Photographer - Seán Jackson
Stylist - Ciana March

Words - Seán Jackson
Publication - Sunday Business Post Magazine

Sunday Business Post January 2020
Seán Jackson

What is it about vintage denim that makes it transcend trends, and have such an indestructible spirit? How is that we can dress everyone from an eight year old girl to a 50something man head to toe in vintage denim and it still feels current?

“Denim doesn’t discriminate,” says stylist Ciana March who co-conceptualised and styled the vintage denim photoshoot that accompanies this piece. “Its nature is inclusive as it’s cut for every shape and size and sold all over the world. And, denim is usually blue, which is the one colour that looks good on everyone”.

Ciana’s father, Ben March started collecting rare and vintage denim in the 1970s. All the pieces in the shoot come from his stock and were styled on street-cast locals in and around Lahinch, Co. Clare where Ben lives close by. While the local population is increasingly, refreshingly, diverse, the land and the denim are slower to change. As a stylist, Ciana appreciates working with clients that put craftsmanship at the core of what they do, and her father was her root inspiration for this.“True craftsmanship comes from a conscious connection to and respect for the production, quality and environment and I’m lucky enough to work with some brands that live and breathe this. I always witnessed this level of care and respect in how my Dad worked with his hands, making bodhráns and mending denim or whatever he was up to. I could always see that he saw something else, something alive in the materials and clothes, even when I was very young and couldn’t see it myself.” In recent years Ben has become more of a vintage denim dealer where people will travel far and wide to buy a Wrangler jacket or pair of original 501s from him, that they will wear for life. The business has worked mainly through word of mouth to date, but now Ben is in the process of moving online, to see where it goes.

Denim had a journey to become the indiscriminate force that Ciana recognises, as it was not born free. In the 1930s a group of artists and intellectuals from Santa Fe, New Mexico made it into the local newspaper due to the shocking fact that they had become known for wearing jeans. Up until this point, denim was strictly the uniform of labourers and farm hands. Most known artists and intellectuals at the time wore padded shouldered, tailored suits to dinner, more identified with bankers and merchants than the manual workers and craftspeople of the day. The jeans were a brave and bold fashion statement against the grain of the norm and sought to express “I am not the same as you” to the club mentality that had led to the Great Depression. But it was also a recognition of equality in the Santa Fe group themselves and a symbol of their progressive heartedness, showing solidarity with the down to earth openness of the people of the land, as well as reconnection with the heritage that they shared. Denim had then been in existence for less than a hundred years but much of the country had been built in that time so the blue shirts, work jackets and jeans seemed to absorb and emit an ancestral, global heritage through the blood, sweat and tears of the migrant workers, including the Irish, who built it up the infrastructure from raw earth and water.

These days, blood, sweat and tears are running blue, through the stained rivers of present day India, where the toxic side effects of cheap jean manufacturing is resulting in declining health of vital waterways and the human and non-human life that are dependent on the water they supply. The 2016 documentary RiverBlue raised some awareness on quite how dire the situation has become and used harrowing imagery to communicate the hydrocide we are commiting and the health implications that the toxic waste is having on the men, women and children within the daily water cycle of the rivers. Many of the rivers themselves often running entirely blue from the levels of toxic jean dye waste dumping straight into the live water.

Not much has changed in the four years since RiverBlue was filmed. Indeed the profit at all costs mentality that the Santa Fe group rebelled against in the early 20th century somehow continues to hold the balance of power within global consciousness with deeper, more acute symptoms as the disease has stealthily spread even as our awareness expands.

Jeans, when made well, are by their nature hard wearing enough to build giant countries, so a couple of decent pairs, made with good production values and some integrity, should suffice for the average wearer in today’s world, considering we do comparatively little physical work, if any at all. Plus, they look and feel infinitely better than the cheap stuff and should last for years instead of months. Good denim needs little washing in comparison to other materials which makes it economical from that perspective. But there is undoubtedly a market for fast fashion where people buy five, ten, twenty pairs of cheap jeans a year and have no idea of the true cost of consequence. It’s true that the fashion industry creates the advertising and stirs the appetite but we, the buyers, are the ones with the true power and accountable only to ourselves, which can be a sobering exercise to actually take true stock of and realise you’re in the driver’s seat.

So how do we reconnect with the progressive humanity that denim once embodied and show solidarity with the men, women and children who pay the true price for our unchecked appetites?

Ciana puts it like this: “if we all stopped consuming poorly made, cheap goods and instead chose local independent brands, the whole system would be in much healthier stead. We as the customers have a responsibility to change how and why we consume at the rate that we do. We need to drive the change we’re expecting of the corporations as it’s a two way relationship and we can only influence our side. We need to give them a reason to stop producing at the rate they currently are.”

If you’d like to dress more sustainably this year, denim is a very good place to start. There is a huge supply of quality vintage and second hand in circulation and some great conscious brands that are more affordable, with long life expectancy, too. And, if you’re lucky enough to meet someone like Ben March, you can pick up a piece of clothing with a rich back story, and come away with a true blue, clean conscience, too.