These days you could be forgiven in thinking that the denim business is all about big corporate brands and the bottom line. However, sometimes you come across a story that reminds you that there are still people out there for whom the passion to produce quality denim is the overriding factor in everything they do. Roy Denim, out of Oakland is just such a story. Founded by Roy Slaper in Oakland, this is truly a one man denim brand as Roy makes every single pair of jeans by hand, by himself. I was intrigued to learn more about Roy and his passion for denim, so I mailed him a few questions.
Q) When did you start making your jeans?
A) February 2007. I had fiddled around with my moms home sewing machine before that, but I really didn’t know anything at that point. I think seeing Mom sew made me generally open to it.
Q) What did you do before?
A) I had an interesting job. It encompassed a few professions: Sign Painting, Metal Fabrication, Auto Body, Design, Computer Graphics, Sheet Metal, Carpentry… It goes on. I was making custom things and signs and metal architectural features. It was an amazing shop, every machine under the sun. It was a great job; we would get approached to do many projects that someone would normally have to get 5 different shops to be involved in. With us, it was all in-house and two guys doing it.
Q) What inspired you to start doing this?
A) Due to some changes in the business an his personal business, the owner of the shop decided to make it one guy doing it, which meant I had to find something else to do. I was considering a few different things to get into and when I thought about making jeans, it seemed like the right one. From there I just bought a machine from Craigslist (And I’m still friends with the guy who sold me my first machine) which led to finding out that I needed another machine and another machine, ad obsurdum. But you asked me what inspired me, which I didn’t really answer. I don’t know, I think I just tapped into something that was latent in me which suddenly seemed like the thing that I must start doing.
I should note that up till this July, I had a day job that financed the whole project. I was working as a Metal Fabricator. One of my ideals is living within my means, so going into debt to do this was not an option for me. Apparently, too, I have some measure of luck on my side.
Q) What made you decide to produce something as complicated as jeans rather than something simpler like shirts.
A) Honestly, I didn’t even think of it that way. I didn’t think, “now, what article of clothing can I make?” It was just, “I could make jeans.”
Oh yeah, wait! there was this thing that happened I was at this guys house to give him some money to give to my car mechanic, like a relay. I went inside and in the front room were a few industrial machines and a small cutting table. He was in the other room for a few minutes, so I had time to wonder about them. When he came back I said, “Who’s studio is this?” He said. “Oh, these are mine. You didn’t know that I make clothes?” We spoke only for a few minutes about it and when he showed me a jacket he made, I had one resounding thought “I can have this.” And I did, within a few weeks I had created as close to a replica as I could in my studio apartment. This was right at the time when that job was ending and my boss gave me some extra money at the end and I bought machines. I sold all my furniture and filled the apartment with machines and denim to the point that after about 9 months I got rid of the bed and slept in the closet.
So, I guess there was more to it. Actually, that was the moment my life changed.
Q) Do you make every single pair yourself?
A) Yes I do. I’m not trying to have a gimmick and sell anyone on an idea. I just happen to enjoy sewing and messing with machines. If I ever do it another way, it will be in the open. Right now I do ever bit of all the stuff except printing the pocket flasher, which my friend Al, of Al’s printing does.