akka Denim – Miles Chinn Exclusive Interview for The Denim Daily
by Lars Tibben / posted on 07/08/2017
The origins of a brand with social purpose
akka was born in 1999 in the midst of raging conceptual fragmented industry change as a direct reaction to the ground breaking brands we were developing at the time where anything was possible indeed the impossible was absolutely expected from those at the centre of the route to market revolution.
The idea for akka moreover a brand with philanthropy at its heart supporting children’s charities came to me in 1999. At that time we (akka co-founders) were developing and manufacturing approx 450,000 Evisu jeans a year. Then literally that same year we unwittingly flipped the entire global denim industry from £85 retail a jean (as it had been since the late 80’s) to £160 retail a jean with Evisu by the late 90’s.
It’s important to turn the clock back to 1998 particularly the denim retail industry as a whole in 1998 to understand how and why Evis Japan then subsequently the new globally licensed brand Evisu turned the industry upside down over night.
In the mid 90’s independent Japanese Denim Master’s such as Martin Ksohoh and Hidehiko Yamane that we were working closely with started breaking out of Japan. Important to mention too the streetwear significance of Michiko Koshino opening her store on Broadwick St, Soho London in 1999 highlighting her Yen Jeans collections.
The European denim industry at that time was lost and lack lustre after dominant 80’s brands like Chipie, Chevignon and say Pepe were going out of immediate streetwear demand. By the early 90’s European fashion designers such as Paul Smith and Giorgio Armani wisely saw a gap in the EU casual markets and so launched their own stand alone denim lines Armani Jeans and Paul Smith Jeans.
My business partner Denim Master Hill Law was approached in 1997 by Denim Master Yamane as his Japanese brand Evis was gaining significant domestic traction and after afew key meetings it was agreed our team would take Evis Japan to the next level via our extensive production infrastructure and thus Evisu (International) was duly created focusing on USA and European markets.
1998 was a truly unique year for guerrilla fashion marketing as visionary conceptual renegades were surfacing with a revolutionary thirst from London to Tokyo. Titans of menswear and key game changers that come to mind whom I was working with in 1998 were Nick O’Donnell, Paddy Meehan, Ben Banks and Geoff Griffin.
“1998 was a truly unique year for guerrilla fashion marketing”
Indeed in 1998, I was spending each night in Soho London assisting the highly complex birth concept of Oki-ni.com governed by the legendary Paddy Meehan, co-founder of the iconic (unsurpassed to this day in my opinion) Japanese streetwear brand beauty: beast and subsequently founder of Oki-ni.com. If I am honest to myself today, when beauty: beast founder Takao Yamashita and Toshi Tanaka asked me to create and promote a European beauty: beast collection which subsequently launched in 1999 at Harvey Nichols, it remains to this day one of the highlights of my career given the level of creative worship I had for beauty: beast Japan.
Rampant change was everywhere as the internet at that time was viewed as nothing more than a temporary fad with long established retailers genuinely seeing no threat whatsoever to their physical retail business. In 1998 the term e-tail or indeed e-commerce did not even exist. We developed and produced the Levi’s and Evisu collections for Oki-ni’s incredible Savile Row store launch. Completely beautiful Levi’s pieces which remain pride of place in my denim archive today.
We have worked for decades now in the background. I will often to this day smile and leave the room when a Creative Director of a world famous (denim) brand meets us in private and says, ” What would you design for us? “.
Too much emphasis is placed on today’s dominant denim brands by consumers that think, “said dominant brands” are ground breakers in design and vision. It is simply not the case to those in the know. Our team have designed and developed season after season for over twenty-five years now the best technically advanced denim collections on behalf of today’s global brands yet we have humbly never sought public recognition until today.
We do, so now with akka purely to highlight our childen’s charity partners that are integral to akka’s collective spiritual experience, as for us, remaining true to our commitment of real industry change is creatively paramount.
Three months ago the akka co-founders were approached by Edwin to design and develop a new collection drawing upon Edwin Europe to Edwin USA thus push the boundaries further still yet this ” international flavour ” Edwin collection will be exclusive to China launching December 2017. It’s a very clever move by Edwin to focus on China and so in recognition of this we are releasing early some of our exclusive 2018 techniques to express our deep respect to Edwin as a brand.
Denim Master Hill Law has yet to release his design direction but to be fair knowing Hill’s genius it would not surprise me if the Edwin China collection is then sold back to Edwin Europe as it the nature of the industry to those in the know. The denim industry and denimhead consumers have no idea of all the brands we developed in the background, but with akka focusing on our philanthropic values it seems right today to let people know the truth.
We bleed blue
I cannot nor would I ever speak on behalf of our Denim Masters team mainly as they / we intentionally shun publicity as is one of the core strict rules. However having been business partners now for over twenty years I could honestly say denim is in our blood as they say we truly bleed blue.
Passion is change is it not? Without passion how can one study the status quo thus challenge it? There are no boundaries for us when it comes to creating new denim techniques or industry trading patterns albeit for our own brands or for our clients.
“I dropped everything and took the first flight from London to Tibet then headed up a Himalayan mountain trekking for two days ultimately to meet Hill in a remote village specialising in ancient hand weaving”
For the Denim World Championships 2015 – 2017 Jeroen De Wal asked me to be a judge and requested akka participate in the competition itself. Jeroen asked that we create something never before seen to express our passion. I passed on Jeroen’s creative challenge to Denim Master Hill Law then two days later I received a WeChat message to meet Hill in Tibet.
Hill never said why or how in his message but the passion you speak of I guess, is that I dropped everything and took the first flight from London to Tibet then headed up a Himalayan mountain trekking for two days ultimately to meet Hill in a remote village specialising in ancient hand weaving which is how our 32 oz DWC 100% hand woven interlace selvedge came to be.
Passion for us then, I would have to say is imagining the genuinely impossible focusing on widespread industry change then going out of one’s way to act on it with no questions asked.
Story behind the newest collection
We travel alot as our secondary business since 1997 is assisting European and USA brands and fashion companies to enter China. This gives us a very unique industry insight by meeting CEO’s of major fashion companies ergo what their creative plans are for the forthcoming year. So regards inspiration we are in a privileged situation where we know what key brands are thinking and what key brands aim to develop through us.
The AW’2017 akka products are an interpretation from the big three High Street retailers moreover their systemic lack of understanding of their own non-sustainable non-environmental non-traceable Asian supply chain volume factories. It is important to remember these European High Street fast fashion retailers invest millions every year in advertising campaigns informing their consumers that their production supply chains are non-damaging to us all.
“Regards inspiration we are in a privileged situation where we know what key brands are thinking and what key brands aim to develop through us.”
However in our daily experience the difference between a shiny Hong Kong “reception office” where these High Street design / product development teams are invited and the real factories where their garments are actually produced are truly world’s apart. Or put it another way, as we are luxury manufacturers we have intimate access to all factories that supply Europe’s fast fashion retailers or say own brand e-tail companies.
We witness first hand regularly the insane amount of cotton fabric waste created daily by Europe’s fast fashion industry so we had to act to balance the environmental injustice. So act we did as we contacted the big three fast fashion European retailers (remaining nameless for legal reasons) and asked them would they like to assist us in recycling their own factory cotton waste.
Suffice to say we were informed by multiple mid-level managers from London, Stockholm and Dublin that they in fact have no factory production waste which of course made us smirk enormously as we were actually stood staring right at it in Dongguan and Guangzhou and it was very much real.
“We witness first hand regularly the insane amount of cotton fabric waste created daily by Europe’s fast fashion industry so we had to act to balance the environmental injustice.”
Our team suggested that we should collect the mountains of cheap cotton fabric wasted daily from their volume cut & sewing factories and somehow develop a technique to recycle the cotton waste back to a primary cotton pulp where we could re-spin and re-weave the waste.
It took us 14 intensive months to develop our repulping technique back to a single cotton woven strand. Once we had mastered this process we then upcycled the multi-coloured recycled pulp onto our selvedge looms to weave our world first duo-cycle selvedge exclusive to akka.
With change always in the forefront of our mind we now offer our 15 oz duo-cycle selvedge via our akka “Denim Direct” ethos but at mid 90’s prices essentially as they were before we unwittingly flipped the denim industry with Evisu.
That’s our mind set always when supporting our children’s charity partners Sahasra Deepika Foundation for Education, Bangalore India and Dara Children’s Trust, Cambodia who share our adamant belief that education is the absolute key to change.
The fashion industry and the global denim industry is far too focused on profit margins thus retail pricing manipulation smothering consumers with false glossy advertising campaigns yet these aggressive volume e-tailers / retailers go out of their way to keep their non-environmental secrets to themselves especially at Board of Director level.
We see this day after day as a luxury manufacturer. A good case in point is we produce chinos for three famous Savile Row houses (remaining nameless for legal reasons again) and our FOB (Free Of Borders) factory price that we sell to them is US$28 yet our products are retailing on Savile Row at £240 within their ready to wear collections.
I strongly believe taking all of the above unique insights indeed the global fashion industry as a whole since the late 80’s then the time is absolutely now for mass-socio noospheric change. Real change solely to benefit the next generation so as to assist them to address all that is wrong with global politics, global industry practices but most importantly global respect for (and to) each other to benefit mother earth’s limited resources as a living entity for the next generation to cherish.
Thank you, Miles for your time and inspiration.
A % of the akka denim profits are donated to non profit charities that work in local communities empowering and educating children.