When I received an invitation to attend a Denim 101 class at BPD Washhouse, I jumped at the chance. I’d heard from several people I knew who’d taken it that it was informative and incredibly hands on...
BPD Washhouse, short for Blueprint Denim Washhouse is the premiere location for denim development on the East Coast. Actually, it’s the only denim wash and dye house on the East Coast. The majority of them are located out West so the proximity to New York City is a luxury for many brands. But just because they are the only game in town doesn’t mean complacency rules. On the contrary, BPD has made a name for itself as a place for innovation and discovery, not just in denim, but in fashion as well. The Denim 101 class is just one of a few programs the company has launched that provide services to the industry. One of their more recent successes was the launch of the BPD Expo, now entering it’s 3rd season and growing exponentially, but I digress.
The class is held over the course of two days. I was only able to commit to one day due to a prior commitment so I made sure it was the first day knowing this was the day to learn hard facts. The facility was easy to get to -located just a short walk from the Path train in Jersey City. Though I’m a Jersey native, I don’t cross the Hudson often but I can tell you this isn’t the Jersey City of my childhood. As I walked to the facility, I couldn’t help but take in the shiny new high-rises overshadowing, but not overtaking, the rich and flavorful character of long established neighborhoods. The contrast is striking and even more so when the gloss gives way to vibrant murals and colorful shop windows. It truly is an overlap of worlds and the perfect setup for the day’s events.
I arrived about 30 minutes earlier than the start time, but I didn’t have to wait alone. Christine Rucci, a denim designer with deep roots in the industry was using the facility to develop a collection for Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James brand. As we chatted, she pulled out a few of the pieces she was working on -a denim button-up wrap skirt with a fringe detail and jeans with a vintage wash (sorry no pictures). Throughout the length of our class she could be spotted moving about, working on her developments giving me a glimpse of how brands use the facility and unknowingly adding a punctuation mark to everything we were learning.
Eventually, I was joined by two more attendees and the class started. At the outset, owner Bill Curtain established a friendly and open environment by leading brief introductions where I learned my classmates were a dress designer from Anthropologie who’d commuted all the way from Philly to learn about the denim process and a wovens designer from Calvin Klein. After we introduced ourselves, Bill went on to give us a brief history of the company and its mission.
To summarize, the facility was purchased from Santex -a textile mill with close ties to Jones New York- and officially opened as BPD Washhouse in 2010. According to Bill, he wanted to create a space that was open. “Where people could ask questions and learn the process without intimidation or the ‘denim eyeroll’” –his very appropriate term for the disdain sometimes shown to newbies. At BPD, brands who include Marc Jacobs, Ann Taylor LOFT and DKNY, can work side by side with a developer. Here they can learn new process, perfect old ones or experiment with formulas. There are also rescue programs where designers can fix mistakes or imperfections in products prior to presentations including Fashion Week. Imagine the relief a designer must feel being able to correct an error prior to a runway presentation. I’m sure many a racing heart has been calmed with the help of BPD.
In the next section Bill went back to basics covering yarn twist direction, differences between 3 x 1 right hand twill and left hand twill (left hand is softer) to dye techniques. We learned about stretch, growth, recovery, stretchability and shrinkage –all terms that are becoming familiar to the consumer as well. Last, but not least we covered Wet Processes and Dry Processes. Basically all the things done to denim that affect the overall appearance.
The most brilliant part was as Bill went through the lesson, he stressed the various personalities of people we would likely encounter at various stages of the manufacturing process and the terminologies we would need to be familiar with when working with them. For example, Bill described the wash guy as always being the coolest guy at the factory. Makes sense as this is the guy basically transforming a raw denim jean into that glorious deconstructed creation you’re wearing today. Well when you’re talking to the coolest guy in the factory, there’s a certain level of trust you want to gain with him if you want to make sure that your product comes out correctly. He recommended that even if you have a specific idea in mind, it always helps to ask the wash guy for his input. Make him feel like a part of your process and you will more than likely get the results you want. In essence, flattery will get you everywhere. And you certainly want to make sure you know the difference between tinting, overdying and pigment spray or expect him to give you the dreaded denim eyeroll. It was during those portions of the course when it became most evident that having an experienced person on your team makes a world of difference. If I was to ever launch a denim collection, Bill would be the person who’s brain I’d want to pick.
After the classroom portion we were handed off to Yanilsa Valoria and Ryan Sullivan for practical application. Yanilsa, whose background includes several years at Ralph Lauren, introduced us to the different machinery used for wet and dry processes. With two pairs of sample jeans she walked us through handsanding, applying PP, grinding, tacking and foiling to achieve different types of effects.
Ryan, who has a design studio in Brooklyn specializing in denim lifestyle products, headed up the indigo dyeing portion of the course. With him we learned Shibori, a Japanese specialized tie-dying technique that I’ve heard a lot about but never got to try until now. We also learned about the effects of different concentrations of indigo and the various other materials indigo can be applied to. Ryan had an indigo-dyed leather swatch on display with a striping effect that displayed to prove this point. We also learned about resist printing with glue and discharge printing by hand applying PP. Good times.
At the end of the day, we were instructed to bring in different articles of clothing or accessories we wanted to work on for the next class. The appointment I had the next day was not looking appealing at all. The amazing staff at BPD had me itching to do some work and get dirty. I knew I couldn’t cancel my meeting, but as I cleaned up and left for the day, I was already determined to speed it along. Writing is a creative outlet, but it has nothing on creating with your hands and I was not going to miss out on this.
To be continued…