Engaging with Tony and Pete was a no-brainer for us at Proximity Manufacturing Company. There's quite a backstory to our connection.
I met Matt Sharkey, a professional photographer among many other talents, several years back when White Oak closed. He traveled here in early February 2018 and stayed with me here in Greensboro, and we became acquainted with the new owner of the mill. We were given permission to explore everywhere, and so naturally we spent days and days wandering and capturing every corner of the facility in photographs. To be blunt: it was eerie. Some of the areas in the mill had offices that looked as if the person just stood up mid lunch and walked out. They may very well have. We documented everything, because everything, and I mean everything, was exactly where it stood the last day of operations, with lead lines and yarn still on machinery and ranges, fabric coming off the take-up side of the looms, carts, trucks, and tools in the place they were the last moment things were moving in production. Matt and I vowed that this content would one day be a coffee table book, but I defer to him on this, because he is the one who has the film.
When we got our initial game plan to start weaving again, I asked Matt to introduce me directly to two of his close friends, which was funny because we already carried their brand at my retail store, Hudson's Hill, so it was nice to finally put a voice to a name and eventually faces to names via FaceTime with Tony and Pete. For the longest time my store didn't carry their brand out of respect for another small retailer that operated in the next city west of here, which sadly shuttered its doors sometime a few years ago. When White Oak shuttered, Tellason was one of the biggest shuttle denim clients behind the likes of LS&Co. The foundation of our business model and our company value proposition is to support the small brands that built their business from cloth flowing out of the doors of White Oak, off the narrow shuttle looms, by working directly with these brands to rekindle an enterprise in the same building, that can also help sustain our non-profit (the weaving side is a for-profit division of the non-profit WOLF), via sharing dividends from earnings through collaborative projects with brands on products constructed from the denim we weave.
The first phone call spelled it all out. They were in. These two loved the idea that this kind of effort was being made to keep denim being woven in Greensboro on those old wooden floors at White Oak, and they were willing to do their part to help its success. The main challenge would be to understand the fabric, unsanforized and as loomstate as it gets. Up for the challenge, we embarked on the journey that led us to this journal entry.
We shipped them a small yardage of cloth to get the test fit samples built. When the sample production was complete, we each put a pair through wash testing to determine a range of shrinkage. Tony soaked and hang-dried his pair, and I elected to mechanically wash and dry my sample (oh the heresy, I know!). What we were able to determine is that the denim does mimic a shrink and fit sizing model. Because the picks per inch (the number of shuttle throws in the filling) is significantly higher, the cloth is more densely woven than a heavier ounce weight denim, so the space between yarns is less and therefore the shrink is not entirely the same as Big E's from yonder year, but it is close, and predictable. After one round of hot wash cycle and warm drying cycle, then hang dry from there, the sample shrunk 3" in the waist and 3" in the inseam. Over two washes and dries the jeans shrunk 3.5" in the waist and 4" in the inseam, but Tony's pair with a week of wear, then a hot soak and a hang dry in damp Bay Area air only shrunk 2.5" in the waist and 2.5" in the inseam.
So, naturally we made some adjustments, based on our observations of the samples. We removed the plain weave back pocket liner fabric and replaced it with a second layer of the denim, due to a disproportionate shrinkage rate that caused lumping in the back pockets in washing and drying. This is also cool, because this is how Blue Bell Wrangler and Lee jeans were constructed in the middle of the 20th century. We decided to change the pocket facing to cross-grain, to reflect Levi's jeans patterns, and we finalized the hardware, deciding on a washer and burr rivet and laurel wreath buttons, commonly used in wartime manufacturing and post-war civilian production of denim products by manufacturers with leftover hardware. These trim options can also be seen on the sister garment that is produced by Runabout Goods, the Brander Jacket. The garment was given a slightly longer front and back rise, resulting in a slightly longer button fly, and the inseam was elongated to compensate for the proportional shrinkage in the warp direction of the cloth. The rest of the garment is very similar to the Ankara fit, in terms of seam construction, front pocket depth, back pocket shape, stitch, and liner, and back yoke over panel, all staples of Tellason. I think with these details and cloth, this makes a truly modern yet classic pair of jeans.
The second sample arrived with these modifications, and were hot soaked, and hang dried to determine if there was any difference between Northern California and Central North Carolina. This resulted in shrinkage of 2" in the waist and 2" in the inseam.
The unsanforized, loomstate cloth coming straight from the loom is very smooth, and very soft. This is a combination of the low twist count yarns and the finer yarn count weave that is reflected in a dense denim fabric. But, when it gets put through a wash or soak and dry process, it crisps up and becomes a nice 13+ oz. denim that has a beautiful, hairy unsinged face, and a nice steep right hand twill line. We used 12 natural yarns in the ID lines, to commemorate the first yardage woven in White Oak back in April 1905.
Tellason is currently producing only 116 pairs in this historic inaugural run, all individually numbered to pay homage to the 116 years that the White Oak Cotton Mill has stood in Greensboro, and through those years became known around the world as the gold standard producer of denim.
Note from Tellason: link to jeans on tellason.com here