The Questionnaire_Denim Introduction / by Ayo Keys


My Great Great Grandfather, in denim overalls, at his farm with his chickens.

My Great Great Grandfather, in denim overalls, at his farm with his chickens.

The purpose of this project was to learn more about denim in order to create a perfect jean. It began with a pair of ripped jeans and ended with a little blue book. The pair had been ripping near the crotch seam for several months was still wearable. Tiny bits of thread were wearing away on the seat of them until finally they ripped.

They weren’t perfect because they weren’t made for me. They were mass produced in a longer length from cheap cotton and spandex, sold at a low price with a high profit margin. Every year a pair of my jeans rips, I buy a new pair and within the year they rip again. I’m never sure whether to throw them out or to use them. 

It’s not very sustainable financially or ecologically to buy something that continues to rip apart. This realization was rather of depressing. I wondered how other people felt about their jeans the way that I did.

Did they feel that their jeans were made for them? I realized that as a designer it’s important to know what people want from their clothing. Even common and mass produced items should feel special.

I started by looking at my own memories and history with denim jeans. I even found a photograph of my great great grandfather in overalls, pictured left. His overalls are worn at the knee, whiskered at the thigh, rolled at the ankle. They were probably massed produced but they look like they were made for him because his wearing them made them more personal. 

I asked friends and family members to give or send me their ripped or old jeans and looked for quirky stories and character in the rips and broken threads. 

I reached out to small scale denim brands to better understand production and consumption of denim and interviewed a zero waste designer who had professional denim experience to better understand the effects of mass denim production. In the end I realized that everyone wants something different when it comes to jeans. 

I think that as much as I wanted there to be an infinite answer to solving every denim problem, I realized that like the rips in your favorite pair, the holes are what give the overall piece its’ character even when it’s no longer wearable. 

What's more important than having the perfect pair of jeans, is having a piece of clothing that reflects the life you lived while in it. Instead of separate the stories people told me I decided to combine them with my own personal narratives. 

This is a collection of stories. This is a collection of essays. This is about the intersection of clothing and culture. This is about material memory. This is a story about a pair of pants.