I got my first pair of raw selvedge denim jeans in 1999 after doing some work for Von Dutch right before they opened their shop on Melrose Ave, and way before they over saturated the market with trucker hats. The jeans were awesome and held up for several years of heavy use. Over the years I’ve tried several brands with varying degrees of success but the most common complaint I’ve had has been the cost vs. quality. Not naming names but I know we’ve all had $200-$300 ‘premium’ brand jeans fall to shit in 6 months.
A few months ago I heard about the ‘Naked and Famous‘ offshoot ‘Unbranded‘ and figured for $70 they were worth a try. I ordered a pair of tapered indigo and with the exception of the giant leather tag liked them - the denim was a nice weight and the cut fit me well. After they broke in I decided I was happy enough with them to order another pair. Having never owned black selvedge denim I figured it would be fun to see how they’d fade. Blue Owl Workshop had my size so I added them to my cart and waited a few days for them to arrive.
The mailman came with the goods and I started to unpack my dungarees. Upon opening the package a wave of sulfur stink, like a thousand burnt matches, hit me hard. Having no other sulfur black jeans as reference I figured this might be normal and would die down after a few days. I put them outside for 2 days, brought them back in, and the smell was still just as bad. Figuring the stink was in the fabric deep I decided to try a light acid (vinegar) soak – I’ve done this to hundred of garments in my lifetime with great success. With these jeans however, nothing. When that failed I tried to go the other way with pH – using a baking soda solution to soak. Again, nothing. Still thinking this was just a normal fact of life with sulfur dye I sent the jeans in for hemming and thought the smell just needed more time to break down.
When I got them back from blue owl about 4″s shorter they seemed to not smell as bad, the sulfur was a bit less and there was now a dyer sheet fragrance in the mix. They had done another soak and I thought maybe the tide had finally turned. I put the pants on and within two hours had to take them off – the dryer sheet smell got overpowered with the sulfur odor as soon as my body heat warmed up the fabric. I emailed ‘Unbranded‘ to see if they had any advice and have yet to hear back from them. By this point I was getting annoyed and turned to the internet for help.
I found mention of similar problems on several websites but no one had any solutions that would work for me. Some suggested returning them, this wasn’t an option since I had them hemmed. Others said fabreeze was the cure, but I didn’t want to spray them down with that because it just temporarily masks the smell with one almost as bad. Several sites suggested freezing to get rid of other smells so I tried that – the cold did seem to reduce the smell until they warmed back up. Getting desperate I did another vinegar soak and let them hang for a few hours till they were still damp at which point I put them back in the freezer and froze them solid. I let them thaw back out, and the smell was still there.
After this many failures I was about to give up and resign these pants to my donation pile until I read on wikipedia: “Sulfur dyes are water insoluble. They have to be treated with a reducing agent and an alkali at temperature of around 80 degrees Celsius where the dye breaks into small particles which then becomes water soluble and hence can be absorbed by the fabric.”. This explains why soaking did nothing – if the dye was the source of the smell and insoluble in water then no length of time underwater was going to help. This got me thinking, what if I exposed them extreme heat? 80°C is about 176°F – no issue for an oven. I preheated my stove to 400°F and turned it back to 250°F once it was hot enough (I did this to prevent the heat from coming back on while the jeans were inside). Flipped inside out and folded to fit on my center rack I stuck them in for a few minutes and shut the door. When I pulled them out the smell was worse than ever, with visible fumes coming out of the fabric. I opened the window and turned on the fan, refolded and repositioned the jeans back on the rack and waited some more. I was careful to keep repeating this process so the pants wouldn’t scorch. When I was finished the smell had lessened to such a degree I could actually wear them for an entire day.
After another overnight soak I noticed the water had turned more grey than any of the prior soaks. To be thorough I gave the pants a 2nd oven treatment and a few clean water baths until the rinse water was no longer turning color. Once the fabric dried the smell was finally gone. With all the abusive treatments the denim still looked good and maybe will pay off in the long run with some nice fades. Ultimately I don’t think I’ll every buy another pair from ‘Unbranded‘, not because of the dye problem but how they ignored my email. Trying to save a buck cost me when it came to customer service. There are too many other companies out there who are willing to work harder to retain me as a customer.