Raw denim can cause confusion for some, but what you are actually dealing with is denim in its purest form.
Essentially, raw denim is denim that has not been washed after the indigo dying process, which means that over time the colour will fade in areas where the fabric is regularly creased or rubbed. This natural fading creates unique patterns of wear that will become your individual denim fingerprint.
However, this living fabric needs a certain amount of care and attention to reach its full potential, so we asked Nick Coe from the specialist denim blog rawrdenim.com to give us his top tips for looking after the slightly tricky fabric.
You've just picked up your brand new pair of raw denim jeans and your first reaction is to wear them out of the store, right? Hang tight! You need to check if your new pair of jeans has been pre-shrunk (sanforized) during the manufacturing process.
If your raw denim is not pre-shrunk (un-sanforized), it will shrink drastically – approximately 2" in length and waist – after its first wash. You could imagine how annoyed you'd be if after months of wear, you give your denim a proper wash (more on this later), and your hard-earned fades had shifted 2" higher!
So, if your denim is un-sanforized you need to give them a post-purchase, pre-wear soak, following these simple steps:
1. Fill your bathtub with 2-3 inches of hot, but not scalding, water. Bear in mind that the hotter the water, the more indigo will be lost. To optimize the post-soak fit you can sit in the bathtub wearing your denim.
2. Flip your raw denim inside out and lay them flat in the tub for 1-2 hours, with something heavy-ish resting on top of them to keep them submerged. Do not try to shake or move your denim too much, otherwise you will risk losing more indigo.
3. Remove your jeans from the water and hang them out to dry upside down. This also helps reduce the shrinkage.
Once you've determined if your raw denim needs a pre-wear soak you're ready to go. Unsurprisingly, aside from the stiff, rigid material, the toughest thing people find with raw denim for most is wearing them a lot and washing them very little. The reality though is that the more denim is worn (some denim heads even sleep in them), the faster you will create those personalized, vivid fades.
We suggest that an optimal amount of time before washing is six months, but wearing them for longer won't have any detrimental effects, whereas washing prematurely will not give you enough time to achieve those strong, contrasting creases. When washing time does come around, follow these steps:
1. Draw a bathtub of cool water, about 3-4 inches deep.
2. Mix in a small amount of light washing powder, preferably something that locks in dark colours (like Woolite Black). Don't use bleaches or regular detergent.
3. Turn your denim inside out and lay flat in the bath tub, using heavy objects to keep it submerged.
4. Soak for 45 minutes.
5. Rinse with cool water to remove any excess detergent.
6. Remove and hang to dry upside down, ideally outside in the sun.
As you'll be wearing your raw denim on a daily basis and not washing them for six months, you will undoubtedly run into minor hygiene problems. Whether it is a spillage or a funky smell, these "incidents" often become too prominent to ignore. Here are some handy tips on how to resolve some of the most common problems.
Sometimes blood isn't noticeable on dark denim, but if you want it gone here's how:
1. Lay jeans flat and isolate blood-stained area.
2. Draw cold water (as cold as possible) and soak a cloth. Cold water is optimal for protein-based stains like blood, so it is vital you do not use warm or hot water.
3. Dab (don't scrub) the stained area until as much blood as possible is removed.
4. If denim is still stained, apply tiny amount of soap or use a stain remover pen.
5. Dab again with cold, wet cloth.
This can be a real nightmare and should be dealt with ASAP:
1. Pick off as much gum as you can.
2. Wrap an ice cube in cloth.
3. Rub the affected area and soon the frozen gum residue will simply fall off.
4. If some persistent gum won't shift, use a toothpick or butter knife to pick it off.
Bacteria thrives in humid environments, so if your denim gets damp it is likely to acquire an unpleasant odour. Here's how to remove it:
1. Lay your jeans flat, brush them off and empty the pockets.
2. Fold carefully and compactly place jeans into plastic bag.
3. Place them in the freezer.
4. Leave for several hours to kill the bacteria.
5. Remove from the freezer and enjoy your fresh-smelling jeans.
6. To ensure all bacteria is removed, you can spray your jeans with vodka using a garden mister.
It's also important to be mindful of your jeans when you're not wearing them. Are you the type to toss your clothes on the ground? The risk is that if you don't store your raw denim properly, you will muddle or lose the wear patterns you have made (I've learned this the hard way), damage the fabric, and potentially create an ideal breeding-ground for odour-causing bacteria. Hanging your denim solves these problems and lets them air out when they're not being worn. Make use of the belt loops if you're running short of hangers.
If you follow these tips you and your raw denim should have a long and happy relationship with each other. Like with any good girlfriend, raw denim requires a fair bit of maintenance, care, and attention, but in the end they're well worth the hassle.