INTERVIEW: LÉON DENIM

Today, we’re so happy, because we have an opportunity to interview Mr. Raul Lejano as a co-founder of LÉON DENIM.

LÉON DENIM is a denim brand come from Philipina,that was founded in December 2014. To know more about this brand kindly read this one.

Here you go!

“It doesn’t cost anything for someone to dream” – Raul Lejano

How did you fall in love with Denim (especially raw denim)?

Denim is very fascinating to us. It’s a staple and is everywhere, it’s probably the singular clothing material that most people in the world wear most.  I read a long time ago that there are literally billions of pieces of denim clothing out there, mostly in the form of jeans. Open someone’s closet and you can bet you’ll see several of them in different shapes, colors and sizes.  How can one not love denim?  Most of us will remember (or still own) that go-to piece that you just grab and wear whenever and wherever you go.  I have this first pair of Levi’s 501s that I wore until it got torn in many places – my younger brother Rene asked for me to give it to him and I did. He still wears them today, more than a decade after I gave it to him, and you know what?  I now regret letting it go but am glad he continues to enjoy them (laughs)!  Talk about longevity, huh.

Raw denim is different from the run-of-the-mill denim out there (pun intended) in that in this modern day and age where most things are mass-produced, it harks back to how real denim used to be made – from how the cotton is selected, how they are spun into yarns and rope-dyed with indigo up to the weaving using shuttle looms.  We love the small imperfections that come with the manufacturing process.  Most of all, we love how the indigo on the denim evolves over use.  Denim geeks like us can only agree – we enjoy watching it change over time, all those subtle hues and slubs and tears and what-nots. So what is there not to like?

When did you start to fall in love with denim?

Ah, that’s a tough question to answer.  Since it’s a kind of material for clothing that’s been so much a part of my daily life since I was young, I am unable to point to exactly when. But I started to look at denim with a different and more discerning eye when I met two (of my three) partners Jake Antig and IverAldas only more than 2 years ago – I tell you these two gents are bordering on crazy when it comes to fabrics, cuts and styles – and I’m not talking about denim here, I’m talking about clothes in general. And don’t let them get started on shoes… everyday I continue to learn loads from them.  As for me, I just enjoyed wearing clothes that to my mind were good.  Me and my siblings did grow up with my mother operating her clothes shop with a few seamstresses and a tailor next door, so you could pretty much say this is all innate as we grew up with this around me.   But I only started to look at clothes with this level of attention when we started to put up Leon.

How did you start LÉON DENIM?

It happened by accident. I first met Iver through a shared passion for vintage and pre-loved wristwatches.  Through him I then met Jake – he and Iver had known each other already for more than five years then – both of them are avid film photographers (incidentally, Jake is also a watch nut).  I like photography too and we three hit it off immediately.  It was interesting to see that friendship quickly unfold out of a passion for similar things. If I mention what all of those are it will take a while to get me finished.  But in essence, what binds us is a shared passion for all things vintage (and not just clothing articles), learning, things that stimulate the senses, and witty conversation.  And yes, we do like to dream. A lot.

We’re also crazy about things Japanese, with myself being exposed to the people and their amazing culture (and sub-cultures!) via trips to Japan as a young engineer with my previous employer.  Jake introduced us to Japanese magazines like Free & Easy, Clutch, and 2nd (to name a few) and we saw their own take on Americana with a twist (endless twists, actually)  – the Japanese really know their stuff!  Jake’s brother Albert also decided to pitch in when we decided to set this up.  Iver came across who is now our master tailor and his apprentices and we decided to work with them and develop our own denim brand using premium Japanese raw and selvedge denim, the way we wanted them to be made.  The sourcing of the machines from all over was laborious, we credit the amazing outcome (that doesn’t seem to end, though) to Iver who is the epitome of resourcefulness.  We’re proud to say that we’ve assembled all the right basic pieces, including the elusive vintage models to the more modern ones.  I admire my partners no end for their talent and am grateful I ran into them.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t an easy beginning  at all.But throughout this start-up and until now we have the benefit of getting very smart advice from a group of really cool and accomplished folks we met  a few months after we started in Dec. 2014, and they’ve been extremely supportive friends and also our no. 1 champions ever since.  They gave us the challenge to come up with products that are different from what is available here in the Philippines and also are unique in branding and could stand on their own with global labels we admire and hold with only the utmost reverence.

So what do you get when you have a bunch of guys who are vintage freaks who like clothes and stuff and Japanese and Americana culture – is it any wonder?

What does LÉON DENIM mean to you?

Leon Denim is very personal to us.  I guess that’s the best way for me to put it.  We put in so much effort into the thinking and the creative work up till manufacturing the finished products, which we can proudly say have our own (indigo-stained) hands on them.  It’s truly our own work and we’re very proud of what we do.  In all humility we recognize that we are still young in this industry and have much to learn.  This of course includes learning from our own mistakes. But I think that is part of our strength – we love to learn from others, we do a lot of research on old ways and means, we enjoy and spend lots of time talking to people and picking up from them.

In no way are we big.  We are small and will embark on our growth slowly and deliberately.  But it’s really encouraging that people from literally all over are starting to take notice of us.

We have a saying in Filipino that roughly translates in English to ‘It doesn’t cost anything for someone to dream.’ And so we always do.

Can you describe how it was to start and then run a denim brand?

Hard work and perseverance. And you have to love what you’re doing.  It starts from the heart, from your passion. You got to live it everyday even when setbacks come and you don’t exactly feel bright and chirpy. It’s a tough juggling act with other work and family concerns at play  and everyday is a frenzy, but if you keep at it and you got people around you who support you, there can only be positive things ahead, even when challenges come.

And I can’t overemphasize the learning part. Learn, learn, and then learn some more.  From others who’ve done it, from customers, from the experts, and from oneself. And always be humble.

Who is the target market for LÉON DENIM?

 Hmmm, not an easy question to answer precisely but if I look at the demographic of customers who have gotten stuff from us, it’s that segment of the population that care about fine quality in general, they enjoy the stuff they put on and use everyday. Folks who enjoy well-made goods, really, and are willing to fork out a little bit more for them because it does take more work to make them.  People who appreciate how things were made like from a previous era.  In the same way we learn from others, we enjoy teaching people about heritage clothing including raw and selvedge denim and how they are made.

 Can you describe your creative process for LÉON DENIM?

 And the questions keep getting tougher (laughs).  Again I mention, it’s the learning which plays the biggest part.  From a position of absolutely nothing (other than sheer will!) we are proudly able to make pieces of clothing the way we want them to be made, and worn the way they should be worn. Not easy at all, there’s always the misses that come with the hits.  In this line of work you have to be patient and enjoy experimenting no end. That’s why every single product we make takes a great deal of time to develop. We only put it out when we’re fully confident of what we’ve come up with.  And the last and extremely important part of the creative process is the feedback we get from our customers, which we make sure goes back into how we make our products.

 Where does LÉON DENIM inspiration come from?

 It comes from our customers and the people around us like family and friends who believe in what we’re doing.  We aren’t fully set up yet for sales – for instance our website remains in the works, and we’re about to start searching for brick and mortar that we can reasonably afford given the small scale of our operations.  I mention this because all of our customer interactions locally are via meet-ups, or else we talk to them via the phone or email/social media. The latter holds true for customers we’ve served outside the country.  And even if these take a huge chunk of our time, you know what? Talking to them and hearing their feedback and them egging us on and asking us what’s next in the line-up – I swear, we can’t get that high from anywhere else, ever.

And you can imagine that we’ve made so many friends as a result, in only less than two years of existence.  Now, how cool is that?

Who is the person and country that has the most influencefor LÉON DENIM?

 Not a particular person but certainly our customers are the biggest source of influence and inspiration.  If they like our stuff, then we like them a lot too. They’re the best source of validation. And of course, all things vintage.

Country – we’ll start with our own, the Philippines. At the very onset we told ourselves that we humbly intend to wave our own flag high in the well-established, and, one could argue, already-crowded denim world.  The Philippines has many homegrown denim brands but we are not represented in what I coin as the heritage denim industry.  Attached to that is the lifestyle that goes with it.  Small as we are, believe it or not, we are the first one in the Philippines to do this exclusively. In Indonesia where you come from Mayang, this industry is amazingly thriving and so vertically-integrated. We are always at awe with Indonesia and your denim culture.  And we are elated that increasingly, many of our followers on social media come from your country,  which we think is just absolutely so cool.  Maybe someday the Philippines can become like that, but also our ambition is to go beyond our shores.

Of course, a big part of our influence is also from vintage Americana and the Japanese aesthetic.

 Can you explain what is the LÉON DENIM fit and design aesthetic?

 We try to keep to the basics – we focus on good fit and structure and a manufacturing process that is true to heritage; we use fabrics from Japan that we personally like (we currently use Collect Mills,  part of the Japan Blue Group).  The fabric selection process is always very thorough.

At the moment we have 4 kinds of fits – Slim, Straight, and Traditional, the first 2 being the more modern cuts and the 3rd being the more roomy type from the trunk to the hem. The 4th fit is inspired by the Levi’s 1947 fit which we only do on our limited-run jeans model. Recently we’ve come up with Vintage Army Trousers that have a cut of its own, and is reminiscent of trousers from the war era.

We spend a lot of time considering product design and we also especially enjoy the labels that we come up with.  We make it a point to make the branding relevant in terms of the colors, the text, the design – you will know what I mean if you take a closer look – they point to our inspiration I mentioned earlier.

And like our customers, we especially like and are proud of the red lion claw scratch mark that appears on the pocket of our jeans and jackets.

Can you describe the LÉON DENIM range?

 At the moment we make raw and selvedge jeans and jackets in 3 different types of denim fabrics.  And recently we had added the Vintage Army Trousers made of duck canvas.  The jeans and trousers come in standard sizing (we send the size chart to the customer upon request), but the jackets are currently made to order after we measure the customers’ dimensions.

And consistent with our predisposition to dreaming (laughs) we plan to come up with more products.  Unable to mention them now but suffice it to say that if you can wear them, we hope to be able to make ‘em!

 Please give us tips how to develop incredible fades with wearing LÉON DENIM?

 Wear them as often as you can and wear them hard. That’s what denim is made for.  But don’t go as far as sleeping with them on.

 What do you want to say to all denimheads around the world?

 That we are absolutely elated to be welcomed by you and likewise be called denimheads in our own right!

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