The Hard Things I Learned on the Path to Building All Weather Selvedge

in Nov 19, 2023

First off, who am I and how did I come to own a denim label, let alone a high-end denim label that specializes in Japanese selvedge denim? That is a great question. Let me take you back a bit...

My name is Andre Williams. I am 31 years old at the time of writing this blog post and I am 7 years into the building of my denim company All Weather Selvedge. I am a 2013 Boston College graduate. I labored to finish school a semester early so that I could get my degree before I was drafted into the NFL. I was able to accomplish both of these things by the grace of God (degree & draft). I left school with an B.A. in Applied Psychology and Human Development and in 2014 the New York Giants drafted me in the 4th round of the draft. 

My rookie season ended up being my best year in the league. We didn't make the playoffs and so after the season, I had time, & money, & ideas on my hands. I knew I had better things I could be doing than playing playstation when I wasn't training and I was willing to pay to figure out what those better things were. I was pretty interested in chemistry and I ended up building a fragrance lab in my townhouse to pass the time making soap and other smell goods.

It was early 2015. One day, my marketing agent Luke, hit me up & he took me into the city to meet with his friend Eamon, who owned a fledgling shoe company called Oneground footwear. At his office in a WeWork building in Manhattan, Eamon said to me,

"hey man, you're a runningback in the NFL. How would you like to create your own signature shoe? i've got connections in Spain to the factory cranking out Balenciagas and I'm building my own shoes there. I could extend my creative faculties to you and you could build something of your own. We could build things together." 

I was intrigued and I jumped in. I worked closely with Eamon over the course of 8 months building the Runningman shoe. I learned about the entire process of ideation and design, tech-packing, prototyping, sampling, & production. It was incredibly fun and I fell in love with the process along the way. I still had no idea what I was doing but I had a good enough taste to create a quality product with a classic style. People often confused the Runningman for a Common Projects shoe and it was a great compliment for me. The Runningman opened many doors and I started perusing the tradeshows in the city. Eventually, I met a brand developer who was impressed by what I'd created.

His name was Roy the Maker and he just so happened to be incredibly connected. I didn't know this at the time but he was a stakeholder in the largest production company in China. The folks who handle millions of units for their accounts, big names like Uniqlo and Zara and Urban Outfitters. They weren't limited to clothing either. They were making Nikes, Iphones, and TV's. How exactly we came in contact is a story for another day but it started with the Runningman. He asked me, "Why did you make the shoe?"

I responded,

"because it was cool," unable to come up with a more solid answer. He said,

"it is cool, but how are you gonna sell it?" This began a 3 hour discussion in which Roy dropped so much valuable information on me that he qualified himself as someone who could take me to the next level in terms of creating product because the information he freely gave was of more value than the information I paid for over the 8 months it took to create the Runningman with Eamon.

I went to bed that night, unable to sleep. My mind was spinning with possibilities. It occurred to me that as "cool" as the Runningman was, it wasn't solving any new problems. It didn't fill any unexplored underserved niche. Not to mention the shoe market was already oversaturated with some great brands. Standing out wouldn't be so easy. I needed something marketable, not "cool." I wondered what problem there was for me to solve in the fashion industry. It came to me after a while. I'd almost completely given up on jeans. I'd ripped my pants too many times and I couldn't find a handsome fit that worked properly for my build. I needed an "athletic" fit.

I texted Roy in the middle of the night and began what I knew would be a lifelong quest. We talked the next day and he told me that athletic fit denim would be a good idea for me given my background. But he said, 

"don't just make any jeans. Use the best denim fabric on the market so that you can compete with the best brands in the market that are making denim." This made sense to me and I agreed. I asked what it would take to get started. He said, if i was willing to put down $200,000 to make a deposit on the fabric, he would help me build a brand on athletic fit selvedge denim. It was the biggest hairiest set of dice i'd ever rolled but I wasn't scared. The energy I felt in our meeting was the same energy I felt when I broke through the secondary and I knew I was heading into the endzone. I called Travis, my financial advisor. He tried to convince me not to but in the end I took my signing bonus and we moved the money across the sea. 

The lifelong quest had begun. What took place shortly thereafter was a rollercoaster of events that would take me coast to coast, from NJ to San DIego, California. I'd go through a two year spiteful divorce in which i'd burn another quarter million dollars, break my wrist, & end my career after a 4 year professional stint. But through it all, I protected my brand at all costs, though it was just a small seed at the time. I didn't want it to be so but I was finally, free from the demands of professional sports and thankfully other painful endeavors as well. I set out to begin building my business... aaand then the pandemic broke out. lol. You really can't make this stuff up.

What I learned most of all from my business journey is that life is full of unexpected twists and turns and if you let the unexpected deter you from your goal, you weren't meant to have what you were chasing in the 1st place. You only lose when you quit. Obstacles aren't there to stop you, they are there to be overcome, because he who overcomes is a learned man. He's a man that understands the meaning of the word 'pivot'.

I read a lot of things online from denim heads and fashionados about what they know about selvedge denim because of all of the brands they bought and have worn. Some of it is good stuff, some of it is hot garbage. What I can tell you is, I have some experience that money can't buy. I'm not a genius but I've got plenty of common sense and I have sources at every link of the production chain that actually make the product I am selling. They make the products other people are selling too. My knowledge base isn't from wikipedia or Reddit.  I am NOT a fashionista and I duck all the trends. I'm just a classic, handsome man with a little style.

My mind is business oriented and conditioned by the world of sport. I play to win, not for the love of the game. I don't tell lies. I won't sell you something I wouldn't buy myself, & when you buy something from All Weather Selvedge, you are literally buying from me, so when you reach out about your stuff, its literally me on the other end and I imagine it will stay that way for some time.

There are some things I will continue to share with you guys in future posts about what i've learned in these last 7 years. The fashion industry has some juicy, dirty secrets. Some of them I am at liberty to share, and some I am not but I wanted to introduce myself and my brand to you all in the realest way possible since much of the heavy lifting of pushing out into the e-comm space is done now. 

The last thing I wanted to talk about is the thing that prompted me to write this article in the 1st place. Is selvedge better than regular denim? Yes.

Why? 1 simple reason. Levi Strauss' intention when he made blue jeans was to make a wear resistant workwear fabric. It was built to last a long time. That was the whole point in the beginning. He accomplished that when he patented selvedge denim fabric in 1873 using the famed shuttle loom. The loom uses a continuous yarn to create the entire width of a fabric bolt. Using a continuous yarn makes for a stronger fabric than individual, unconnected strands of yarn, that just seems like common sense right? But even more interesting is that the continuous yarn also contributes to the contour effect that one experiences with repeated wear in a pair of selvedge jeans. The jeans mold to you because of the nature of the fabric. It is not all about shrinking and expanding as i've heard some say. Yes, the cotton shrinks and expands, because of its elasticity but also because it's one long solid piece of yarn, being pulled and pushed at different points across your body!

People get caught up on the edge of the fabric and how it doesn't unravel and  they say that's all selvedge denim is but it's only a small part of the reason the fabric is generally better than the denim produced on the projectile loom. The people behind the loom in combination with the nuances of the loom itself create a depth and variety to the character of the fabrics the loom produces. A real artisan can make some incredibly diverse fabrics with different , weights, textures, weave patterns, colors, and fade capabilities. The possibilities are almost endless. 

So there, i've told you who I am, nerded out a bit about my industry, and I've made the blog post entirely too long but at least you understand a bit more about who you are dealing with. Mission accomplished! See you guys in the next blog post. Hopefully it will be shorter!

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