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Traveller Denim Co. shop visit :: Austin, TX

by , August 22, 2013

Traveller Denim Shop Visit 18

High quality Japanese selvedge and vintage new-old-stock heavyweight US fabrics?
Expert stitching on nearly-100-year-old industrial sewing machines?
Custom pockets based on the user’s specified EDC setup?

Alright, we’re all ears. It sure sounds a lot like a highlighted list of features of a brand that makes some awesome carry products, doesn’t it?

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Well, this isn’t what you would traditionally think of when you think “carry products”. These products are in the form factor of some of the nicest handmade denim jeans that exist anywhere. Meet Traveller Denim Co., “provisions for the wayward soul”.

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There are so many correlations between a great pair of denim and great carry products (whether it be a bag, pack, wallet, etc). Both rely heavily on fabrics, craftsmanship, sewing machines, thread, pattern making, tight tolerances, functionality, execution, artisan craftsman or high volume factory production, along with dozens more shared correlations.

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Aside from their obvious similarities, we were fascinated in exploring the concept of jeans themselves as a carry device. Let’s face it…99.9% of the time we strictly use our jeans pockets to store our primary EDC items (our phones, our wallets, our keys, all the most important stuff that makes us fully functioning humans).

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In the eyes of Carryology, jeans are essentially EDC pockets with fabric legs attached to them. They hold your necessities, while also keeping you protected from the elements and preventing you from getting an embarrassing ticket for public nudity.

In a sense, jeans may just be the most commonly used and most under-recognized carry product of all time.

A bit dramatic, but hard to deny…

Traveller Denim Shop Visit 13

If you’ve been alive for the past decade or two, you’ve witnessed the rush of selvedge handmade denim brands popping up around the globe, maybe even in your backyard. There are plenty of killer brands out there; Tellason, 3sixteen, Jack/Knife, Kapital, just to name a few of my personal favorites. All these makers have their own spin on denim, which is what makes them unique from one another; Japanese denim, US denim, handmade in Japan, handmade in USA, custom rivets, back pocket stitching pattern…the list is endless. Pricing is across the board, from selvedge jeans made in a Chinese factory for $29.99 to $2,000 Momotaro jeans handmade with hand-woven Zimbabwe cotton denim in Japan.

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It is dizzying to get lost in all of these minor differences and details between them all, everything gets blurry pretty quick. There are endless options and subtle nuances…kind of like the carry product market! I won’t claim that I know all of the differences, but I am enough of a denim junkie that I’ve seen the large spectrum of what’s out there and can speak with some education on the topic. More or less, they’re all relatively similar, save for a few bold pioneers out there. (Editor’s note: If you’d like to learn more about denim, here are two great intro reference guides; one giving a rundown on “selvedge“, the other focused on “raw denim“.)

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In fact, I’ve just learned about 2 more new handmade selvedge denim brands this week alone. And although they appear to put out some nice work, it is just more of the same. Which is why I kept my composure when Traveller Denim Co. appeared on my radar. At first, the primary reason my interest was piqued was because their newly-opened workshop was located a mere 1.5 miles from my front door, here in Austin, TX. I was interested, but a little cautious.

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“Bespoke denim… simple, beautiful and handcrafted in the greatest fucking state of the union”.

Before this article was published, there was very little available information on Traveller Denim. My research came up more or less fruitless. Not too surprising, as they only officially opened their doors on June 1st of 2013. I decided to take a chance and reach out and see if they were interested in a shop visit for the launch of our Outside Influences category. Though geographically convenient for a shop visit and chat, I’ll admit I was skeptical. The denim industry is just like any other super competitive industry, there are uncountable amounts of “me too” brands that surface and crank out boring stuff. In this case, absolute worst case scenario; I’d do a shop visit and discover that Traveller made “OK” jeans. We could chat construction, I could snap some photos and I could squeeze some content out of it. Man…was I way off.

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Traveller Denim is in their own world, their own league of denim product and production. If the large majority of the other brands are dancing the Waltz, Traveller is doing the Tango on a tightrope with a rabid tiger balanced on their shoulders. Or something like that. Founded and operated by Selenia Rios and Erik Untersee (and their silent partner Tony Drummer from Texas Film and Light), with backgrounds in film, these two approach things a bit differently. And this attitude is prominently reflected in their goods.

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“Everything we do features handmade quality…from floor to ceiling and head to toe.”

Walking through a quiet little residential neighborhood in Austin’s East Side, I arrive at Traveller Denim’s HQ, sandwiched between two shops. Selenia and Erik were sitting out front in the unrelenting Texas summer sun, casually chatting. From the first handshake and hug, they were extremely welcoming and easy to talk to. Though it was a Tuesday at 2pm, they offer me up a drink (this is Austin after all), so we each sip on a Lonestar beer to get the conversation lubricated for some quality content.

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The shop’s interior is small, every square foot is perfectly put to use in a clever way that makes it feel more open, acting as both the production shop and retail space. They quit their day jobs, went all in to this venture, and then completely renovated the space over several weeks.

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It’s tastefully finished with reclaimed wood, copper, iron and of course, denim. Industrial sewing machines sit silently on their “off” position, but their presence is heavy (shout out to Singer and Union Special).

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Minimal, rustic, eccentric.  It feels good in here.  Lots of tricks and details throughout the room, all created by hand. A twist of an unsuspecting decorative cast iron horse head decoration (they call it their “Traveller”) on the wall and the changing room mirror suddenly…

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*pops* open, unveiling a hidden doorway leading to the other half of their workspace, which is currently being renovated. Don’t worry, it isn’t a two-way mirror, just a secret door to more material storage and cutting tables.

Traveller Denim Shop Visit 1

Jeans as carry

After exchanging jokes and pleasantries, I got right to the good stuff…connecting the dots between jeans and carry. Traveller Denim is all about carry. They’re not kidding around either, they’re crazy about it. I had opened the proverbial floodgates.

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One endeavor they’re endlessly revising and improving upon is the pocket bag design…striving to make the shape better, smarter, more comfortable, easier to access, and more. Erik pulled out an old prototype, pointing out how they’ve since altered the pocket construction by a mere 1 cm, ultimately making a massive difference when reaching into the pocket. My tests confirmed, with this tweak of this non-glamorous and generally overlooked detail, the user can easily access the full depth of the pocket, making grabbing your cellphone a breeze rather than a wrestling-match of a chore.

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Perhaps my favorite aspect of their work is that their pocket bags are made with fabric that is thicker and more durable than most denim brands use for their actual jeans themselves. Impressive, right? Depending on the user’s preference, they’ll either use a US-made 10-ounce bull denim or a vintage (1970’s era) Carhartt duck canvas. And these highly desirable materials are simply used for the pocket bags (both front pockets as well as lining both rear pockets and the front 5th pocket). They also reinforce the backside of the belt loops with these fabrics too, making them twice as sturdy as the competition. Sharing the reason that they opt for this overkill of fabric, which is more or less invisible to the naked eye when the jeans are being worn, “it’s so that the pockets are extremely tough and last nearly forever”.

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“Specializing in men’s bespoke denim, Traveller Denim Co. handcrafts and tailors each garment to the individual.”

Speaking of user preference, these jeans are completely bespoke (though they do offer some ready-made options available to purchase), tailor-made to each person’s own body measurements taken in-house. This made-to-order approach allows them to have a lot of fun with custom pockets based on the desires of the individual, their lifestyle, and the specific items in their everyday carry quiver. In fact, this is a standard part of their tailored process when they’re making a pair of custom jeans…discussing pockets, carry and the specific EDC items in detail with each and every customer. Not only what kind of cell phone, but which precise model…that level. Yet, still leaving wiggle room in case they swap phones in the future, so you won’t be locked to that Motorola Razr forever. This was nearly too much for me to handle.

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One customer requested they toss on a 6th pocket above the left pocket to mirror the classic 5th pocket and provide some extra storage. Done. Another client has been carrying their beloved pocketknife for years now and wanted a nice home for it in his new Traveller Denim jeans. They took detailed measurements of the knife, and made a perfectly fitting pocket sleeve for it.

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Secret pockets undetectable to the untrained eye? Easy, they do that without a bead of sweat. They’re even working on a pocket design for a client who wants to carry a concealed pistol in their front pocket…but also prefers slim fit jeans. Child’s play. As a joke (and upon request), they’ve even done a “banana pocket” inside the crotch of a recent pair. I’ll let you figure the rest out. So no matter what type of extreme carry needs you have, they’ve got you and your items covered. More on this later, in two upcoming posts.

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Styling is certainly subjective. But Traveller doesn’t focus much on cut or embellishments that add flair just for fashion’s sake. Erik and I talked about his aesthetic appreciation of an old pair of worn in Red Wing work boots. They look amazing because they’re built well, every detail incorporated into them is strictly with function as the primary inspiration. Not a single extra stitch or leather panel that doesn’t need to be there. That’s exactly how these two approach their jeans.

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They look amazing because they’re built for utilitarian function. “We want people to identify with quality, not fashion. Our brand is about the quality construction and fit. While we appreciate stitch details in other brands, our branding is limited to a veg tan leather belt loop with a serial number… Simple, utilitarian products are beautiful, since there is nothing there to hide behind”, says Selenia. (Editor’s note: the “stitch details” are referring to brand-identifying stitching on the rear pockets, which ranges from simple and traditional to utterly flamboyant.) Their jeans look like engineered workwear on steroids, but with a healthy constraint. In fact, Erik used to be a tradesman, in the role as a full-time carpenter. He uses this previous experience in two ways; to know what works and doesn’t work in a pair of trousers on the jobsite where you put them through Hell on a daily basis and using a geometric mathematical approach of construction for building something the right way, so that it should last a long, long time. “Each pair is like putting together a unique and complex geometric puzzle.” He also borrows from his role as an on-set camera grip, building various sets around the country, “If you’re hanging 30,000 lbs worth of shit about someone’s head, it better be right”. Selenia on the other hand, she cut her teeth behind the sewing machine at Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, creating complex costumes for the 2009 film Where The Wild Things Are. Impressive.

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Fitting, as denim truly became popular back in the late 1800’s as tough and dependable work trousers for the blue-collar working man. Blue jeans have embedded themselves in garment history ever since. Traveller Denim honors that history and those hard-working laborers with their processes and product.

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“The devil is in the details and that’s where we live.”

The materials and processes incorporated here at Traveller are worthy of anthropological and historical study. Their selvedge isn’t just any selvedge. They’re offering up varying weights, weaves, origins and interesting stories with their denim. 14.5 oz Japanese Kuroki in black, Cone Denim Mills selvedge from North Carolina in several weights and styles, Japanese 13.5 oz “pink line” indigo selvedge, 16 oz Japanese Nihon Menpu dark indigo raw unsanforized selvedge, and plenty more. Client’s choice.

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But the real star of the show is the mighty roll of NOS (new old stock) U.S. Cone Mills 13.5 oz indigo selvedge produced in the year 1968. This roll must have been uncovered in a forgotten airtight time capsule, as it is in immaculate pristine condition…and they’re making jeans from the thick museum-worthy stuff.

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Thread choice is a commonly overlooked yet critically important element in the manufacturing process. Sometimes brands will skimp here to save a few extra bucks. Traveller opts for a more expensive and more durable quality product.

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The American & Efird thread is a cotton/nylon made in the USA, just like the rivets and buttons, both YKK (Kentucky), available in copper, brass, and aluminum. Just like everything else, the customer can choose thread color and rivet/button finish depending on their visual preference.

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In fact, one creative customer asked them to make the buttons on his jeans out of five £1 UK coins from a recent trip he went on (seen on far left, above).  Of course they’ll oblige him.

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“All of our garments are produced on vintage industrial machines. They are our employees, paying homage to a better time, when quality mattered.”

Selenia and Erik of Traveller Denim Co. sit at the helm of their 100-year-old industrial sewing machines, marrying all these materials together into a final product that they’re proud to put their heavy leather belt loop onto, branded and serial-numbered with a metal stamp and crash of a hammer. Every pair that literally walks out the door showcases the history of jeans, attention to detail and craft, the story of the fabric and hardware, and their own unique interpretation of over-built handmade quality goods.

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Traveller Denim Co. (Austin, TX)

Stand by for more on our coverage of denim as we go deeper down the rabbit hole.


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