The Story of Blue In Green And A Conversation With Gordon Heffner
The storefront at 8 Greene Street in Manhattan, NYC, or better known as Blue in Green, has become a sort of holy land for scarce, exceptional clothing brands to denimheads and fashionistas in the Tri-State area. Famous for its rare Japanese denim selection, BiG serves as quite the consummate menswear store as well.
On a whim I dropped by the shop on a beautiful day in March. After losing my way through the twists and turns of Chinatown in downtown Manhattan I finally stumbled off of Canal Street and made my way up the steps of 8 Greene Street into the hallowed ground known as BiG.
Upon entering the rather cozily sized space I was greeted by Gordon Heffner, one of the proprietors and owners of Blue in Green. We sat down and had quite the lengthy and engaging conversation spanning over his inspiration for the shop, different denim houses, and of course the universal questions of raw denim use and care.
Heffner was quite the gentleman and exuded an aura of true passion for his business and the products that are sold within its confines. His story is amazing and stands as a monolith for the raw denim culture in America.
From Humble Beginnings
Growing up in Virginia during the 1970′s, Heffner was exposed to the raw denim world at quite an early age. At this point in time, jeans in America were still mostly made and sold raw. He explained that how in his community having “crispy”, dark jeans was a must-have and even ironing your jeans before wearing them was not out of place. As a child growing up, raw was the only way he knew.
About 15 years ago Heffner relocated from Virginia to Manhattan to become involved in the garment manufacturing world. It was in Manhattan, while working in the garment district that he learned much of what he knows about jeans and garment construction. It was also around this time that he began to make trips back and forth between Japan and the United States.
During these trips he began taking note of the plethora of denim companies beginning to produce and sell their own quality garments. Along with being immersed in raw denim as a child, these trips were integral experiences that would lead to the creation of Blue in Green.
8 Greene Street
After a few years of working in the garment district in Manhattan, Heffner had a revelation that life in the manufacturing business was not meant for him. He eventually met and teamed up with his partner, Yuji Fukushima, in what would become Blue in Green through their mutual love and interest in menswear and music. Through a process of painstaking planning, the two men decided that it was imperative that they must begin their own foray in to the clothing business.
The main idea behind their new venture would be that they would only carry products that were made and manufactured with the utmost care and quality. It would be a menswear store to provide the best of the best to those who shopped within its confines. They would even perhaps have their own line of products named in the fashion of their store’s name.
The duo decided upon the name Blue in Green, after a jazz tune made popular by the famous and influential jazz musician Miles Davis. Even to this day, jazz music plays a pivotal role in the shop’s ambience and experience and can be heard at any given moment. Interestingly enough too, though the name and location fit perfectly together, it was a complete coincidence. In the end, Heffner and Fukushim’s simple idea became a reality about 7 years ago in the outskirts of SoHo, at 8 Greene Street, off of Canal Street near Chinatown in Manhattan.
One might say that opening a store on the fringes of SoHo is a potential gamble since it was so far from the center and hustle and bustle of the notoriously trendy area of Manhattan. Fortunately, with the shop located near an intersection of 3 major sections of Manhattan, blessings from the spiritual types (Heffner explained how spirituals have visited the store and expressed to him that the location was lucky because 8 symbolized luck and infinity), and exceptional product selection, BiG would indeed flourish as it has for seven years.
What’s on the Shelves
Heffner and his partner had decided right from the start that Blue in Green would only have the highest quality products stocked on their shelves. In the months leading up to the opening, he had been making many trips between the US and Japan. Recognizing the lack of brick and mortar shops that sold raw denim in the US and the quality products that were beginning to come out of Japan, he became set on carrying Japanese made and constructed denim in the store.
At first, the owners of many Japanese brands such as Samurai, Momotaro, and Pure Blue were reluctant to let an outsider from the US sell their jeans. Realizing this, he quickly proved his mettle to them by building relationships with the owners. He showcased his knowledge and love for their work by getting into the nitty gritty of their denim’s construction, such as being able to recognize which machines were used to stitch their garments.
You can find a wide range of brands and collaborative projects on their shelves such as the aforementioned Momotaro, Samurai, and Pure Blue in addition to Full House, Eternal, and Studio D’Artisan.
In terms of the collaborations, Heffner expresses that these are not meant to create new fits of jeans that these companies produce and that they are far from forced. Since he knows many of the brand owners of these denim houses personally, he says that many of the collaborations happen in quite an organic and simple fashion. Usually they take a fit of jean that the partnering company sells quite well, then use a different type or color of denim that fits well within the US market.
What makes this specific supplier-retailer relationship work so well too is that there is a shared goal in mind. While of course turning a profit is the purpose of any business, but above all both partners are extremely dedicated to quality denim and working to help each other grow as a business.
As claimed by Gordon, they not only carry the widest variety of Japanese raw denim in the U.S., but are also one of the first stores in the U.S. to carry and sell Japanese raw and selvedge denim. Indeed when BiG launched seven years ago, other denim purveyors, such as Self Edge, focusing on raw and selvedge denim had yet to be conceived.
A Product-Oriented Focus
With BiG’s dedication and vision to carrying select, premium goods, it’s no surprise that aside from helping introduce raw denim within the US, they also carry a list of other “firsts” under it’s belt. Heffner mentioned that the shop was the first in the US to carry both Naked and Famous and NYC’s Left Field within their confines.
Don’t forget that while Japanese denim is their main specialty and focus, BiG is still a quality menswear shop carrying outstanding non-denim products. The shop stocks shirts and outerwear from a variety of brands, exclusive footwear from brands such as New Balance, and some fantastically made outerwear pieces from their in-house label. Heffner mentions that in the future, they hope to delve more into their in-house brand and develop its pieces a little bit more.
After spending the better part of two hours conversing with Heffner about all things denim and music, we came to the usual topics of denim care. As denim care tends to be a very opinionated subject in the denim world, he chose his words in what seemed to be a cautious manner, so as to not provide a definitive line drawn in the sand about how things should be done.
In short, Heffner errs on the side of choice, in that however long the wearer chooses to wait to wash is a completely personal decision. A lot of the brands in his shop design and construct their jeans in almost the exact same way as the Levi’s and Lee of yesteryear, which is from 100% natural cotton. In other words, the jeans are made to fade rather quickly and quite deeply with wear.
The companies have done this so that the jeans may reach a vintage and worn-in look as quickly as possible and are open to frequent wear and wash. He stressed that you definitely should at some point wash your pants though. Dirt and oil, amongst other things, begin to build up on the cotton fibers of the pants and break them down more rapidly.
Interestingly, according to Heffner, some brands, such as APC, make their denim so that a pair can stand up to the rigors of not being washed for prolonged amounts of time. At the end of the day though, his final thoughts are simple – it’s up to you.
Upwards and Onwards
In regards to the future of his business, Heffner expressed their desire to continue to grow as they have been with a slow but sure upswing. He hinted at the chance of opening up newer locations perhaps at a location in uptown Manhattan, and even in LA, but is rather unsure of moving to a larger location because of their lucky number 8 address.
As the store is sufficiently established and successful, there will undoubtedly be an increased focus on their Blue in Green label. Ultimately though, it’s vital they deliver a product selection and customer experience on 8 Greene Street that is not found elsewhere.