Interview – Lewis Hull – Superdenim/The Rugged Standard

The next stage for Lewis is the recent opening of The Rugged Standard, a shop in York which will give him scope to stock even more ace stuff and allow his customers to try before they buy, an important factor when buying denim of course.With the new shop having opened last month we thought it’d be a good time to find out more so we got in touch with Lewis and had a little chat.

Lewis Hull set up the Superdenim website in early 2008 having taken up the task of distributing Studio D’Artisan in Europe a year earlier. Being obsessed with Japanese culture and in particular their take on clothing, he set about selling some of his favourite stuff via Two short years later the website is flourishing.

Lewis, thanks for taking the time out to speak to us. Firstly tell us about yourself and your background and how you came to set up

Hello Proper Mag, and thank you for the opportunity. Superdenim was two years old back in February this year, which was my third year of being involved with Japanese denim, commercially anyway. My kind of “mother ship” company, Noverre, distributes a few brands, namely Studio D’Artisan, Viberg and Real McCoys.

Taking a step back a few years, I set up and managed a boutique hotel and bistro here in York, which was very successful and made itself a very good name. Having run this for four years I was a bit bored and looking to sell the business and move into something else.

I had always been an irritating denim buyer, the very mention of the words “I fancy a new pair of jeans” would send my friends into hibernation until they thought it was safe to return. I guess I’m just particular with what I like. Anyhow, I had always been interested in the quality and mystique of Japanese denim and as I got more into it I realised that the Japanese denim underbelly culture spoke a lot about these brands, but getting hold of it was a difficult task. The thought of travelling to Japan and finding cool products to sell in Europe appealed and my career move was decided. I spoke with Studio D’Artisan who agreed to see me, booked a flight and returned from Japan with a case full of samples and set about finding European stockists. I set up superdenim after a year, really as a way of expressing my widening interest with other amazing products and bringing something new to the UK. I felt that Japan had so much to offer and envied how great the stores there were, so superdenim has always tried to emulate the type of authentic products stores you find all over Japan.

Many of the brands you carry are only available via Superdenim. Does that say anything about your ethos? Does exclusivity play a big part or is it just one element?

I think it does say a lot about my ethos. I’ve never been a fan of the word exclusive, in fact it makes me cringe when I hear it. I just prefer to be original in my ideas and find brands that others haven’t really bought into. I think our customer appreciates this too, as when we try things a bit commercial they don’t really work that well. I spend a lot of time reading – or looking at images in – the Japanese magazines we sell such as 2ND or Free and Easy which gives a great insight into amazing products, both Japanese and from the UK and US. It’s a great buzz when you can sell products that haven’t really been available before. I remember getting boot samples from Fracap after seeing them in the J mags, then getting some sketchy feedback from some customers so didn’t stock them, which in retrospect was a big mistake as a year later they were flying out of UK stockists. It didn’t make me go back and buy them as I it didn’t feel as special anymore but maybe I learnt something – follow your own instinct!

On the subject of your brands, there’s a heavy appreciation of  American inspired workwear. What is it about that stuff that floats  your boat?

I guess I like the simplicity of design and emphasis towards quality fabrics the most. Also many brands take the original item and put their own twist on it, I think Nigel Cabourn is the Meister at this. Post Overalls is another brand I respect hugely. I like products that look good, sounds a little simplistic, but I like to look at a product and think “I want that”. I think workwear has many solid pieces, for example an engineer jacket or chambray work shirt are timeless items that you can’t help but like. When you look through Free and Easy, the styles that people create from the workwear look are just amazing, so attractive.

In terms of the gear you stock, can you see much evolution in the coming months? Workwear and heritage have been buzzwords for a while  now but it’s hard to tell if it’s something that’s here to stay or a  passing trend. What do you reckon?

Certainly in terms of the products we stock, I don’t see an evolution this year, at least I hope not anyway or we’re up the duff. Joking aside, I think there are so many elements to the workwear/heritage thing that I don’t see it dying away, I think we are only scratching the surface. I personally see it as a lifestyle for many people. Just like you see people buying selvedge denim for the first time, you don’t really go back. And once you get into the quality that authentic products give, I don’t see where you would go from there. There are so many elements and styles to look at. If you take Cabourn for example, last winter was the return of the Everest collection, this summer is inspired by his fathers military career in Burma and this coming winter is British naval wear. All these collections have and will provide timeless classic pieces. I think the customer who buys into these products for personal lifestyle reasons and not because it’s the look at the moment will support this ongoing “trend”. The lower end brands that include some workwear bits in their collection for this season only, then move on, they don’t interest me to be honest.

Although Superdenim is about more than just jeans, you’re obviously a  denim specialist. What do you think makes a good pair of jeans and  which brands do you personally favour?

I think a good pair of jeans is defined by the way they make you feel when you wear them. I remember slipping on my first pair Studio D’Artisan 103’s after a soak and just thinking this is the best fitting jean I ever put on. I felt good. You know when jeans look and feel good or not. When you get a good pair they become your favourite garment that can be matched with so many styles in your wardrobe. I guess what I look for is always a selvedge, a quality feeling denim, solid stitching and also the hidden details too such as selvedge coin pockets etc. That’s what you pay for with the good stuff.

To read the remainder of this interview, you’ll have to keep an eye out for our ‘Best Of’ in 2011. It features all the highlights from Issues 1 to 9.

Mark Smith

I had pizza for tea.


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