We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Sydney Mamane at his shop, Sydney’s, in Toronto. Sydney is the designer and co-founder of United Stock Dry Goods, here he tells us about how his obsession with raw denim started and how United came to be.
RD – What was your attraction to raw denim?
SM - I loved the idea. This idea is ubiquitous in the denim world. I love the idea of something changing with you. Denim is that fabric that changes with you. No other fabric really does it the way that denim does.
It picks up all the characteristics of the wearer, relatively quickly as well. As well as the life of the wearer, it’s like it’s moving through life with you – through time and space with you – you know, it’s part of you. I think that’s what really attracted me to that fabric in particular. I feel like from a sociological perspective..it’s interesting how people have kind of embraced that idea and integrated it into their own lives.
RD – Tell us a bit about how your background and tailoring led you to start United.
SM - I started as a stylist and a costume maker. I did that for about eight years, overlapping with an apprenticeship and the former. I learned from the industry, I never went to school for fashion. I never went to school for tailoring or costume making or costume design or anything like that.
It was more a school of hard-knocks, I guess, more than anything else. That’s where I come from – making a lot of mistakes and living with them. As well as learning from making mistakes and really slugging it out, you know?
You have to make a lot of sacrifices. Of course, keeping my ego in check. That’s probably the biggest work – trying to keep your sanity in that process. It’s not an easy road because there’s no one to really tell you what to do all the time.
You just have to figure it out on your own from books and that. And hopefully have someone who likes you enough to teach you something you don’t know anything about. I was very fortunate in my career to run into some people like that, but I think there’s also the openness to learn.
I was very eager to learn. I didn’t feel like starting in the middle. Sometimes I was sweeping floors. [laughs] I was very much like, “You want me to sweep floors? Yeah, I’ll sweep floors. You want me to clean up? Yeah I’ll clean your machine.” You know, you learn.
It’s slow, though. It’s a very slow road, but it’s no slower than going to school. I think, whatever, eight years I spent in the film industry, was like doing an undergrad, a masters, and PhD. I spent eight years in real-life school. It was the same thing, and I was getting paid for it. I loved it, it was really really great. It was difficult but it was a great time.
RD- Do you remember your first run in with raw denim?
SM- At the time (fifteen years ago), it was very difficult to find raw, selvedge denim. No one was really doing it and I was obsessing over it. I couldn’t find it anywhere so I just started working with raw denim that I would get at the local fabric store.
I eventually saved up enough money and went to New York , thinking I would find it everywhere, of course it was not that easy. I actually did stumble across one roll of selvedge, shrink-to-fit denim. I thought my brain was going to explode. I couldn’t believe it. I was over the moon.
They said, “Oh yeah? This stuff?”. It was shoved away in a corner. They didn’t understand the value of it or anything like that. I was like, “Yeah, I’ll take it all. You have anymore?”
I was just starting to develop these ideas, you know. Working with denim, in general. Taking apart pairs of jeans. Figuring it out, then cutting out my own patterns. A skill that I slowly developed and then it not working out and then just knocking at it until you get it right.
I would wear my samples because I couldn’t afford to buy jeans that I liked and I wanted raw denim. I didn’t want washed denim. Which was the only thing that was available about fifteen years ago. You couldn’t even get raw.
I got the raw denim, brought it back here with me and I was working at a studio apprenticing at the time, and at night I would cut out the jeans and start making them myself. I would wear them to see how they would work and see what the reaction was.
Hardware was a really big problem for me. I would use traditional hardware, and by traditional I mean those big copper rivets that you would get at the hardware store. That alone kind of led to this obsession.
The internet didn’t have a lot of literature on denim production either. So you really had to do a lot of legwork to find anything, any information at all. It was very, very, very difficult to come across anything.
I just kept exploring, people started to ask me to make them a pair of jeans once they got good enough. The jeans were horrible. They were mainly tattoo guys and rockabilly guys that wanted raw denim, and slowly it started to build it up.
I thought, “I can actually do this. Maybe I’m not just going to be apprenticing. Maybe I won’t go back into the film industry. Maybe I just want to do this.” So I just started cranking out one little pair at a time.
Word of mouth got around. It started very simple. One man, three machines. That was it. Then I started to accumulate more machines afterwards and learn about more fabrications.
Stay tuned for the second part of the interview.