About Selvedge

November 30, 2023

Selvedge denim from Japan.

Selvedge Denim is the core component of our brand. You may have spotted the white or sometimes coloured detail on the turn-up on your jeans or somewhere we’ve popped it on a pocket or lining of a jacket. If you don’t already know this is the very edge of the roll of denim.

In a rush? Here are our key facts about denim :

1. Selvedge, Self-edge or Selvage (never Salvage) is the word used to describe the white edges (sometimes with colour) of a roll of denim.

2. Selvedge was the only kind of denim until the 1970s when “Wide Goods” were developed, it’s narrow which means quality can be maintained easily.

3. It’s the oldest form of denim which dates back at least to the 1650’s. Proof of this was found in a dated portrait discovered in 2010 by an unknown artist.

4. Denim is the abbreviation of “Serge de Nimes” meaning Twill of Nimes referring to a fabric of cotton woven in the town of Nimes from the 1600’s. 

5. Selvedge jeans are expensive, oh yes they are! They use almost 3 x the same amount of denim as non-selvedge or Wide Goods jeans.

6. Jeans are likely to be a phonetical spelling of “Genes" referring to trousers made from “Serge De Nimes” in Genoa, Italy; used by sailers often travelling to America.

7. Raw denim is better environmentally, oh yes it is! Not buying pre-washed jeans will mean your jeans will last longer.

8. Wear them regularly and wash them rarely if you want to get good fades, don’t wash them in the sea it’s polluted, and don’t use detergent. 

9. Japan didn’t buy up all of America’s looms, they invented their own the Toyoda and the Imamura.

10. Levi’s didn’t invent jeans, they did however help and fund the development of the rivet invented by Jacob Davis. There were hundreds of denim jeans makers in America between 1890 and the Earthquake in 1906.

11. It’s not a watch pocket, it’s a match pocket. The miners in the 1890s whose jobs helped in the development of jeans often couldn’t even afford the pants, instead renting them from the mine owners. The match was necessary they were unlikely to have taken a precious watch down the mine. 

12. There are more denim icons than James Dean, oh yes there are! Marilyn Monroe wore denim on screen before him. Take a look at Martin Luther King Jr and Rev. Ralph Abernathy in 1963 making a statement for civil rights. 

On a break and want more details?

Selvedge denim is the result of thousands of years of development, from the first yarns dyed with indigo (fera or tinctoria). But let’s get the story straight.

First came the flying shuttle in 1733 by John Kaye, then the power loom developed by Edmund Cartwright in 1785 both in Lancashire and both caused uproar in the weaving communities subsequently putting a lot of people (particularly the Huguenots) out of business. Mass manufacture of fabric began. It wasn’t until 1885 that the Draper (AKA the Northrup) loom went into production in America invented by James Northrup from Yorkshire. The two main American mills, Cone and Amoskeag both very sadly closed. Although the Cone name lives on in China.


We jump back to Nimes in France around 1600 with the Andre Family, David Andre a merchant dyer had relocated to Genoa and was importing fabric from Nimes to Genoa in 1677. Where the fabric was made up into heavy work pants “Jeans”. Business would boom and by 1728 with the aid of their Huguenot connections, the family had become big investors and bankers.


So there we’ve got the basis of some mass-manufacturing for the cloth, but dyeing with indigo is no easy process either. It’s said to take around 12g of indigo leaves to dye one pair of pants. In 1869 Adolph von Baeyer invented the synthesis for the compound of indigo making dyeing a viable option for mass manufacture of this durable fabric. 

In Japan, the history of dying with indigo is long, particularly during the Edo period when the Emperors sanctioned flamboyant clothing for workers reserving colour for the upper echelons of society. Only Blue, Brown or Grey would be worn. Embroidery was to resemble grains of rice we call Sashiko and textiles were recycled becoming Boro or quilted futon covers.

The Imamura loom took its name from Kōtarō Imamura whose apprentice was Michio Suzuki 鈴木 道雄 the history of the actual loom is vague but he was to be the founder of the Suzuki motoring empire. Japan’s Toyoda loom was the first of its kind to have an automatic stop, this reduced faults in the woven fabric, developed in the 1920s by Sakichi Toyoda 豊田 佐吉 the Founder of Toyota industries we know as carmaker today. 

Japan wouldn’t open to the rest of the world until the 1950’s. It was Teruyoshi Hayashida, Shosuke Ishizu, Toshiyuki Kurosu, and Hajime (Paul) Hasegawa who would be the first to travel to America in search of Western fashion and jumpstart denim production in Japan. Toshiyuki Kurosu owner and founder of VAN famously copied the jeans of Ivy League students he’d seen on this trip.

Selvedge, Selvage or Self-edge refers to the very edges of the roll of denim, often white, sometimes with red or another colour. A twill fabric woven 3x1 (that’s over three under 1). The warp (the yarns that run up and down) is indigo and the weft (runs left to right) which is in the shuttle is natural undyed. The indigo yarn is dyed up to 16 times in ropes which is then starched to make it strong for the weaving process, it’s the starch (usually a vegetable derivative) that makes your raw jeans stiff and it’s this that you are washing off the first few times. It’s also the reason for the blowouts you get, well that and your shape. Selvedge denim up until 1927 was only white, it was then that Levi’s requested for the colour red to be added so they could differentiate quality.

In the 1970 it’s said that Levi’s invested in a loom that was more than double the width therefore halving the cost (and dare we say it sometimes the quality).

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