Donwan Harrell, founder and designer of the famous PRPS jeans, is a man who loves cars and – obviously – jeans. He loves oily jeans, destroyed jeans and destructed jeans. And so, these are the kinds of jeans he has become famous for. Every single pair of Prps jeans is handcrafted and Donwan personally takes care of all the details. This explains the retail price of $350 to $650. You can see him drawing a design for a jacket, talking to manufacturers in Japan and, of course, driving cars.
Q: PRPS seems to have been inspired by a love of denim. Why do you think it is denim that captures the imagination of so many designers?
A: It’s a large part of the early American Culture and with the Rebels in the early cinema. James Dean, Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe wearing Lee’s and Levi’s in the silver screen. It went from the working class to the silver screen and overtime becoming a staple in American wardrobes.
Q: The term that comes through when you’re reading about PRPS is ‘authenticity’. Why is this so important to you and how do you built authenticity into clothes?
A: A lot of the details from workwear and military are time tested. For me, a detail that has been able to withstand time, trends and innovation represents authenticity. It’s always my way of paying homage to heritage product.
Q: You talk about clothes having a purpose – is just to be worn, admired and enjoyed not enough or do you items have to have a heritage and internet legacy to their design?
A: In early American workwear and military clothing were manufactured with a purpose and function. Prps is a brand that prides itself in creating items with that same ideology.
Q: In general terms, why is Japan the place to go to for denim?
A: The original Levi’s looms are housed in Japan. Secondly, the small town Kojima in Okayama Japan, prides itself in being the best denim artisans in the world. The factories are family owned and passed down from one generation to another.
Q: Before founding PRPS you spent two years traveling in Japan, learning from denim masters. Why did you feel this was necessary and what was specific about these particular artisans that demanded your attention?
A: Doing proper research before embarking on any design project is part of my work ethic.
Q: Are there any anecdotes from your time there?
A: I usually stay in the Cerulean Tower in Shibuya and the elevator has facilitated very unexpected encounters. David Hasselhoff: Social, Shaun White (professional snowboarder): admired by many, Muse: uber cool, The Kooks: amiable and one of my favorites bands.
Q: You source your cotton from Africa. What makes it so special to go to such lengths?
A: The farms who harvest our cotton are family owned. Utilizing their cotton for our denim serves as a way to support small enterprises and not huge manufacturing cotton plants.
Q: I read that you use vintage shuttle looms from the ’50s to give your denim a unique feel. Is it important for the brand’s ethos to use period machinery or would you use
modern machinery if it delivered the same results?
A:Today I use both. The vintage looms I use for all my classic selvedge jeans and I use the modern machinery for the non-selvedge.
Q: You seem to celebrate using a denim weaving process that ‘produces less material with more waste’. Is this emphasis on a slow and deliberate process a reaction to fast-fashion and the disposable nature of the modern fashion industry, or am I reading too much into it?
A: This is an accurate description of what it takes to produce a selvedge jean. Its a process that exist since the early 1870’s.
Q: Referring back to your assertion that ‘each item conceived with a particular function in mind’, can you talk us through some of the functions behind your favourite spring/summer ’11 pieces.
A: Many of my pieces served a purpose when first produced. Today they serve as my inspiration. Denim in general is a functional material. Basically, jeans were originally designed for miner’s in the 1837. They were made with an ultra durable fabrication meant to endure the rigorous outdoor labor conditions experienced by the workmen. The same garment was worn day after day. Denim is a resilient fabrication, hence the reason for it’s tight warp and weft weave. It’s capable of being a long lasting material and it grows with you by showing the evidence of wears from all the physical labor. When raw denim is worn repeatedly the indigo wears out naturally resulting in no two jeans ever being the same. Every season I design keeping in mind the history and function of denim.
Q: I also hear that you are passionate about cars. Is it a similar thing with old-fashioned cars that mirrors your interest in clothes?
A: My dad is a vintage car enthusiast and I personally know the satisfaction of driving and caring for a vehicle that is pushing 90 years old. Yes, it is precisely a passion for both. They are both interrelated. Cars and clothing in the early days all reflected a time when America took pride in what they made.