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Roy Denim: A small jeans factory with only one worker

May 15, 2012
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Roy includes his logo inside his jeans.

ROY SLAPER IS A ONE-MAN SHOW
Roy Slaper, a.k.a. Roy Denim, began working in metal fabrication but evolved to sewing. As he puts it now, “Think of me as a tiny factory where only one worker is there, rather than a do-it-yourselfer.” His shop is hidden on a back street in Oakland, California, in a warehouse filled with old specialty sewing machines.

IT BEGAN WITH HIS FIRST SEWING MACHINE WHEN HE WAS YOUNG
When he was a young child, his aunt bought him a home sewing machine and helped him make little clothes for his stuffed animals. In the beginning all he needed was a little encouragement. When he became older, sewing evolved until he sewed 10 hours a day. “At one point I had 10 machines and a cutting table in a 10′ x 13′ studio apartment. There were machines in the kitchen; I slept in the closet; and there were other machines I wanted to get.”

ON TO A LARGE WAREHOUSE SPACE
Finally, he moved into his current warehouse space. When he first moved there, he wasn’t selling jeans, but he was obsessed with making them. Within 3 months, he was making custom jeans. “I put up a budget website, and people started ordering right away. I didn’t think strangers from Maine would order jeans from me. I thought it would be a few friends from Oakland.” Originally, it took him two weeks to make one pair of jeans, so he didn’t make much money, but he feels he got paid to learn. He comments that the average person who looks at a pair of jeans doesn’t notice all the details. There’s a lot going on in a pair of jeans–there are lots of different stitiches and areas that are sewn together in a unique way that most people aren’t aware of.

ROY HAS ONLY ONE PRODUCT–JEANS
He makes only one product–jeans, and he has a special machine for just about every part of the jeans he makes. He has a machine that makes belt loops and a bar tack machine for attaching and reinforcing them. He has a keyhole buttonhole machine, a specialty overlock machine for the edges, and one that makes the iconic jeans seams. He also has an embroidery machine to stitch his logo and other designs. He believes that while new machines are much faster, older machines have outstanding quality. “When I get a new machine, I want to work it into the garment. The way I design is totally machine driven.”

MAKING JEANS IS FUN FOR ROY
Having my avocation go from something I’m obsessed with to become my vocation has been strange for me because basically I’m still obsessed with this. People often ask me why I work the way I do. Why don’t I have employees? Why do I have all the machines? “Because it’s fun for me. When it starts not being fun, I’ll have to reevaluate what I’m doing.”

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  1. amm June 5th

    Click the link to Roy Denim in the story above (his name that's underlined in the first line) which will take you to his website. You'll see "Buy Jeans" at the top of his website, just click that for details.

    They're pricey, but if you want fabulous one-of-a-kind jeans, I'm sure they're worth it!

  2. User avater jamama May 30th

    I read about Roy in the LA Times a number of years ago and it inspired me to hone my skills doing alterations on high end jeans in the Southern California area and I have had huge success. If someone is spending upwards of $400.- on a pair of jeans they won't just leave them with the corner dry cleaner for alterations. Thank you Roy.

  3. penelopeelse May 29th

    Gorgeous work, and my idea of Heaven - a roomful of specialist sewing equipment! If I win the lottery, I'll spend the rest of my life just hunting down and playing with stuff like this...

  4. User avater liansawires May 25th

    Yay Roy! I agree, you just have to do what you are led to do in life. When it changes, it will change. I make bags and I never expected to be doing this. I dream about them, design them, dye the silk, make the bag, then on the the new one in my head. It doesn't feel like obsession, it feels really satisfying, connected and in the flow.

  5. Puterdame May 25th

    $340 for a pair of jeans??!!! He's kidding, right?? Look, I'm all for entrepreneurship, and quality sewing, but this is a bit much.....especially in today's economy. It's plain to see that Roy's jeans would appeal ONLY to a very scarce audience. I'm really disappointed.

  6. Lagacero May 23rd

    This is the most interesting article that I have seen in Threads in months. His work is beautiful. Kudo to you Roy.

  7. user-965719 May 22nd

    Hooray for someone who values wonderful old machines that still do their job.Sew on Roy! Brenda in Hong Kong

  8. Josefly May 22nd

    What a very interesting approach to a vocation! I loved reading "The Story" on the Roy Denim website, and I look forward to watching the videos included there later on. Who knew there was so much to learn about denim, constructing jeans, and the machinery? May that interest continue to bring as much joy as it has up until now.

  9. User avater BRosser May 22nd

    Wow! This is the best story of a man who is master artist... and represents what one person can achieve. I enjoyed Roy's website so much. It was so nice to visit his studio and see the videos of him using the various machines to create the fine sewing and detailing of his Roy jeans.

  10. tbear01 May 22nd

    How do we contact Roy to order his jeans, and how much are they?

  11. User avater Nannysc May 22nd

    Note to question: Click on his name (above) and it will take you to the website.

  12. User avater sandipratt May 22nd

    I'd like to see more of his work, does he have a website ?

  13. russellgibson May 22nd

    What a beautiful story,,Roy you are my hero

  14. user-1120255 May 22nd

    You do beautiful work...the jeans looks so rich!!

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