A denim jacket is a wardrobe staple – the older and more worn, the better. Imagine then, having your favourite denim jacket customised with a Chimayo panel at the back and delicately embroidered with your inititials. The Makers Project is one of Levi's lesser-known intitatives, working with international artisans worldwide to create unique, handcrafted products (bags, shoes, rugs et al) as well as the customisation of classic denim jackets.
Aboard the Station to Station train, AnOther met Jay Carroll who has been heading up the Makers programme for the past two years. A lifelong lover of American heritage, before his time at Levi's, Carroll co-founded One Trip Pass, a series of projects and collaborations that look back at American goods in new ways. It is a blog that finds the best of the new that evokes the best of the old, tracing echoes in American heritage worth recalling. Here, Carroll speaks about his background (from Maine, to roadie, to stone-worker), his love of America and reflects on his month aboard a train.
What does your job involve?
I travel both with the concept team and on my own to find the best makers in the US and Japan and soon but not yet, Europe. We have this craft platform where we highlight and celebrate small makers who create everything by hand, tell their story, put their product in our stores. It’s a great talking point for us and it really interesting because I think it is helpful for getting small folks off the ground and it inspires others to pick up something.
What's your background? Where did your interest in denim, craft and travelling come from?
I grew up in Maine and there was this old shop called Levinsky’s [that opened in 1919]. The building has big glass windows on one side, a wall of Levi's jeans on the other, spanning over 15 feet. I remember going a lot to the store with my mum as a child. I was never looking for a corporate job but this role felt different – so many people have a connection with this iconic American brand. Before Levi's, I had lots of odd jobs that involved travelling. I was a roadie for a band for two years which meant I got to see every state in the US more than once. When I was 21, I would hop on two or three trains and go around the country with a friend. After September 11, the rules got really strict about jumping on freight trains so we got some walkie talkies which meant we could tune into the train's radio to see if they were looking for us or not. It was really intense but fun!
"The beautiful part of the job is finding artisans and working with them to create special products"
What does your role involve?
There are two parts to my job – the brand concept side where we travel and work to define the story and the aesthetic direction and we then work internally with our business and marketing team or our presentation team. The beautiful part of the job is finding artisans and working with them to create special products.
What do you look for in an artisan?
I travel a lot, in my personal time and for work, so I'm always on the hunt for people doing interesting things. As the programme has grown, we are able to cast a wider net and people have started to approach us. There's always an inherint feeling about someone we want to work with. I like to find people who are just starting out and are really passionate about what they do.
What's the best place you visited?
When I first came to California, I fell in love with it. The California "cool" was overpowering – I couldn't stay at home, I just wanted to be out all of the time! I loved this truck and just slept in it and wandered around looking for interesting things. California has been a never-ending source of inspiration. I like that it's always been the promised land for everyone and is always open to anyone's interpretation. It offers so many things. It's always like the blank canvas. There are always new people arriving and they see it in a new perspective. That energy is what makes California really interesting. It's what it was founded on – the pioneers, the architecture experimentation in the 40s... it's ever-evolving.
You've been travelling on the train for nearly a month now, what are your personal highlights?
We've been able to introduce our Makers team at each of the stops, some have even travelled and worked on the train. The founder of Folf Fibers, Maura Grace Ambrose has joined us, she's from Austin, Texas and grows her own plants including indigo and harvests cochineal. She dyes fabrics and then quilts them into one-of-a-kind quilts. They are really special. Sometimes we send her reclaimed fabrics and she uses those. In Barstow, she applied indigo-dyed quilt details onto the backs of Western denim shirts.
The Chimayo weaves on the denim jackets are really striking – can you tell me more about the artisans?
There is a region in New Mexico, just north of Sante Fe where there is long history of Chimayo style weaving. I work with a seventh generation weaver, called Irvin Trujillo, whose work has evolved from the traditional styles of his forefathers. I go there once a year to create five different designs with various colours and patterns and then we apply the weave to the back of a trucker jacket. It's such a nice way to celebrate his work. He also makes rugs too – it's rug quality weave.
Text by Laura Bradley