The First Filipino-Made Selvedge Jeans
Léon Denim is an homage to an era when things were made with painstaking detail, when clothes were made to endure a lifetime. More than a passion for “maong” per se, the brand was conceived from an obsession for heritage and the essential qualities of vintage classics. Since launching in 2014, it’s hailed as the country’s first Selvedge denim brand. The term stems from “self-edge,” literally referring to the tightly woven edges of denim fabrics made by hand-operated looms that were once the norm before manufacturers switched to projectile looms for mass production. The gentlemen behind the brand are confident that this interest is here to stay thanks to a growing community of people give a damn about the provenance and craftsmanship behind their clothes and choices.
ON CREATING LÉON DENIM
Jake Antig: Léon Denin was founded in 2014 and has been run by four of us: me, Iver Aldas, Raul Lejano, and Albert Antig—my brother. I work on creative design together with Iver, although Iver focuses on the actual construction and manufacturing (of their products), as well as the sourcing of the material. Albert works on special projects, mostly, while Raul focuses on social media, marketing, and sales.
Basically, Iver and I knew each other from way back. We wanted to order some fabric from the United States, just to try out our luck in making clothes and denim. We had a pair of jeans made by one of the guys who was working at the hotel being run by Iver’s family; he used to work at a Levi’s factory so we figured, marunong. It turned out okay! So it all snowballed from there. After that, Iver began researching on materials, hardware, equipment, basically everything needed to create maong and making a business out of it.
ON THE JAPANESE TRADITION OF CRAFTSMANSHIP AND PERFECTION
Iver Aldas: Japan has always been a country known for excellent quality—in practically everything. Obsessiveness and passion for perfection and detail is in their culture, in their DNA. Also, in the history of denim, the Japanese really stepped up the game and perfected this type of clothing. So, Japan is a source of inspiration because of quality, firstly, and because of [denim] heritage.
Jake: Craftsmanship is inherent in Japanese culture because they’ve had thousands of years of uninterrupted, undisrupted, untainted culture. They already practiced weaving and dyeing textile as a tradition, since the time of the samurais.
When we started [the business], may day jobs kaming lahat. Raul and Iver were both working in Shell. I was with HP [Hewlett Packard] and my brother was with Globe.
Iver: I was also doing documentary photography at that time, wherein I would travel to different countries and have to immerse in the local communities, really learn their culture and customs. These skills helped me when I finally had to travel and find suppliers. I didn’t know how to speak Nihongo—I still don’t—but with the help of Google Translate, I was able to reach out and send an email to a denim fabric manufacturer in Japan. We asked the supplier to give us a chance and be willing to sell us just half, which was only 25 meters instead of the standard minimum of 50 meters. Kasi kung hindi ka bibili ng buo, magbabayad ka pa ng parang cutting fee, so actually, napamahal pa kami. But we were still just testing things out, experimenting, prototyping. So, meron na kaming magandang fabric at mga mananahi na magaling yung workmanship. Ang kulang lang namin yung makina. Hindi namin magagawa ng perfect and authentic kung hindi kumpleto yung machines, puro workarounds lang.
So, hinanap ko yung mga nag-close na denim factories and we found someone who had purchased all the vintage sewing machines of the old Levi’s factory in Pasong Tamo that closed down. We acquired the machines, set up a workshop in Cavite with around five workers, and tuloy-tuloy na since then.
Jake: Today, we have three regular workers and around six to eight when we are producing a lot.
ON DOING THINGS THE HARD WAY
Jake: Actually, back in the 1960s until the early ‘80s, selvedge lahat ng denim. And then sometime in the ‘80s, nawala yung selvedge kasi lumapad yung fabric ng tela ng maong. And then businesses placed more emphasis on cost efficiency—mass production took over craft.
Iver: Nawala yung pagka-rough ng denim.
Jake: There are other brands and designers who make denim na selvedge, but their focus is more on their own designs. Basically, we’re the first heritage selvedge denim producers in our country. I don’t know, maybe because not a lot of people really want to do it, spend time on making it work and dealing with the low volume.
Iver: It’s also hard to find employees who will stay because of the low quantity.
Jake: We have to figure out a way to incentivize the people who work for us. And I don’t mean just paying them higher tapos hindi naman sustainable. That’s why we keep our team small and efficient; each person focuses on singular pieces and they can really feel and see their own craftsmanship.
ON A REVOLUTION AGAINST FAST FASHION
Jake: I think the world is shifting, looking back. A couple of years ago, fast fashion was in. But with fast fashion, it’s all temporary and after just a couple of uses, you get tired of [the clothes] and there’s suddenly a new trend. It’s an endless cycle, of wanting and then throwing away. This [what’s happening now] is the anti fast fashion movement: where things are made to be durable, using techniques, tools, and machines that produced workwear that was really built to last.
Iver: Selvedge is not just any ordinary fabric—it’s also a work of art.
Jake: What we make is built with the same attitude, this same mindset as the early producers: with the intention to make things last. I am tired of fast fashion. I want something more tangible, more real, with a little bit of romance and history. I think our customers know that we’ve spent time, money, energy into making these garments and they appreciate that—they know the value. When they talk to us, they see the passion and the expertise, that we’re not just here to sell you stuff. We are here to invite you to join us, in doing what we love. Sure, of course, we aim to make money to keep things sustainable. But the objective is we want to share this love for vintage, for selvedge denim, for quality products, for heritage and history. And we want people to share it with their friends. Anyone who understands this joy, this passion of ours, also understands that clothes shouldn’t always have to be the cheapest or the fastest or the newest. You can pay a little bit more for better quality. And we think this is possible in the Philippines.