There was a day, once, when the term ‘workwear’ meant something. We all know denim started out as something that protected your ‘nicer’ clothing beneath, and most people can reel off the story of James Dean and the Levi’s 501 and the rise of Americana in men’s style. We all know that. But things changed a lot more than we often think. It used to be that when a man bought a pair of work pants, those were the pants in which he worked. For life.
Nobody is a stranger to the changes that globalisation and capitalism had upon the world, but how drastic these changes were is often forgotten. Cotton used to be manufactured on large circular looms called ‘loopwheelers’ that, as the name suggests, wove the cotton in a circular tube. These machines were incredibly slow, producing about a yard of fabric per hour each, and the design obviously meant that separate machines were necessary for each size to produce larger or smaller tubes.
The globalist vision missed an aspect though, as it often does. The nature of the design, looping cotton into a tube and allowing it to slowly fall to the floor, means that the only force ever acting upon the threads as they are woven is gravity.
Now visualise those big, modern looms yanking strands of cotton into strips of fabric. When you wash something with built up tension, it morphs. The threads get strained and stretched and the fibres get tired. But if the cotton was only ever under the force of gravity, it can just be, as it is. The end result? Some of the softest, comfiest, best-washing garments the world has ever seen. No exaggeration.
The Japanese, as with all classic Americana, fell in love with these machines and bought them all up. Nowadays all of the world’s remaining loopwheel machines are in the country, and each time a single part breaks the owner is required to order an often expensive custom replacement. It’s a labour of love, but love conquers all, right? There are a few companies out there pioneering the loopwheel trend, but two companies doing amazing things with the machines are Warehouse Japan and Human Made.
Human Made began a few years back as a commercial expansion of founder Nigo’s love of classic American workwear. Working in close collaboration with Warehouse Japan, the brand produces replica pieces of old-style American clothing that stand against their predecessors in all forms, whether you’re talking about the quality of the fabric or even the cut and fit – it’s way more than just duck canvas and waxed jackets.
We’re talking beautiful loopwheeled t-shirts, triple-stitched herringbone work pants that feel thicker than plywood, even Pierro shirts modeled on old Rodeo Clown outfits. It’s unorthodox, but it’s noble, and a few weeks back we received news of a brilliant collaboration for Human Made, with one brand that certainly needs no introduction; Coca-Cola.
Taking real items from his own personal vintage collection, Nigo has brought forward a small capsule collection based on genuine Coca-Cola memorabilia and uniforms. Little nods to the drinks manufacturer’s illustrious history appear throughout – such as one of the old contour bottles, classic Coca-Cola imagery and, my favourite, the slimmer, old-style script logo.
It’s the little touches, though. Felt appliques on thick sweaters and pinstripe shorts with cast-iron hardware, the kind of things that feel like they’ve stepped straight out of the 50s. Some people ask why anyone would want to dress from half a century ago, but when you’re actually holding the stuff in your hand, there’s only one question – how could we ever have chosen to leave this stuff behind?
The Human Made x Coca Cola collection is available exclusively at Present London in Shoreditch. As with the brand’s appearance at Dover Street Market last year, a small section has been merchandised and laid-out specially for Human Made, allowing you to check out the clothes as well as get a better feel for what Nigo’s trying to do. Honestly, though, you should make a trip just to find out what proper garments feel like, it’s what I’ll be doing. Enjoy.