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The people who are paid to break in your designer jeans

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Members of the denim-breakers club Members of the denim-breakers club. Photograph: Hiut Denim

David and Clare Hieatt created the denim company Hiut two and a half years ago, as a mission to get hundreds of people their jobs back.

Cardigan, a pretty market town in west Wales, was once home to Dewhirst, the biggest jeans factory in Britain. Dewhirst employed 400 locals. They produced 35,000 pairs of jeans a week, supplying denim across the country, including to M&S. Then, in 2001, Dewhirst decided to outsource production to Morocco and the factory closed. Cardigan suffered immeasurably; overnight, 10% of locals were on the dole.

Hiut was set up by David, a former advertising copywriter, and his wife Clare in 2011. The couple used to run the ethical fashion brand Howies. Hiut now sells exclusively raw denim which, in part, means they don’t wash the jeans. “In the old factory,” explains David, “they used to wash denim in the river. The waters ran blue which, of course, wasn’t good, for the wild salmon and seals especially.”

Althought their main focus is on the environment – “80% of the environmental impact of jeans come from washing and ironing,” explains David. “It’s shocking.” –they’ve cottoned onto the fact that the demand for weathered, vintage and distressed denim is close to peaking point. “90% of our buyers want jeans that look old. APC in Paris, for example, buys back old jeans and resells them, often for more money. Good denim often looks better when it’s been worn a bit.”

All of which explains their denim breaking. “Eight months ago, we sent jeans out to 50 breakers. They’re sort of a club. The idea is that they wear them in for us and then we sell them on. We’ve just about got them all back. We’re washing them – well, a guy who has been washing jeans for 30 years is – and on Monday we’ll auction them off. The idea is that you break the denim in for the customer. It’s an experiment but so far, so good.”

Cameron Stewart, 24, denim breaker

Cameron Stewart's Huit jeans Cameron Stewart’s Huit jeans. Photograph: camstewart/instagram

“I was one of the first breakers. They are the best jeans I’ve owned. I got involved because I’ve known David for a long time, as I used to run a clothing company. He told me about the idea and I signed up, paying an £80 deposit.

“When I handed them back, of course they smelled bad. I wore them every single day for six months. Literally. I don’t wear a suit, you see. I live in Belfast and I work in Hollywood down the road, and I cycled to work every day. I went to the rugby in them with my thermals underneath. They got soaked in the cold and rain, and so they spent a lot of time hanging and drying above a radiator. One day, when it was warm, I went and lay on the beach in them. I went to the supermarket in them, I cooked in them, I drank in them. I didn’t spill anything serious on them, thankfully. I also carved spoons in them, so by the end they were pretty covered in wood shavings.

“No one borrowed them, but someone did steal the first pair quite early on. I live in a flat and one day I hung them out on the washing line to dry. I don’t know if I was followed or if someone knew the jeans were expensive. I had to start again.

“I guess you could say it was a job. I’ll get 20% of the sale price. The thing is, by wearing them I’m adding value to them. Luckily, they wash them first [before they are sold]. If you wear something every day, it will smell. But it’s necessary – good raw jeans, when you get them, are like wearing cardboard. I think the idea is that someone will inherit them from me. It is anti-throwaway fashion.”

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