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Inside 3x1, Soho's Only Fully Transparent High-End Denim Factory

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Welcome to Store Tour, a new feature focusing on retail design. For each column, we'll pick an interesting space around town and get the designer to answer the question, "Why does this place look the way it does?"

All photos by Anna Fischer

Scott Morrison's denim boutique 3x1 is like nothing else in Soho. The Mercer Street store doubles as a factory where shoppers can watch their jeans being constructed in one of two glass-walled enclosures smack in the middle of the store. All of the merchandise is made in-house, whether it's ready-to-wear or custom, and Morrison prides himself on the literal transparency of the process. Recently, the denim maven—he also co-founded Paper Denim & Cloth and Earnest Sewn—walked us through the store to explain the layout.

Obviously, you have a strong aesthetic happening here.

"Masculine" is the word people have used.

It is really masculine! Was that on purpose?

Well, I mean, I designed the space, so that's part of the reason it came out from a guy's point of view. But more to the point, I think it's really a place where we can showcase not only the process of how jeans are made from start to finish, but also showcase the finished product. The way we present the product, almost like a museum object, is a really important fixture to the brand.

When you first walk in, the factory isn't the first thing you see. There's the entrance area, which is dominated by the denim wall. Then you get to the factory, and you walk through it to get to the back. What's the thinking behind the layout?

I originally thought the most important feature was going to be the factory space. So when you walk in the store, the glass floor-to-ceiling cube where we house all of the cutting and sewing would be the first piece. I also toyed with the idea of doing a kind of a curved wall where we held all the denim. Here we have about 135 different denims in stock. On the left wall is about 76 rolls. We have a huge amount under the cutting table, and there's also another 3,000 square feet downstairs where we've got more.

But one of the things we realized was that we needed a more functional approach. People had to be able to come out of the sewing room if they needed to grab something, so the denim wall ended up becoming the focal feature when you first walk in. People come in, they don't know if it's a fabric store or a jean shop or what, but this beautiful blue sea of denim is probably the most captivating thing.

Most of the denims up here are for men, but we do have a couple stretch selvages in there. The thing that's really unique about this wall is that these are all different selvage denims. Selvage is a narrow-width fabric that's loomed on an old shuttle loom. They stopped making shuttle looms in the 1960s, so there's a diminishing supply. Basically what you have is 16 or 17 different mills from all around the world, and we've brought them together under one roof. We get designers from other jean brands, from Italy and Japan, and they've never seen this much selvage in one place.

Do you know what the space used to be?

Yes. For a long time it was rented by L'Oreal Paris. It wasn't open to the public; they would come in from time to time and do training. It was for sale, and I contacted the owner and said, "Listen, I'm not interested in buying but I am in renting." He wasn't really interested, but I was able to talk my way into a meeting with him to explain the concept, that we wanted to bring the factory back into Soho.

His parents both happened to be in the garment business, so it was really a nostalgic thing for him, and sure enough he was like "Hey, let's do it." So he took it off the market, let me rent it, and from there we started turning it into the space we'd always dreamed about.

Has there ever been a factory in the space before?
Not that I know of. Before it was L'Oreal, there was a spa here, actually an award-winning spa design-wise. It opened four or five months before September 11th. So it closed, everyone was kicked out for the better part of nine months to relaunch it, and I don't think it worked, so that's when he decided to rent it out as a space. L'Oreal seemed like a perfect client because they weren't using it frequently. And the space was really beautifully done for them. None of this was here. There was a giant round partition that kind of swung out, there were counters, it was completely different.

Are the columns original?
They are, yes. The columns are totally original. They're the only thing that was kind of freestanding. It's a nice effect.

The white on the right of the entrance is basically the art gallery wall, if you will. You'll notice that there's text on the walls. The text relates to how many jeans have been made in that fit, whether they were washed or raw. Every jean here is individually numbered and we don't make anything in mass quantity. Typically 24 pieces is the most we do. These kind of tell you what we've made so far, what's coming out this week or this month.

And the first case that you see when you walk in, you're looking at all the different pattern pieces you need to make one jean. These are all broken down into their components, they're all actual patterns that we use. We do all the design work downstairs, all the digital pattern-making and printing. We do all the cutting in the back. The idea is that from the minute you walk in the door, we're breaking it down very simply so that we can walk you through step-by-step how it's done. At the very least, even if you don't buy a jean—because it is expensive—you walk out with a decent amount of knowledge and some real curiosity.

What about the factory space?

The sewing room is designed with total transparency in mind. Basically, the way we make a jean is a little bit different than most factories. We don't sew piecework, meaning we don't have one sewer do 300 pieces and then hand it to someone else. They sew the whole jean from start to finish. It's much slower, but it means there's a lot more attention to detail, and pride and sense of accomplishment.

We also sew with single-needle sewing machines. That's really unique because any time you see two sets of stitches, like on your pocket, that's done with a double needle. But we sew it twice, so most of the garment is sewn two times. We also really try to preach that it's not about efficiency, it's not about speed, it's not about pace. It's about quality. If they do two jeans a day, we're totally happy. Most people do two or three times that, in here.

Do all the workers have denim experience?
It's interesting. It's been kind of a mix. Half the people have worked for me at other companies before, like Earnest Sewn. And then we've recruited a bunch of people who come from outside the denim community, because there's not a big denim community in New York. A lot of these people have great experience with pants, suit making, beautiful tailoring, and so we've been able to apply those principles to the way we do the design.

On average, how long does it take to make a pair of jeans?
Jenny, on the far left, can probably make a pair of jeans in six hours. That's the sewing part. The cutting part probably takes two hours, pattern making may take another couple hours. So when you add it up, it can take 12 to 13 hours to make one jean start to finish.

They're doing cutting right now, and there's a second cutting table downstairs. We do everything in house. We want everything behind glass, we want everything we do to be 100% transparent, we want people to ask questions and say, "What's that? What are they doing here?" so that they can really see what they're getting. There are a lot of shortcuts you can take in manufacturing, but if you're spending this type of money you really should know what you're getting.

What's the pricing like?
Pricing starts around $265 for women. Men's selvage denim jeans start at around $350. In terms of ready-to-wear, we keep about a thousand pairs of jeans in stock. You come in off the street, you pick out a pair, pick out a button you like, we hem it to your length while you wait. That price ranges from about $265 to $400. If you wanted a custom-made product, that starts around $525 and goes up to about $700.

The bespoke service is our top-of-the-line thing. We only do about a hundred appointments a year. That's by design because they're very time-consuming and it's something we don't really make money doing, but we think it's an amazing part of the experience. You come in and you can literally design your jean from a cocktail napkin, you can bring in anything you want from the past, maybe there's something you want to replicate or you want to base it on. A lot of times we have customers come in and say that they've got their favorite old pair of jeans and they want to see how to breathe new life into them, or maybe change them slightly.

So we'll build a pattern for them from scratch. We digitize that pattern and keep it here on file so they can call in from anywhere around the world and we can basically make you another jean in 24 hours. We have some customers who really appreciate that type of service.

Going back to the design stuff, you'll notice there are two glass rooms here. This room is broken down by sewing and cutting, and this room is the finishing room, where we do hems, button attachments, rivet attachments, trimming and repair. All the jeans get a sew-on button in the beginning. Then when you pick your final button, we'll clip it off and attach that while you're waiting.

Let's talk about the back room. What's the glass-enclosed space for?

That's the pre-finishing room where we do steaming. It's the only other part of the process. All the pieces, you want to make sure they're pressed flat before you move on. This is an extra step that most people don't take, but by pressing everything you're able to make sure that you control the consistency and make sure that it's perfect. Every garment is inspected up to three times. Normal factories do 10% inspection on finished garments; we do it three times on every pair.

And what about the jeans on the racks?

This is some of the women's collection. We do a range of different products. The beauty is that because we're small, everything is constantly changing. It's exciting for our customers to be able to come back and see something different. It could change every week.

Have you done anything bespoke that's really far away from a typical pair of pants?
Not yet. For the most part, people really want a jean to be like a jean. But Cecelia Dean from Visionaire's favorite parts are a kind of an asymmetrical version of a sailor pant with crazy handmade buttons. That was a fun side project.

We've had people come in who say they've never had jeans that fit them well. Maybe they're a little bit bigger, maybe they're a little bit taller. Our first bespoke happened to be a woman who was 6'5". She had a 38-inch inseam, and she'd never had a great-fitting pair of jeans. She always had to buy men's jeans at a big-and-tall shop. So for her, it was really one of those spiritual moments where she had something for the first time ever that she really felt great in.
· Coming Soon to Mercer Street: 3x1's Denim Peep Show [Racked NY]
· 3x1 Made Here: Denim Boutique, Factory and Gallery, All in One [Racked NY]
· 3x1 [Official Site]

3x1

15 Mercer Street, New York, NY 10013 (212) 391-6969 Visit Website