We set out on a search to find the most durable jeans in the world. Jeans to last a lifetime rather than a year, jeans with a low cost-per-use, jeans to give you a feeling of ownership and individuality. In combing the world’s top brands we’ve separated the raw selvedge from the overcooked cotton and ended up back where we started: London.
The British denim connoisseurs Blackhorse Lane Ateliers are our number one choice for durable men’s and women’s jeans. Here’s why.
Credit: Gareth Powell, David Nolan, Graham McLoughlin
The best design
Blackhorse Lane Ateliers draw inspiration from a time before fashion was cynical. They care about the product and they care about people. Mass consumption, cutting corners, expanding globally; the cornerstones of fast fashion are their nemesis.
Every part of their jean has been considered and reconsidered. Durability, style and comfort are at their heart not just on the day of sale, but for the next 10 years. Other jeans manufacturers will use the same top-line denims or fix their jeans for life – companies that we also love to bits – but no other manufacturer so meticulously over-engineers their jeans.
For their more premium lines, all stress points are bar-tacked for extra strength, so it’s not just the stitching doing the work. The heritage-style waistbands use one piece of denim with single-needle continuous stitching keeping them flat to the jean and tougher and more aesthetically pleasing. The fly too is one piece of material, a design dug up from the old west.
Rivets reinforce the tough 12oz cotton pockets, and on the front right is printed a promise: “Made by us for life”. Quality and care are stitched into the seams, you can feel it even before putting them on.
The best materials
The words “raw Japanese selvedge” are enough to get any denimhead’s ears pricked. Meticulously created on authentic shuttle looms, it’s heavy and textured, dyed to perfection and unbeatably durable. For those new to luxury denim, there’s a nice guide here. Suffice to say Japanese is the gold standard, and it’s the star of Blackhorse Lane’s range.
It’s also bloody expensive, which is why the unpretentious Blackhorse Lane Ateliers offer a full range of denims to suit your need. They have carefully picked mills in Italy and Turkey to offer more accessibly priced jeans with a quality that matches their Japanese counterparts as near as they can. Delightfully, there’s an organic cotton option too to supercharge your ethical purchase. We like organic cotton.
Some things need to be seen to be believed. If you’re in London, it’s simple. Hop on the tube, grab the Victoria line up to Blackhorse Road station and walk about five minutes. Blackhorse Lane Ateliers’ factory sits beside the road, a humble and modestly-sized building.
Fling open the doors and find yourself in denim heaven. Reams of the stuff line the walls. Japanese, Italian, Turkish, their standards, then yet more exotic fabrics, pulled in for research and comparison. The chatter of sewing machines fills the air. Wandering inside you notice that these machines aren’t glossy and modern; like the patterns they weave they are older, mechanical and functional, beautiful in their own way.
A small team of experts fill the work area, heads down, focussed on their craft. Irons hiss and scissors clip. As the jeans take shape, the tasks become more delicate; the inseams fell-stitched plush to the leg, the embossed pockets tightly attached and vegetable-tanned patches are stitched to the waist. On the far side of the factory jeans pile high, new alongside old, long-loved pairs arriving for a free patch-up. You can watch it all unfold as what could be the finest jeans in the world are handcrafted before your eyes.
The best guarantee
A well-made jean is brilliant thing. But after you’ve invested a chunk of change and given them years of care, you want insurance. Blackhorse Lane Ateliers offer a free repair service for the lifetime of the garment; all you have to do is pay for the shipping and give ‘em a wash.
It's not a replacement guarantee, but with items of clothing we tend to think those policies are more marketing than confidence. Blackhorse Lane will fix your jeans for life, because they know they'll only need a little tlc.
Made in the UK, by people who care
It’s not easy to make things in the UK, least of all clothes. Manufacturing is seen as costly, and so for most retailers moving production abroad is a quick, obvious decision.
The creator of Blackhorse Lane Ateliers is Han Ates; his family have been in the textile industry for generations. Throughout his career he saw denim production go from Europe, to Turkey and then to China, chasing cheaper and cheaper pricing models. Eventually the exploitation, both of the workers and of the natural environment, became intolerable. If he were to return to the textiles industry, it would have to be in a situation where the excesses could be eliminated.
Blackhorse Lane manufacture in London. All of their skilled staff are paid at rates above the London Living Wage and with good reason: they are expert ateliers. Many of the factory staff have their story described in detail on Blackhorse Lane’s site, usually describing Blackhorse Lane as having the finest environment they’ve experienced in long careers.
A wide range, a fair price
At a glance these jeans look expensive. At point of purchase they can be, but for the men's range the options are there. If you don't need deluxe denim and every single feature, you can pick up a more affordable pair. For women the High-Rise N5's stand alone for now but are fantastic value, and will very soon be joined by more.
No matter which jeans you can afford up front, all durable jeans are a canny investment and any pair will be yours for life. After a few years, like the double-locked stitches, you’ll be near inseparable.
Besides the incredible cost for use, take solace in the fact that you know exactly what you’re paying for. High-quality materials, an honest business practice, sound environmental principles and a fair working culture. You’re paying for manufacturing to return to London. You’re endorsing slow fashion and sticking it to purveyors of the throwaway. And perhaps best of all, you’re also getting some cool jeans.