A Cut Above
For something so ubiquitous, the world of denim can be decidedly geeky – everything from the degree of fade to the stiffness of the weft comes under scrutiny to its many, many aficionados.
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that the same approach to ‘craft’ that has swept everything from beer and gin production to bespoke eyewear in recent years has been applied to jeans manufacturing. What’s perhaps more surprising is that there’s only one maker in London doing it: Blackhorse Lane Ateliers.
The brainchild of Istanbul-born, London-based founder Han Ates, Blackhorse Lane Ateliers (BLA) was established in 2015 and since then has become one of the leading lights of ethical denim. BLA sources selvedge and organic raw cotton denim from Japan, Italy and Turkey, which is hand-cut at the label’s Walthamstow workshop and constructed into jeans that are crafted with a lifetime’s wear in mind (every pair sold comes with a free lifetime repair guarantee). To say that business ethics are important to Ates is something of an understatement.
A tailoring and textiles specialist, Ates spent the best part of a decade managing the production of tailored apparel for a variety of mid-level high-street brands. Over that time, production moved further and further away from London – first to Turkey, then Asia and eventually China – and Ates found himself spending more and more time away.
As the bottom line became more and more about producing vast volumes quickly at ever lower costs, Ates had what might be called an ethical crisis of conscience. ‘When you dart away from your core values, you effectively create a split in your psyche, which is a very painful process,’ he says. ‘I felt I was losing my connection to London, the city I called home. But the lack of intimacy in general was a problem.’
After selling his shares in the business, Ates took a year off to travel with his family in Europe in 2008. Upon returning to London, he shifted focus entirely – first by studying humanistic psychotherapy and shortly after establishing much praised (and sadly mourned) Stoke Newington restaurant, Homa. The ‘obvious appreciation of high-quality, smaller-batch production,’ he witnessed first-hand at Homa, via the burgeoning interest in craft beers and the like, appealed to him greatly and dovetailed nicely with his own ongoing questioning of ‘how you can connect with your creativity’. It wasn’t long before BLA was born.