Fall is fast approaching. For those of us less-willing to endure summer heat wearing denim, this means the return of our beloved Indigo dyed jackets, jeans, and waistcoats. You know, our happy time is upon us. It also means the return of the Superbowl of fade competitions, The International Indigo Invitational. While I was a mere observer last year, the community was an absolute blast to be part of the conversation. Though a competition at its heart, this event’s comradery shone through its participants; through the encouragement of continuing or the applause and admiration of competitors’ progress in fading, it felt less competitive and more a collective accomplishment.
The Indigo Invitational is heading into its second year, with a start date of October 1st and lingering in the near distance. The field has doubled in size for this year’s Indigo Invitational, as have the prizes, some as lofty as trips to Japan and fully bespoke garments from denim makers like Choochai Indigo. I thought it would be fun to interview contestants, new and experienced, in this year’s Indigo Invitational to find out more about them, past experiences, and how they plan to tackle the competition this year. We thought we’d start with a returning competitor and podium winner, Stephen Snider!
Indigo Invitational Y2 Contender: Stephen Snider (@denim_rambler)
The Arcuate: Hey, Stephen! Thanks so much for taking the time to sit and talk with me about the upcoming Indigo Invitational Year 2. It’s fantastic that we are getting to speak with Indigo Invitational Year 1 royalty so-to-speak. You took the number two podium spot last year. We definitely want to tackle your experience in that comp, but for those who may be unfamiliar, can you tell us who you are, where you’re from, and how you came to live the selvedge/raw/heritage lifestyle.
Stephen Snider: I am a veteran, firefighter, doctoral candidate, husband, and father to three tough boys. We currently live in Alaska (as I am sure anyone following my Instagram @denim_rambler already knows, ha). I grew up around the world, moving every 1-2 years. I went to high school in Hawaii and South Korea, it was an incredible experience.
I am trying to give my three sons that same diverse upbringing, I think seeing the world at a young age expands their perspective of other cultures and social norms. I always wore denim growing up, but I never really paid any attention to denim’s history or details until a few years ago. I decided I wanted a “High Quality” pair of jeans, and down the rabbit hole, I went.
TA: First, thank you for your service, and second, I think you are accomplishing what you set out to do for your boys! Based on your IG feed, I have zero doubt that you live an adventurous life; how does denim play into your lifestyle? Did the unique character raw denim develops with wear lead you into this life, or did your lifestyle spur for the need for clothing that could withstand and hold up to the rigors of your daily routine?
SS: It is a combination of both. First, I am very detail-oriented. I absolutely nerd out over all the small details that come with a well-made pair of jeans. The selvedge id, arcuates, rivets, threading, weave, warp/weft dyes, patch, and the rich history and tradition embodied in those details. Second, durability is a significant factor. I am hiking up mountains, bushwhacking through the remote Alaskan wilderness, sliding down glaciers, I really need something that can take the abuse.
My 25oz Iron Heart Denim Vest goes on every one of my adventures, it is like wearing body armor, and that vest will last me for an entire lifetime. Lastly, something I call the “scars beautifully” factor. A good pair of jeans is like a journal, telling the story of your life. Many of my adventures have pushed my mind and body beyond their perceived limits. Those experiences are imprinted forever on both my soul and my denim.
TA: 25oz’ers are beastly for sure, I have a pair of SoSo I was going to compete in until my wife surprised me with a pair of 19oz NAMA. What is your favorite part of breaking in a fresh pair of selvedge, how do you determine when they have had enough abuse, and do you have any makers that are your go-to favorite?
SS: My favorite part about breaking in a fresh pair of selvedge denim is the process of making them an extension of myself, like a second skin, and then beginning the process of writing my life story on them. I always have the same break-in process.
I generally buy raw and unsanforized jeans; I wear them in a hot bath while doing some light stretching. The denim will shrink in places where there is no surface pressure, and stretch in areas where there is. We are all anthropometrically different; I need my jeans to understand where to give and take to be a functional member of my body.
After about 30 min, I get out of the bath and continue to do stretching movements to help solidify my natural ergonomic range into the fibers’ memory. Then I go for a walk until they are dry.
In my opinion, there isn’t really a point of “enough abuse.” Repairing your jeans is part of the journey, and provides an opportunity to express yourself creatively. Essentially, I could probably wear the same pair for a lifetime. Still, there are so many incredible brands out there that after a year of abuse (and several repairs), I am happy to end one denim journal and begin a new one.
I have two brands that I consider my “go-to favorites.” Okayama Denim (OD) collaborations and Iron Heart (IH). OD Collabs, in my opinion, are some of the highest quality releases on the planet. Merv and the OD Team pour their heart and soul into each and every collaboration they do, and it shows.
Jeans like the ODSJ “Legacy” and the ODPBJ “Kakishibu” have so many intricate details, and these small details really add value to the overall indigo morphology. And Iron Heart, well, the product speaks for itself, especially when it comes to durability. Their 25oz denim, in my opinion, is some of the most durable, yet comfortable and stylish, denim on the market.
TA: As previously mentioned, you not only competed in the first-ever Indigo Invitational, but you took a podium spot in last year’s competition. What made you want to participate in the Indigo Invitational, and what drew you to the PBJs you beat up for 365 days?
SS: I am a fan of combining new and old, heritage and modern, and the ODPBJ Kakishibu perfectly fit that bill. Many jeans today, at first look, essentially look the same. Indigo warp, white/ecru weft. The deep amber hues of a kakishibu dyed weft jumps out at you, it demands attention, whether you are a denim head or not.
Kakishibu is the traditional Japanese method of dyeing fabric from unripe persimmons that have been fermented for more than two years. Pure Blue Japan creates some of the best denim textures out there, anything Merv from OD touches is guaranteed to be slam full of details, this pair was a straightforward choice.
TA: What would you say was the best part of the first-year Indigo Invitational experience; do you think year two will have the same feeling?
SS: The best part was the community interaction. A group of people beginning their fade journey simultaneously and sharing their personal experiences and excitement all the way to the end. It was fabulous. I know it is called a “competition,” but I think anyone who crossed the finish line was a winner. Year two is going to be insane. The first year happened fast, and if you were paying attention in our Raw Denim Facebook group, and happened to jump on the bus in time, you got to participate.
Many people stood on the sidelines, cheering us on as we ran the marathon, all the while wishing they were running with us. They have spent the past year planning, dreaming, vicariously living through our monthly updates, and on October 1st, this group of denim heads will take off from the starting line in full force. This year is going to be incredible, I cannot wait!
TA: What would you say was the most challenging part of the Invitational for you, and how did you overcome that obstacle?
SS: For me, the most challenging part was keeping my jeans repaired, ha. I put them through the Alaskan gauntlet. My first week in the jeans I hiked 54 miles in four days, in the rain, caribou hunting in the Alaskan Bush. In less than two months, I already had a hole in my back pocket, and by the six months mark, I was repairing large rips and tears.
I really enjoyed repairing them though, it became a fun game-deciding what to use next as my support material. I used a burlap bag from Pigeon Tree Crafting, a Blanton’s Bourbon bag, a Crown Royal bag. I even cut the month of July out of a Momotaro Denim calendar and used that to repair a back pocket, with the day I began wearing them highlighted. I started the competition late, July 31st, waiting on my competition pair to arrive.
TA: At what point did you think you might podium, or even win the whole thing; did that change your approach to the rest of the Invitational
SS: At no point did it cross my mind that I might podium, never. I guess I never viewed it as a competition, more like a journey. I wore my jeans every day, I did not do anything different to create fades. I washed them about nine times. I would get back from an expedition, and they would be thoroughly filthy, to the point where I had to hose them off before I could even wash them.
Even at the very end, I thought many competitors had the classic “high contrast fades” that most people strive for, mine looked more like they were pulled out of an old mine, ha. My goal was never to podium, it was just to enjoy the experience with other denim heads worldwide. I made some excellent friends during that year, some that don’t even speak English. Denim has a way of transcending language and cultural barriers.
TA: The more I talk with new and old competitors, I think most people feel the same, it’s not the prize at the end, but the journey through the Indigo Invitational that was and is most rewarding. No surprise that is how you felt. Ok, I have to ask. Dude, what the hell was in your front right pocket? I skate, and to me, it looks like a giant ball bearing. The fade produced was epic, but really, what was it?
SS: It was a brass fidget spinner. I have ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and I always have something on me that allows me to stem, or physically exude pent up mental energy. It has a calming effect and will enable me to focus better. When I am deep in thought, working on my doctorate or something at work, that fidget spinner is usually spinning in my right hand like a jet engine, haha.
TA: That’s freaking awesome. I assume this will head into the next pair as well then. It’s a cool signature mark for sure! Heading into year two, what is your approach to selecting your new Indigo Invitational jeans, are you sticking with PBJ, a similar weight? Is there anything you are re-thinking from Year One?
SS: I like interesting wefts, so for year two, I selected the Okayama Denim x Studio D’Artisan “Matcha.” Instead of the weft being a deep amber from Kakishibu, it will be a brilliant mint green, dyed from Matcha Tea Leaves. The weight is a bit lower, 15oz vs. the 18oz kakishibu, which is intentional. I will be living in Guam for the next competition. It will be interesting to see the difference between fading denim on glaciers versus a humid jungle.
TA: That will be an interesting change, both in the denim weight and the climate difference. I’ll be watching your progression each month for sure. OIT’s going to be super interesting. I’m fairly certain I can guess your response, based on this conversation, but I’m curious; The prizes are even more substantial this year; the stakes are higher, you might say. Is there any prize, in particular, you are hoping to win?
SS: I think the trip to Japan is going to be the most sought-after prize. SoSo was incredibly generous to offer this as a prize for this year’s competition. I was in Japan a little over a year ago and had an opportunity to meet some of the “Denim Royalty” like Merv from OD, Harakisan from IH, and Iwaya-san from PBJ to name a few. I would love to go back, this time maybe getting to visit some of the mills.
TA: Right on, Stephen. Man, it has been really cool learning more about you and your previous experience in the Indigo Invitational. I’m really looking forward to watching your Y2 pair unfold (bad joke) over the next year. Good luck, brother, and we will catch up with you throughout the competition!
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