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How to Sell Fashion in a Foodie World

If raw denim is hard to break in, it's even tougher to sell.

I live for raw denim. Three years I've been selling the stuff, even worked in a wash-house to get to know it better.

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The break-in's hell. Two months of chafing misery like you wouldn't believe, death marches to the grocery store and movies that seem to last forever. No sofa or chair can save you from the discomfort of an asphyxiating waistband and flayed thighs. The pay-off is incredible, though: soft jeans that mold to your body, cool fade marks. My pair is peppered with mustard stains and the silt off car hoods and public benches. They're beautiful, and I've built a humble career demanding everyone should have a pair.

If raw denim is hard to break in, it's even tougher to sell. Good luck getting a guy who's worn 2% elastic his entire life into $200 jeans that last longer than your mom's Volvo. That same guy might wait in line two hours for a coffee and a bowl of rice at Sqirl in Silver Lake. He understands the high of earning it, torturing himself for first world pleasure. But he only understands it in terms of food.

I'm kindred spirits with one restaurant on Abbot Kinney called Gjelina Take Away. They serve delicious $18 personal pizzas, but for zoning purposes, they make their customers eat off milk crates in an alley. No tables or nothing, just a tasty pizza on a tin sheet, teetering inches from giardia. And nobody's more popular. Only in Venice Beach could an exercise in stylish masochism be so well-attended.

Meanwhile, in my dressing room, all the brunch masochists are complaining. "Sandpaper." "A suit of burrs." "A two hundred-thirty dollar vasectomy." All accusations lobbed at my product from the dressing room. Men are used to comfort downstairs, so it's my job to put the jegging mentality to rest, at least momentarily.

So food-speak is how I'm pushing uncooked denim these days. "These jeans get buttery soft over time," I say. Colloquial surfer-talk, but food-related and a highly effective association. The denim sommelier in me suggests to the beefcake, "Try our fuller cut, it's more palatable in the calf and thigh."

Say a rivet pops. I chalk it up to "batch variation" at our factory downtown, as if that serving of gnocchi had perhaps been crimped too hard by the kitchen staff. Creamy, light, marbled, crunchy: food-speak delivers.

For a long time, the color code of our khaki colored jean was 'Sulphur,' as in, "You're wearing a Sulphur Slim in a size 34." The color is achieved by dipping threads in vats of sulphur, which oxidize to produce a tan hue—a fairly common process. After months of lagging sales, the higher-ups shrewdly retired the descriptive 'Sulphur' for 'Tan.' I've taken it a step further. If a customer shows an interest in the 'Tan,' I present the jeans with a delicacy reserved for laying a pie crust and whisper, "That's our new persimmon color."

Two guys from Toronto popped in last week, "What's a persimmon?" they asked. "It's a fruit," I said. They nearly collapsed, gasping in unison, stroking that cheese-grater twill like it was angora rabbit. Four pairs, out the door like money from home.

I've seen my boss at the Christmas party talking to Joan McNamara, the powerhouse restauranteur behind Joan's On Third. Kindest man in the world, my boss. He's made fortunes in triplicate. He used to wax poetic about over-dyes and the finer points of button-sourcing. Now, I see his eyes light up talking to Joan, the way they used to, only this time he's talking about margins on cupcakes. It doesn't take an MBA to know that food is where folks are spending it these days. There's not much separating Little Debbie from Roy Choi, or premium denim from a gunny sack. Commodity is commodity; it's my job to give it a flavor.


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