Mats Andersson, veteran denimhead and avid vintage clothing collector, first launched Indigofera Jeans in 2009 with a desire to bridge the gap between what has been and what will be. That is to say, the company goes beyond the pure manufacturing of denim and focuses on an aesthetic and quality that would have been at home in the 1950’s and is still relevant and innovative today. Each garment created exists in an architectural, design-space between the classic and the contemporary.
The company is unique in its international components—headquartered in Sweden with custom fabric milled in Japan and high end tailoring in Portugal. The trifecta seems to equal unrivaled denim quality and an alluring brand culture focused on authentic collaborations with artists from around the world.
Mats has been a part of the industry for more than 30 years, and he’s been a retailer, wholesaler, for the past ten years, brand owner. We sat down (virtually, of course) with Mats to discuss the importance of consistent craftsmanship, how to stand out from the crowd, and how their Norwegian made wool blankets have become part of their storytelling DNA.
Brian D. Aitken: What inspired you to create a Japanese denim company in Sweden yet manufactured in Portugal?
Mats Andersson: The vision was to create good garments. “Prima Jeans” is our tagline. Prima means quality. It is only attained with consistent craftsmanship and the use of the best fabric, cutting, sewing and attention. Whether constructing next season’s collection at our offices in Stockholm or gathering inspiration for what’s next while hanging out around a campfire in California, every discussion begins and ends with Prima.
We needed to stay away from crappy fabric, which would equal crappy product. The best mills, when it comes to denim, are found in Japan. We source the fabric from Japan and bring it to Portugal for the expert tailoring and finishing.
Brian D. Aitken: How did you get started in the denim industry?
Mats Andersson: I started out collecting vintage clothing. I was particularly interested in denim but also leather jackets, anything from the 60’s and earlier. That collecting hobby led me to start working in vintage stores and eventually denim brands.
We decided on production in Portugal as it is within EU and they have a textile industry dating back to eighteenth century. There is good care of staff with pensions, sick leave, parental leave and base pay that is decent.
We develop fabric that is unique to Indigofera together with the mills. This is where our design process starts.Then we have an aesthetic that draws inspiration from the time when manufacturing and brands tried to make better products. In the 70`s clothing changed and everybody tried to make cheaper product by cutting corners with production and cheaper fabric. That is still going on today.
Normal wight for denim in mainstream was 13-14oz twenty years ago. Now it’s below 10oz and mixed up with oil fibers. We are going back to the roots of how clothing was and should be made.
Brian D. Aitken: You make so much more than just denim. What motivated you to branch out to be more than just a denim company?
Mats Andersson: Making your first denim takes some consideration. How you build it is essential, but once you’ve done that the job does not take a whole lot more creative power.
There is more to a mans wardrobe than a pair of jeans. We love good flannels and a good tee-shirt. We buy SUPIMA© cotton from USA for our jersey, as it is the best cotton you can get, long fiber gives long life span and amazing feel to wear. For any category we we add to our collection we dig deep to make it fulfill that Prima philosophy of being good at its core.
Whether its shirts, denim jackets, vests, jersey, outerwear or leather we aim to make a good lasting product.
Brian D. Aitken: Can you tell us the story behind the blankets that have become part of the Indigofera DNA?
Mats Andersson: I grew up with wool blanket, as everybody else in Scandinavia and many other places in the world. You got a blanket to go in your Volvo when you bought them in the 1960`s, as the vinyl seats got cold in winter and hot in the summer. I wanted to bring to market this idea of one great go-to blanket in your life.
At the time we were starting to launch Indigofera I had a girlfriend in Norway. That’s how I found the factory we are still working with, it is one of the last ones in Scandinavia still operating.
Just realizing we could make a blanket with that level of quality was so right for the brand and for us personally. Since then we have made about 70 different patterns we developed ourself or in collaboration with artists from different fields.
Brian D. Aitken: There are a lot of established denim companies and lots of boutique specialty denim companies emerging on the scene. How do you stand apart from them?
Mats Andersson: Well, it’s kind of easy to make your first denim or denim jacket, minimums are more accessible both for fabric and production nowadays. Many try and have tried over the years, but very few are still here. For some reason it looks easy from a distance to make five pocket denim.
After that comes the struggle of developing a brand. You need distribution. Your own operated store, or finding partners that dig your stuff and want to carry it in the store. It ain’t easy to make place for yourself, as you say there are a few denim brands out there already.
What separates us to some degree might be we did not expect fast growth, we always believed in our mission-vision and never compromised even when times where tough.
We knew the road would be long to build the foundation, now we are going on twelve years and have found a place in the market.
Brian D. Aitken: What are some of your favorite products you’ve created?
Mats Andersson: The blanket obviously, it’s been a vehicle to explain what we are doing. Some fabrics we travelled to Japan and developed 2008 that are still in our collection. Fabric No9, black Gunpowder fabric, Norris buffalo check flannel were all favorites made in Japan on narrow looms (selvedge fabric).
We have since put those fabrics in most of our denim or denim jackets like Fargo / Copeland and the Norris shirt been a staple in different color ways since 2009. With good fabrics inspiration comes easy.
Brian D. Aitken: What do you recommend as a first pair of selvedge for first-time buyers?
Mats Andersson: Any in our range, it depends on your body type. We have 5 fits from Kirk (loose straight fit) Nash slim tapered. All in Japanese selvedge black or blue.
Brian D. Aitken: What’s the best way to care for a pair of Indigofera denim? Do you have any words of wisdom for first time buyers of selvedge?
Mats Andersson: Unwashed denim have starch, thats why they feel so stiff. All fabrics have this, you need it to make the fabric lay still on the cutting board when being produced.
Be careful when washing them as it the starch has a gluing effect on the fabric in the machine when water is added and create unwanted stripes when you throw them in the wash machine.
So rinse them until the stiffness goes away, then you can wash in machine. If you wear them too long without rinsing them you brake the fiber in crotch and other distress points. Cotton loves water, not washing your jeans will lessen the lifespan. A myth in our niche is you shall never wash you jeans. That is mostly for people who likes to develop fades…
We might be unorthodox but we think you shall wash them when they are dirty.
Brian D. Aitken: What does the future look like for your company, people, collaborations and products?
Mats Andersson: This fall we have a handful of collaborations. ‘High Coast’ is our first women’s line, a capsule made with Weaver specialist Miriam Parkman, that just launched September 24th.
The week after this we have a new and the second collaboration with American singer and songwriter Israel Nash launching. We have collaborations planned for next year so that is a steady fun thing we love to do.
Standard & Strange, Oakland CA. Manready Mercantile, Huston TX. Blue Owl, Seattle WA. Franklin & Poe, Philadelphia PA. James Dant, Indianapolis, IN, to name some stores that been around with us in US for some time now and that we love to collaborate with.
We are grateful for our partners that run amazing stores around the world, without them we can not survive. And so far our niche has done okay, considering it all.