping & Dyeing -  The cotton moves on to the next stage, “warping”.  Previously touched upon in our post about “Warp, Weft, and Twill“, woven fabric consists of warp yarns (length-wise, indigo dyed) and weft yarns (cross-wise, left un-dyed and thus labelled “filling yarn”).

Warp yarns are prepared by selecting the longer yarn from the ring-spun yarn and dyeing.  Regarding indigo dyeing, there are three main methods – loop dyeing, slasher dyeing, and rope dyeing.  We’ll explore in depth in the future, but know that rope dyeing is considered superior as it is more laborious, specialized, and results in better fades (due to only the yarn surfaces being dyed).

Raw Denim Natural Indigo Dyeing (source: chuyat.wordpress.com)

Raw Denim Natural Indigo Dyeing (source: chuyat.wordpress.com)

4. Weaving - At this stage, the yarn is completely ready to be woven into the denim fabric.  Though many associate raw denim with selvedge denim, it is during the weaving process that creates the distinction (for further reading – see “The Rundown on Selvedge Denim – What’s It All About“).

In general, the indigo-dyed warp yarns are interlaced with the natural coloured, un-dyed weft yarns, and there are two types of looms – shuttle looms (remember when we mentioned those above?) and shuttle-less (a.k.a. air-jet or projectile) looms.  While the former produces less than the latter, they are more rare, result in finished edges (hence, “self-edge”), and typically more coveted (though this is of course subjective).

There are also a variety of weaving variations, including right-hand twill, broken twill, and left-hand twill; and the end-result is a sheet of denim fabric.

5. Finishing - Depending on the agreement, the denim sheets are rolled into drums and shipped off to the denim label.  Some denim brands complete their sewing and stitching via larger facilities, while others favor one-man operations (such as Ande Whall and ROY).

Not once during the finishing process is the denim distressed or washed in any way.  It is left in its most pure and rawest state, and will only deteriorate with the wearer’s personal use.

For a more multimedia-rich, albeit rough, understanding of the denim manufacturing process, check out the video below.

4. Why Should I Care About Raw Denim?

Sure, this is all interesting but why should you care about raw denim?  More importantly, why should you wear it over pre-washed & distressed denim?  Here are the just three reasons:

  1. Better Value - Think number of wears v.s. amount paid.  You might be able to get a pair of pre-washed denim jeans for $50, but what’s the shelf life on them?  It’s not uncommon for raw denim jeans to be able to withstand 1000+ wears before retirement.  Just look at this stunning pair of LVC - 15 years strong!
  2. Personalization - I had read somewhere that a pair of raw denim is like a individualized canvass.  Indeed the fade results and any other visible marks, rips, or tears are specific you and your body.  For a dramatic illustration of what we mean, hop over to Takayuki Akachi’s documentary on the Traveling Denim.
  3. Environmental & Ethical - Believe it or not, non-raw denim jeans have a bigger and wider scale impact than you might think. Though I’m sure there are some exceptions, the low maintenance and general simplicity of raw denim is not only less detrimental to the environmental, but also more labor-friendly.

5. Where Can I Get Raw Denim?

If you’re looking to pick up a pair of raw denim, we recommend using our denim searching tool, the Rawr Denim Scout. Otherwise if you’re looking for a store, there are many to choose from and some are purely dedicated to the goods.

Note that if you are purchasing online (and it is your first time buying), make sure to do your research, ask around, refer to the Scout, and double check on the return policy just in case.

Unsure of what raw denim to go after in the first place?  Browse our brands listing on the right-hand side!


Thanks again all for the support thus far! Stay tuned for more content & features and as always – if you have any feedback, please leave us a comment below.

Nick Coe

Nick is the Founding Editor of RawrDenim.com.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000170463090 Roy Klaassen

    Great post! Keep up the good work guys :-)

    • http://twitter.com/djhakujin Sean Slater

      Thanks Roy!

  • anon

    Super informative…thanks

  • Cameron Walker

    Happy 100th guys,
    keep up the badassery-Cameron

    • http://twitter.com/djhakujin Sean Slater

      Thanks Cameron! Hopefully you’ll continue to be one of our badass readers!

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  • http://www.thedescendingnude.com/ Style1artists

    Great post. I can’t remember how I came by your blog, but it is now in my must go to list at the start of my day. I look forward to the next 100.

    • http://twitter.com/RawrDenim Rawr Denim

      @1b8a301bfb916a4fa79b82f105722972:disqus Thanks for the comments and we look forward to the next 100 too!  If you’re ever hoping to see or read a particular type of content, let us know via info@rawrdenim.com!

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  • Jeff from Boston

    You have just turned me into a fan. Had no idea there was so much behind raw denim. I can’t wait now to buy my first pair of raw denim jeans and watch them evolve. Great site guys.  Looking forward to more Fade Friday’s

    • http://twitter.com/RawrDenim Rawr Denim

      @47f888575eef94983a831cca5313cf00:disqus Thanks very much, appreciate the comments & glad to have you on board!  Let us know what you decide to go ahead with and if ever any q’s, feel free to reach out via email – info@rawrdenim.com.

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  • Anonymous

    Really great intro here. Can recommand this site from the Jeansmuseum!! Really deserve a  very well rating

  • J Park95

    ive been wearing this pair of raw jeans for 2 months and its honestly a bit big and i want to shrink them……would soaking them now just ruin everything

  • http://www.facebook.com/Sucheta.Arya सुचेता सिंघल

    Who said that all the credit of denim apparels is only for America?History of jeans dates back even before the period of Levi Strauss, which has a renowned association with it. Denim is a fabric, which is used for making jeans. Though denims are more popularly associated with America, India has the credit of its early history. Initially jeans were ordered for the Italian sailors from the French city of Nimes. The fabric was dyed from a blue dye manufactured out of the indigo plant that grew in India. Jeans has one more interesting Indian connection. The denim garments of Italian sailors, during the span of time, transformed into boilersuits for protecting their clothes. This overall apparel was made from coarse and undyed calico fabric. This fabric is mainly associated with Calicut in India, and hence the name calico. These overalls were mainly manufactured in the Dongri area in Mumbai, and hence acquired the name Dungaree.
    http://www.fibre2fashion.com/industry-article/23/2281/denim-the-indian-connection1.asp

    • mojopin

      Hey that is cool! Now i know whey they call denim “dongeri” in norwegian.

    • Sean Detente

      “Calico” isn’t denim, nor was it technically “denim” when the Indians came up with it. Sorry, I worked as a manager in a fabric shop for five years and spent seven before that helping innumerable seamstresses from every generation (from the “Greatest Generation”, pre- and post-WW2, to modern day Central American women who somehow escaped the slavery shops making Nike shoes in Nicaragua). Believe me, or don’t, mistaking a calico for a denim is a sin in a lot of people’s eyes.

      Sorry, but no, America invented denim. It’s not some “hoorah, America is the greatest nation evar!!!!1″, but when it comes to some things like apple pie, baseball, a sport where the ball is named for but can’t be touched by (football), etc., America is the originator.

      Get over it.

      • 108state

        America can take credit for embracing the people that invented denim jeans. Levi Strauss was of German descent and Jacob W Davis, the Russian tailor who invented the Jeans we know today with copper rivets.

        :)

    • 108state

      Levi Strauss was German.

      • 108state

        at least he was born German. And of german descent. He became a US citizen years after moving there.

        • 108state

          It was actually a tailor who worked with Levi strauss called Jacob W Davis, who invented the denim jeans we know today wth copper rivets. Jacob W Davis was of Russian descent and emigragted to America when he was 23.

    • 108state

      the Indigofera tinctoria plant actually grows across the tropical and sub tropical climates, across alot of Asia and some parts of Afrika There is also another strain of indigo grown in Japan. There are many different sources. And, no-one actually knows its original habitat. So you see, India was not the only source of Indigo.

      Colonial planters in the Caribbean grew indigo and transplanted its cultivation when they settled in the colony of South Carolina and North Carolina Where people of the Tuscarora confederacy adopted the dying process for head wraps and clothing. Exports of the crop did not expand until the mid-to late 18th century.

      in Indonesia, the Sudanese people use indigo for batik dyeing.

      But you are right, its not only America that takes credit.

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  • http://twitter.com/Rose_Amer Rose Amer

    Very interesting post ! Just a thing though : serge in french does not mean sturdy, it’s the name of a type of textile weave. And the etymology comes from the greek word for silk.

    • 108state

      Serge is a type of twill fabric that has diagonal lines or ridges on both sides, made with a two-up, two-down weave

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  • sheesham crow

    could you tell me the names of the different patterns on “engineer” denim?

    • http://www.rawrdenim.com Rawr Denim

      Could you pls provide an example of engineer denim?

      • OkfuskeeGuthrie

        I think Hickory Stripe and Fisher Stripe would be an examples if I understand the question correctly.

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  • Chad

    For weight, Nudie Jeans dry selvage is 13.5 oz. They do have lighter weight brown selvage at 12.5 oz. Definitely nothing less than that though. Figured you would want to update your article.

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  • Prakash

    Hi I am prakash from India. I have a jacket on which written on tag is “Nacked Punch” RN 104506 CA 41169 Allen talla taglia RAW Danim could you please help me to get another piece of this jacket. please repy my at

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  • Lolenseu

    An excellent, informative and extremely well-written article. Thank you so much. I learned much more than I could have hoped. Very much appreciated.

  • Steve

    Why did the guy selling me my raw denim jeans force me into a pair that is extraordinarily tight, particularly in the crotch? The jeans have stretched after several wearings, but I think I would have been happier with more crotch room. Is it normal to have such tight raw pants, or should I go bigger next time?

    • alwaysright

      lol sounds like something selfedge would have encouraged!

  • swissjeansfreak

    Excellent post about raw denim Congrats!!!

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  • Siddarth

    sir how much quantity of raw material is required to manufacture 1 metre of denim fabric( 12 Oz. – 16 Oz of weight of fabric and 12s count of yarn)

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  • kevin skilling

    hi,i have a sample pair of caterpillar original cat yellow selvage limited edition built from top grade,double ring 16oz japanese denim jeans.anyone know anything about them?cant find anything online.help much appreciated.

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  • pargy

    Thanks heaps, this is so helpful. I am a salesman within a retail store and before i found this website i didn’t know anything about raw denim. Know I feel I have the knowledge now to push the raw denim. I can’t wait to share this information with my customers.

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  • originalwearerofrawdenim

    Status
    Photo
    Place
    Life Event
    What’s on your mind?
    Beth McDonald
    Yesterday
    PLEASE SHARE
    Maybe we can stop a disgusting Urban myth.
    Raw Cotton Jeans.

    ALL jeans (unless they have spandex in them) start out as “Raw Cotton”.
    What this term is SELLING is that they haven’t been “stone washed”
    bleached, shot at, sanded or any of the myriad ways manufacturers have
    been distressing jeans to make them soft before they sell them. Back in
    the 60′s when blue jeans started gaining popularity as everyday wear THEY WERE ALL IN THIS STATE when they were sold.

    The good thing about raw cotton jeans? They will last for years IF YOU
    TAKE CARE OF THEM! By years I mean 10-15. NOT WASHING THEM will
    SHORTEN their life span not lengthen it! For those of you not on the
    ‘in” salesmen are selling these and telling people not to wash them for 2
    YEARS. Besides this being GROSS. It will not hasten the way they mold
    to your body – trust EVERYONE who has lived through the 60s and 70s –
    WASHING will only HASTEN this process NOT DELAY IT! The bacteria and
    acids in your sweat, the dirt etc., will abrade and ROT the fibers in
    the fabric. WASHING removes these things and will EXTEND the fabric’s
    life. (see Jeremiah 13)(that’s in the bible Yo)
    SECONDLY

    FREEZING the fabric will NOT CLEAN THEM. I don’t know why this isn’t
    common sense but there you go. This is a myth. FREEZING doesn’t remove
    dirt or ANYTHING! BACTERIA AND VIRUSES do not DIE in a FREEZER!!!!
    Freezing does not cause acids to become INERT!!! As soon as they warm up
    they are just as dirty as when you put them in the freezer. And – if
    you think that freezing gets rid of odor – THINK AGAIN! As soon as they
    warm up the bacteria gets active and starts to work and eventually they
    WILL STINK!
    For years I have suspected that some of the designer
    labels were paying kids in third world nations to wear our their jeans
    before they sold them. I have handled things that still had the tags on
    them but felt dirty and smelled dirty, with wear patterns that were too
    natural to be gotten by artificial means. I’m guessing this is where
    this disgusting practice came from. So – no matter what the label –
    WASH YOUR JEANS BEFORE YOU WEAR THEM!!!
    Please share this so we can stop this un-hygenic and useless practice.