Being able to trust the manufacturing process and origins of a product is important to Dutch consumers. After being plagued by a series of food scandals, such as horse meat being passed off premium beef, mozzarella sold whose contents is less than half real cheese and frozen prawns that consist of 50
percent water, consumers are turning to local produce they feel they can rely on. The growing veggie and health food trend has become tantamount to local production. Now it's high time that the fashion industry followed in suit. But do we still have the knowledge and technological possibilities? Can we manufacture jeans in Europe, produce bags and purses and knit sweaters? Made in Holland: Luxury Jeans. In this new series FashionUnited investigates garment production in six European countries: Spain, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and France - to shed light on the production possibilities that lie within our backyard.
It all started with one sewing machine, an old Pfaff. It grew into a collection, of old-fashioned, industrial working machines. These days, Jesper Remmerswaal spends every free minute working on his exclusive jeans label, Tulp Jeans. During the day he works at an upholsterer, while during the evenings and weekends he works at his in home studio, which is filled with antique sewing machines. Remmerswaal works on a Union Special 35800 and a Union Special 6900 Belt Loop sewing machine as well as a Union Special 39200 Overlock and Reece 101 Keyhole machine, amongst others. Although the textile industry once flourished in the east of the Netherlands, Tulp Jeans is currently one of the few brands that carries the 'Made in the Netherlands' sign on its label.
The Netherlands is a typical jeans wearing country. The Dutch have an average of 5.4 pairs of jeans in their wardrobes, which is more than the inhabitants of any other Western country own. Amsterdam profiles itself as the denim capital of the world. Foreign established jeans brands, as well as local well-known denim labels have their headquarters in the Dutch capital, such as: Pepe Jeans, Levi's Vintage, G-star, Scotch & Soda, Hilfiger Denim and Blue Blood. The turnover in jeans and jeans-related fashion in the Amsterdam region is estimated to be at around 3 billion euros a year. Additionally, Amsterdam offers the only Jean School in the world. In three years, jeans students learn all the ins-and-outs of the denim industry. With a diploma in hand, they can call themselves 'denim developers’. According to Remmerswaal, the jeans craze is due to the dreary Dutch weather, “it is actually never too warm to wear jeans here".
Tulp Jeans is a quintessentially Dutch jeans brand
Why did Remmerswaal choose to produce his jeans in the Netherlands? “Because I like to do everything myself. My brand is small-scale, it's really for jean enthusiasts. I did consider moving the manufacturing abroad, but then my label would lose its exclusivity.” The denim that Remmerswaal uses for the jeans comes from Japan, whilst all the other materials for Tulp Jeans are Dutch. The rivets are produced by a Dutch company, the leather for the leader patch, fifth pocket and back pocket are tanned in the Netherlands. And customers can also choose a button from the Second World War for their jeans if they so chose.
Tulp Jeans is still small, and Remmerswaal gets an average of five orders per month. He is unable to earn a living from it yet, which is why he works at an upholsterer. “I hope that I can move to a larger studio within a year or year and a half, at the moment my house often looks like a bomb has exploded,” laughs the entrepreneur. He has visited Amsterdam's fashion trade fair, the Modefabriek (Fashion Factory), two times in order to find new clients. The latest edition in particular, was a success for him, as he received many positive responses from journalists and drew in new customers. According to Remmerswaal, it is precisely because the company is still small that it is possible to manufacture in the Netherlands. He doesn’t think it’s feasible for large jeans and denim brands to move their production facilities to the Netherlands. “The hourly wage is too high, that could never be profitable.”
Benefits of producing jeans in the Netherlands: knowledge and low transport costs
Four years ago, Jelle de Jong, the current production coordinator at Scotch & Soda, concluded that it is entirely possible to manufacture jeans in the Netherlands. In his thesis 'Handcrafted in Amsterdam' he compared five manufacturing countries – Turkey, Italy, Tunisia and the United States- with the Netherlands. The surprising conclusion: manufacturing six models of jeans in five sizes would be cheapest in the Netherlands, provided the jeans are destined for the Dutch market. The Netherlands has a large cost advantage due to low transport costs. The presence of various jeans brands, experts and trade connections are a blessing for the Netherlands. Additionally, De Jong noticed a trend: consumers are increasingly looking for craftsmanship and quality. Consumers also consider it important to know where a product is manufactured.
De Jong, however, is still sceptical. If we ask him, four years after writing his thesis, if it is possible to manufacture jeans in the Netherlands, he answers: “I haven’t looked into the subject in recent years. But in my opinion, the market, and then primarily consumers’ feelings about ‘jeans made in their own country’, has changed.”
What does James Veenhoff think? He is a famous jean Guru in the Netherlands and is the founder of the Jean School in Amsterdam. He is starting a new project this coming summer: a workshop where worn jeans are sorted, repaired and reused. He also plans on creating a jeans archive. A few years ago he conceived a plan to set up a sustainable weaving factory; he thought it would be cool to manufacture his own denim. Unfortunately, the plans for the project never got off the ground. “Weaving machines require a lot of capital and high turnover because the margins are low,” states Veenhoff. “Most of the denim comes from enormous factories in Turkey, for example. They make denim in enormous lengths. There is almost no demand for high-priced denim, unless it’s exceptional high-quality craftsmanship.”
Unfortunately, Veenhoff also thinks that it is impossible for large jeans brands to manufacture their jeans in the Netherlands. “G-star has a studio that makes all their 'couture' pieces in the Netherlands, there are also a few seamstresses who could do it. But we don’t have enough experienced professionals who can fulfill large jeans orders, neither do we have a manufacturing company that will accept the orders.”
Photos: Tulp Jeans