It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago, 3sixteen quietly started in New York as a street wear brand by founder Andrew Chen. The idea behind the brand was and has always been to produce goods that he could be proud of and believe in. Although we know 3sixteen as a prominent name in the denim world, the focus at the beginning was actually not on jeans at all, but rather on graphic t-shirts.
The designs varied as they tried to define an identity for the brand. However, from the beginning it was clear that there was an attention to detail and a daring to be different approach which helped them step out from the rest of the fledgling brands. As fate would have it, Chen would bring on Johan Lam as a partner and together they would grew a love for denim and developed relationships with people involved in the industry.
Soon afterwards, the first 3sixteen jeans became a reality and in a few years they quickly grew from selling at a few stores to selling their jeans all over the world. They even gained more widespread attention at large retailers such as Barneys and Club Monaco.
To celebrate their 10 year anniversary, Chen and Lam are not holding back on anything. Not only are they releasing a couple of jeans, but they’re also collaborating with many brands that they’ve worked with, developed friendships with, and admired. The overarching goal is to bring forth an entire limited edition anniversary collection filled with a wide range of products that represent the different milestones in their 10 year career.
To showcase them all as display some one of a kind pieces as well, they’ll be kicking off a month-long celebration with a pop-up shop in NYC starting today, Saturday, September 7th.
During all the craziness of preparing for the popup shop’s official opening, I was lucky enough to catch up with them and get to know more about the anniversary, as well get a look at the three jeans they’ll be releasing.
The Decade Collection Jeans (SL-10x/ST-10x)
- Weight: 15.5oz
- Denim: Sanforized raw indigo selvedge from Kuroki Mills
- Fit: Flagship SL (Straight Leg) and ST (Slim Tapered)
- Other Details:
- Dual tone stitching
- Anniversary patch courtesy of Tanner Goods
- Crossed back belt loops to form a roman numeral X
- Available for: $240.00 USD
Rawr Denim: Out of all the products 3sixteen has released, which is your favorite?
Johan Lam: We’ve always strived for “timeless design” as many designers do, and it’s been amazing to see that a lot of people still wear their 3sixteen pieces from past collections. This makes picking a favorite very difficult. If I were to have to choose, I would go with the SL-100x jean, simply because it was the first jean we ever produced and has been the cornerstone upon which we built our entire denim collection. To this day, it’s still our best selling style.
Andrew Chen: Sorry to be cliche, but it’s definitely our jeans. For me specifically, I have a pair of 4 year old SL-100x jeans that are beat to shreds – the thigh on the fabric is actually melting away. I can only save them for spot dates now; any semi- regular wear nowwill destroy them forever.
‘Black Hex’ Jeans and Bandana (SL-TH1/ST-TH1)
- Weight: 14.5oz
- Denim: Double black selvedge denim (same as in-line 220x jeans)
- Fit: Flagship SL (Straight Leg) and ST (Slim Tapered)
- Other Details:
- Geometric hexagon pattern designed by Thomas Hooper silkscreened onto pocket bags
- Geometric hexagon pattern laser etched into black chromexcel patch
- Black bandana silkscreened with a discharge print that will soften when washed
- Available for: $240.00 USD (Black Hex Jeans) and $15.00 USD (Bandana)
RD: What is the most important thing you’ve learned in the past 10 years?
JL: As you can imagine, we’ve learned our fair share of lessons after being in business for 10 years. To me, the most important thing we’ve learned is to listen to the customer and pay attention to where the market is taking your brand. For us specifically, we learned that although designing, sampling and producing full collections was fun, it was also a lot of work and resources and at the end of the day wasn’t best for 3sixteen. Deciding to focus on our denim collection and building around it was the best decision we ever made for the company.
AC: I guess one of the most important things that I’ve learned over these past 10 years is that you can’t do it all yourself. The 10 year milestone is certainly one that could come with a lot of hubris, but I think that for Johan and I, it’s a humbling reminder that we had a lot of breaks, a lot of help and a lot of good friends that helped us get this far. That’s a big reason why we chose to put the Decade Collection together with so many collaborations: they are a celebration of the valuable relationships that have been formed through 3sixteen.
About three years ago, I was at the point where the brand had to become more profitable so that I could help support my family better or it would be time to shut it down. I hope this doesn’t end up sounding too religious for some, but I remember praying to God that if He wanted this brand to continue on, that He would make a way.
I saw a lot of good things happening through the brand – from making product that continued to improve each season, to building special relationships with individuals, designers and brands along the way. But it had to be financially viable for Johan and I to continue working on it full time (when there were plenty of other – easier – ways to make a decent living). I am proud to say that since that day, Johan and I have never missed a paycheck and we don’t credit ourselves for that blessing one bit.
3sixteen+ 34BSP Denim
- Weight: 17 Oz.
- Denim: Fabric is a custom woven 17oz indigo x brown heavyweight selvedge denim
- Fit: Identical to 30BSP (i.e. slim tapered with roomier top block)
- Other details:
- Available for: $265.00 USD
RD: What are you looking forward to in the next 10 years for 3sixteen?
JL: I think it’s a bit dangerous to look that far down the line, so I’ll let the next 10 years worry about itself. In the near future, I’m excited to add more talent to the 3sixteen team and continue to create job opportunities in the US.
AC: One of the more special experiences has been the opportunity to get to know not only designers and brands, but also the customers who buy our jeans and support us. We got this opportunity to connect with them through helping to open Self Edge NY and LA, and it’s been amazing to meet them, hear their story, and learn from them.
Prior to Self Edge, our “customers” were retailers who then told our story to their patrons – and those relationships are important to us as well. But meeting customers face-to-face and even seeing them a year or two later when they bring back their worn in jeans for repair – full of stories of what they did in their jeans – has been really rewarding.
There’s a certain amount of satisfaction in hearing that your products have served someone well. I’m hoping that in the coming years, we will get a chance to put together our own retail experience where we can continue to build this kind of community with the people that wear our jeans.
RD: Lastly, what are you guys most proud of?
AC: I’m proud that we are still 100% privately owned. This might not be something that customers need to think about, but one major advantage to being self-owned is the ability to make the decisions that you feel are best for the brand and the product.
Profitability does not have to be the number one goal because you have no investors to answer to every day. We’ve made plenty of decisions over the years that made our jeans more expensive to produce (while choosing to keep our price constant), but we’re glad that we did them because it resulted in a better product for our customers.
For those of you in NY, be sure to stop by the pop-up store on 162 Allen St. For the rest of us, be sure to check online at on September 7th to see the new products!
Note: As part of this momentous event, 10% of all proceeds will be donated to the Bowery Mission - an organization in the Lower East Side, NYC that helps homeless and disadvantaged men, women and children in Lower Manhattan. Both Chen and Lam have seen firsthand the Bowery Mission’s impact on restoring lives and thus aim to use this milestone as a platform to help and raise awareness for the organization.