Artisan Cloth founder talks the root of his denim obsession

JUNE 11, 2018

Artisan Cloth Inc.’s founder Brad Mowry fell in love with denim while working at an industrial laundry in Los Angeles more than two decades ago. Since then he has established a lucrative career that has allowed him to forge international business relationships with denim-focused companies across the globe, from L.A. to New York, Japan, China, Thailand, and Mexico.

The company specializes in denim development, marketing and consulting for some of the top brands and retailers in North America. Artisan Cloth has showrooms in both L.A. and New York—giving the company a good sense of what’s happening on both coasts.

Carved in Blue takes a moment to chat with musician-cum-denim-lover Mowry about why he thinks his Los Angeles hometown is the ideal place for denim inspiration, and what he thinks is missing from the denim industry.

Carved in Blue: Tell us more about Artisan Cloth.

Brad: Artisan Cloth Inc, is a supply chain company to the denim, jeans and apparel industry. We’re an informative, creative space developing fabrics and washes with designers and helping them build their vision. My wife and I hope that Artisan Cloth is considered a friendly, helpful “go-to” resource in the fashion, denim and casual apparel industry. Our company has a showroom and a support staff in Los Angeles’ Arts District, as well as in the heart of New York City. We are strategically partnered with three amazing international suppliers of denim and twill fabrics—Kurabo, H.W. Textiles and Tavex. I’m proud to mention that all three of our partners effectively utilize and promote TENCELfibers in our fabrics across many market segments with an excellent product assortment.

Kurabo is a legendary company making luxury and vintage denim and non-denim woven fabrics, including selvage, in Japan and Thailand. Kurabo’s commitment to excellence has created an impeccable reputation of high-quality fabrics, innovations and customer service.

H.W. Textiles is a joint-venture company partnered with Kurabo making incredible denim and non-denim woven fabric innovations in China from value-added innovations to price-point products. The company is currently featuring a fabulous new “ECO” collection of renewable and sustainable fabric and fiber innovations.

Tavex is a NAFTA-qualifying denim supplier located in Puebla, Mexico. Tavex new owner is committed to a renovated and invigorated collection, and has put together new development and marketing teams. Tavex has an objective to be the best luxury denim and non-denim woven resource in Mexico. The latest two collections are like nothing we’ve seen come out of Mexico, setting a new bar for luxury, high-quality denim in this hemisphere.

Carved in Blue: What is your background in the denim industry?

Brad: My background is unique, as I went to school for music. I’m still very active in music—worship music actually. My wife, Danielle, and I enjoy dedicating our time to both fashion and music. I fell in love with denim working at an industrial laundry in Los Angeles over 20 years ago, and was considered somewhat of a “wash expert” over the years. I later spent seven years in New York City working as vice president of fabric and wash development for Jones Apparel Group from 1998 to 2005. My focus was supporting 19 brands and working with denim processors in over 38 countries. Since then I’ve been back in L.A. involved in fabric marketing, sales, wash developments.

Carved in Blue: How do you choose the mills you work with?

Brad: I don’t consider myself a “sales” person. I consider myself more of a product and a people person. So unless I sincerely believe in a mill in terms of product innovation, product integrity (quality), ethics and vision of the management that I can relate to and grow with, I can’t promote a mill or their products just to earn money. I think I’ve turned down dozens of offers from global suppliers. My goal has never been to be the biggest supplier, but feel great knowing we are aligned with a handful of “the best” suppliers. We are always trying to give our best to our partners and clients. I also know if we take on too much we can’t be effective.

In 2005 I partnered with a leading fabric agency for 9 years that promoted many different suppliers.  It was a great experience, but I felt like we did not have time to be great at anything. So in early 2014 when I started Artisan Cloth, I chose to partner with just one excellent mill group ( Kurabo and HW Textiles – their China subsidiary company) and to understand the product lines really well in order to offer better service and support to the industry.  However, Tavex came to me last year and introduced themselves (new owner, new products). I was so impressed with their goals, the kind of people on the team (honest, talented, dedicated), that I considered this offer to partner with Tavex a great complement to our business, our clients’ needs, and it wasn’t a conflict of interest to our Asia-based suppliers (Kurabo and H.W. Textiles). Over 50 percent of our current collection at Tavex is made of fabrics with TENCEL™  Lyocell fiber blends.

Carved in Blue: Why do customers like to work with Artisan Cloth rather than with the mill headquarters? 

Brad: We work very transparently, so some of our clients work with my team, some clients work with the mill and some work with both the mill and our team. So we are the U.S. office and face of our mills, not another layer to waste anyone’s time or energy or add anything to the cost. But if I had to imagine why someone would want to work with our team I’d like to believe it’s because we care about the product, we know about the product, we care about our customers, and we wake up every day wanting to give our very best to the market.

Everyone is busier than ever. So we can’t just have great products, we’ve got to offer great service as well. Our showrooms are also strategically located, so making a visit is easy.

Carved in Blue: You have a unique position of experience with both East Coast and West Coast brands. What is the key difference between the coasts? 

Brad: Personally after living on both coasts, I’m a West Coast person. I love New York, but my lifestyle, interests and personality fits best in L.A. Traffic and all. I have a recording studio in my home. My wife and I have horses that we keep less than a mile from our home. We have an apartment upstairs of our L.A. showroom so we can work late one day and just “sleep” at the office, literally.

But as far as the brands, as things globalize, I think people are working more similarly. Some people say N.Y. companies/brands feel a bit more “corporate.” But I can’t say they all do. I think with many denim laundries in L.A. designers have the opportunity to be more hands on with wash developments. And because of the weather I think people’s lifestyle choices are different. But the work itself on both coasts has a lot of similarity.

Carved in Blue: What do you think is the next innovation the denim industry needs? 

Brad: There are so many good things happening with style innovation and brands making efforts toward sustainability. I think one of the things that makes a brand really stand out and excel is passion. So I think that means we need more new brands with a point of view. Fresh ideas!

This is good for the industry and eventually for the economy. I think brands are much more conscious of the environmental footprint we make in fashion/jeans as well.

At some point brands successfully mature and are typically bought by larger investment firms. And usually the identity and pulse of the brand may be lost. I am a big advocate of fresh, new brands, and LOVE being a part of the process of watching or even helping them grow to eventually become one of the big players. Rinse, repeat…

Carved in Blue: Which countries are leading denim innovation right now? 

Brad: I’m going to be a bit vague right now, because I think the position of “leadership” ebbs and flows. I think brands or regions have “moments” as fashion is so fluid. But they all feed off each other and need each other.

Carved in Blue: What’s missing from the denim industry today?

Brad: I really wish there were more incentives and government support to keep a vibrant industry in the USA. Workers comp rates, labor rates, utility rates and a variety of other things are making it harder and harder for a domestic manufacturing industry to thrive. One thing I’ve always thought would be valuable is a more hands on, comprehensive type of education/training for young people to learn, not theory, but how the industry actually works in various positions.

Carved in Blue: A little about you now—do you remember your first pair of jeans? Which brand was it?

Brad: It was Levi’s actually. I remember two things specifically: I was at the store and all the jeans were raw and unwashed. You wore them forever, patching and mending them, until eventually they became the coolest thing ever. When there was nothing left to mend, you bought another pair…That was before the art and science of wet processing had been developed into the creative, amazing arena it is now.

Carved in Blue: What city do you love most for denim inspiration? 

Brad: I am a bit biased, but I LOVE Los Angeles. I love the way denim is a lifestyle at work, on the weekend, dressed up, on a ranch, in the field, at church. Basically, with such diversity within two hours (mountains, oceans, desert) the weather and lifestyle variations in the West are vast. That combined with what’s left of a denim manufacturing base—it remains my fave! There are other great cities and places that have amazing shopping, and specific style trends, but I love L.A. for the diversity.

Carved in Blue: What does Carved in Blue mean to you?

Brad: I am a big fan of what Lenzing does. And I have been a student of, customer of, promoter of, and friend of Lenzing for years. Carved in Blue is now making a relatable, informative platform that people can learn from, and stay tuned into for supply chain trends, which is incredible as a resource for people in the industry. I’m really honored that my company has the opportunity to be aligned with great companies, like Lenzing, leading the way in technology with an ear to the ground. #CarvedInBlue

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Danielle Lee