Blackhorse Lane Ateliers

blackhorse lane my coal drops yard blackhorse lane my coal drops yard

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.

blackhorse lane coal drops yard
blackhorse lane coal drops yard
blackhorse lane coal drops yard

For all that Ates now practices what he preaches, part of the beauty of the brand is that its ethical commitment comes across as passion rather than dogma. (‘We’re not preachy,’ says BLA associate Stephanie Steele. ‘We’ve always relied on a sense of curiosity.’) No wonder the brand has been the hit it has with denim-heads far and wide.


BLA’s Coal Drops Yard store is its first physical retail space and although currently closed, Ates notes with some delight that it attracts its fair share of ‘nerdy people who come in and try to test us. They know everything from the details and fits to the unusual features, like brace buttons,’ he says.


It’s also the site of the brand’s popular workshops, which invite keen amateurs to build their sewing skills – starting with a denim bag- or apron-making workshop – to a level where they can to craft their very own pair of five-pocket jeans on an industrial sewing machine.


The brand’s ongoing commitment to sustainability can be seen in its other offerings – from that free lifetime repair service (available for other brands at a modest cost) to the sale of denim fabric and related haberdashery, such as scissors, and even patterns and books (all available to explore online). And in the brand’s Instagram pages, where news of craft initiatives and self-starter suggestions during lockdown, among other news, are regularly updated. What a wonderful world, indeed.


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This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the Autumn 2020 edition of King’s Cross Quarterly magazine. Words Katie Baron.

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