What Pharrell Taught Me About Jeans from Inside a Denim Teepee

The super-producer is a man of many collaborations, but his partnership with G-Star is about more than just clothes. It's about one...

The super-producer is a man of many collaborations, but his partnership with G-Star is about more than just clothes.
It's about one in the afternoon in Amsterdam and I'm talking to Pharrell Williams inside of a 30-foot-tall teepee, which itself is located inside G-Star RAW's global headquarters. In would-be Williams style, we're not sitting in just any teepee (as far as, you know, run-of-the-mill teepees go)—this one's made of denim. To be specific, it's denim made partially from recycled plastic, and that innovation is precisely why I'm here sitting across from the prolific music producer, style god, and, as of two months ago, "Head of Imagination" for the global denim brand.
It's a business 2.0-type title that only a creative type who is larger than life (as Williams can be) could warrant. But the artist often known as Skateboard P isn't just in it for the pumped-up title. In addition to his new financial stake, he is deeply passionate about the work he and his Bionic Yarn initiative continue to work on with the 37-year-old denim company. It's an enterprise rooted in environmentalism, specifically taking plastic bottles and turning them into consumer goods. When it comes to the brand's partnership with G-Star, this year it will account for about 700,000 bottles recycled each season, roughly two million bottles per year, which is all marching towards one single goal: to slow-down the effects of global warming. "There are the naysayers who say global warming is not a thing, but they're starting to see," he says with legitimate concern in his voice. "Places are flooding, the heat index is going up high than it's ever been, record heat months already, you know, hotter than ever on this planet. So, denim is a good proposition because it's something that lasts long, so there's an interesting metaphor there. Our denim lasts long, but our climate and comfort on this planet is not."
But while all of this is excellent news for the environment, the conscious approach to creating fashion does't always yield desirable results. At the end of the day, customers care about aesthetics first, details second when deciding if they want to drop upwards of $200 on a pair of jeans. If you ask Williams about this potential disconnect, his explains that goal is to get people's awareness levels up before they even walk in the front door:
"The intention. That's the number one thing we want people to feel is our intention. We're not perfect. No one's perfect. But we feel like just like anything or anyone on this planet, we're all a work in progress. So the one thing that we can always measure our success by is intention."
Good intentions are great. But if your goal is to make a sizable dent in the wasteful clothing production, there are certainly easier choices than jeans which use up incredible amounts of cotton, indigo, and metal, before being shipped around the globe. So why denim? "Well, several reasons," Williams says. "Number one, denim is something you hold on to for years. It's not just a T-shirt you may never wear. With our denim, our customer is a DIY customer. A lot of them are do-it-yourself type people. So even when it does fit the same way, you'll alter it. Or if you feel like they're too dark you'll fade them or distress them yourself."
When it comes to buying jeans for himself, Williams tells me that he boils the entire shopping experience down to two categories: comfort and silhouette. "Some people say the silhouette comes first and then comfort, and I personally think that comfort comes first, which makes the silhouette." So when I raise the point that people hearing about jeans made with recycled plastic might be turned off (an assumption of uncomfortability, possible wooshing sounds with every step), he quickly puts those concerns to rest. "[They don't feel different] at all. Some would assume that because [I'm] here, there's going to be some sort of end-line integration," he says, enunciating the buzzword like a true corporate pro. "But we don't want to do end-line integration. 'Cause end-line integration is not a big enough statement. We're doing end-line replacement." In other words, whatever polyester count was previously in G-Star jeans will simply be replaced with recycled polyester.
Williams can't stress enough the importance of individuality in making sartorial decisions, especially when buying a new pair of jeans. If anyone were the poster child for doing your own thing, Williams would be it. Like his own one-of-a-kind wardrobe or his creative collective I Am Other, or even his now-signature sound, everything Williams does is rooted in unique-ness. It's something he hopes to help G-Star customers achieve via a new in-store experience that will help break in raw denim with a misting process on site—and on body. A few squats later and the newly-purchased jeans start to mold to the wearer's shape. "They start to take memory of your body, and then they're literally yours," he says. Williams and his new G-Star colleagues call the misting treatment a "ritual." "These aren't just jeans, these are your memories," he says, "You have memories in your clothing. You can see the memories. Literally." But just as our spiritual discussion of denim is getting warmed up, our time in teepee comes to an end.
That's when our tour of the company's massive (over 200,000 square feet massive) Rem Koolhaas-designed open-plan offices begins. Around the office we're introduced to the non-Pharrells of G-Star—the types who make the brand run day to day—who talk about their passion for the brand that is, as we're told again and again, not a fashion company. Rather, G-Star is a company that makes industrial products. Even inside the machine, it's hard to ignore the echoes of Williams' own emotional sentiments for the label. Maybe there's something in the water or maybe we were in one of the rare commercial eco-systems where creativity is, actually, king. Did I mention there was a denim teepee in this office?
Two hours on an my jet lag is kicking in. Williams on the other hand, who 36 hours earlier was sitting in a red leather spinny chair for his other gig as a judge on The Voice, shows no signs of fading. He's either running on a cocktail of excitement and adrenaline, being a good host (Miguel and A$AP Rocky were on hand, too, because why not?), or just fulfilling his Man Who Never Sleeps moniker. Whether we're hearing about the step-by-step demonstration of how G-Star's jeans are made, getting a sneak peek into the brand archives, or having a super-nerd talk about wash processes, Williams is laser focused on the topic at hand. Though he's the star of the show today, it's apparent that the newest member of the G-Star family wants to learn and listen.

As a producer of some of the greatest chart-toppers of the 21st century (so many in fact it's not even worth listing), Williams' entire musical career has been built on listening to others. He's spent years listening to just-wrapped studio takes, artists talk about their respective visions for a record, or for holes in the universe that can only be plugged with Neptunes beats. But now, he's listening in the interest of understanding the nuts and bolts of G-Star before working from inside it to create something new. Even if the partnership isn't yet perfect (the idea of someone buying environmentally-friendly jeans and then having them sprayed with water is kind of counterintuitive), Pharrell Williams is using his immense influence on style and frankly, the world, to try and make it a better place. And that, like a denim teepee, is worthy of attention.



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MENSTYLICA: What Pharrell Taught Me About Jeans from Inside a Denim Teepee
What Pharrell Taught Me About Jeans from Inside a Denim Teepee
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