Like loving the blue in the flag, the blue in the sky, the blue in the eyes; Miles Johnson’s love to indigo blue is. A kind of passion to denim fabrics he had in the very early ages of his life - which draw his career path with spectacular views. As the Design Director of Levi’s and Creative Director of Patagonia - for years he shaped the jeans, and still keeps on. Now with his own name which eventually became a kind of brand.
With this interview we had the opportunity to hear some words about denim from its master!
TCL: Looking at your bright career majority of which was in Levi’s and then Patagonia - we can see you like a prince of denim. Was this love for denim or fashion existing in 5 years old Miles? How did fashion (especially denim) entered your life?
MJ: My love of denim has been for as long as I can remember. Every year from about the age of 5, I would get a new pair of 5-pocket jeans. They would usually last a year, from all the climbing trees, exploring, camping, roller-skating and occasional fishing trips. When they ripped, they would be mended or patched and I would be fascinated by the change of shade, from dark to light. My interest in fashion came from my parents who really liked to dress up for going out with friends. I used to watch the transformation and feel the excitement before they would leave the house. I realised what a costume could do for someone’s appearance.
TCL: Jeans are maybe the most commonly worn clothes. Therefore, designing jeans means deciding what millions will wear. How is that feeling? How do you feel when you see your designs in streets
MJ: It’s a very rewarding feeling to see people wear the clothes you’ve designed - especially when you can see the wear on top of how they were sold. If people feel comfortable and confident and ready for whatever life throws at them then I must have got something right.
TCL: As a designer, how do you feed your creativity? How you manage your days when you feel much less inspired? (if there are such days).
MJ: I don’t find it hard to get inspired and feed the creativity. There are so many sources of visual stimulation. It might be looking to see what a clothing brand you like has done or look at painting or take a trip. I always get some much from looking at people. If you know the best places to visit, where people generally wear more progressive looks, you can pick up so many ideas. I also love to look at fabrics. It can make your imagination run wild with ideas for new styles.
TCL: You had worked with great teams through your career - involving many talents. Art is something mostly created individually - so is fashion. How is it possible creating with a team? How could you manage such teams of talents?
MJ: It’s wonderful to click with other creatives and work together on a shared goal or collection. In most companies you’re a small part of creating and developing clothing.
No one can do it on their own. At some point you’ll need to involve others to complete the task. Nurturing design talent is one of my favourite things about being a creative director. Working with intelligent, thoughtful designers, who are prepared to solve problems and take challenges with enthusiasm make building lines and ranges a collaborative reward.
TCL: Several decades ago - denim production was comparatively the dirtier branch of whole clothing sector; I refer to the processing of garments. Thanks to the new technologies this is much more safe and healthier now. How do you see denim production today, from environmental and human health perspective?
MJ: The denim industry as a whole has had to look hard at the errors of its ways and realise the damage it has done to the environment over the years. Thankfully this is now at the forefront of most company’s minds when producing denim clothing. Sustainability is a massive subject to work within.
There are many layers to doing things better, from our choices around fibre to dye, to water consumption. It all needs to be looked at and improved as much as possible. We’re heading towards a circular economy and making sure that the lifecycle of clothing is ultimately causing no damage to the planet, in any way.
Being responsible is also about the social side and guaranteeing that all the people involved are protected, paid fair wages and receive the benefits and protection they need.
TCL: Hemp fibre is becoming the star of denim business. Can you please tell about the magics of this fiber? How is your approach to Hemp?
MJ: There are so many benefits to using hemp, it is perhaps the best natural fibre on the planet. The main advantages are the low amounts of water needed to grow. It needs no pesticides, so completely organic. It can grow to 2m in three months in closely planted crops. Once woven it is an incredibly strong cloth. There are many health advantages to the plant, with the oil being in demand for the pharmaceutical industry.
It’s naturally anti-bacterial and anti-microbial and the corse fibre is even being used in Hempcrete, which is a fantastic building material. There is no waste to the plant and the nutrition the plant puts back into the ground is like no other.
I think there will always be cotton in denim and there needs to be a lot more investment in improving the cotton growing to be more organic and more profitable, but if cotton and hemp blended were more readily available we’d solve a big environmental issue.
TCL: Ageing/abrasion effects are very popular for jeans. However, such processes steals form the life of the garment. When longevity of the product is one of the key necessities of sustainability can we consider using alternative ways for the make-up of jeans? Can jeans give up the tears, the big holes on the knees?
MJ: The best way to buy and wear your jeans are from new and unwashed. It’s only since the 1980’s that we’ve been washing jeans, so 100 years of wearing from rigid has always been the way. Many of the treatments and chemicals used currently to simulate the effect of wear only weaken the garment.
The trends for damages come and go and we’re seeing them disappear again, having seen their popularity the last 5 years. We are seeing that people are now likely to purchase jeans which will last them for a longer time and the quality of the jean is more important post COVID than ever.
TLC: We are living the pandemic now, drastically effecting our lives and the whole economy. This will have the further consequences for sure. How you foresee the close future of fashion when/if this pandemic end?
MJ: I currently see people buying less, high street brands reducing their volumes and stores closing. There will always be jeans and denim. It’s the most practical clothing we wear.
The future will have to reset to be far less wasteful and more realistic about what people need from a pair of jeans. It’s not right to sell clothes for the same price as a cup of coffee.
People need to know where everything comes from and how things are made and start to make choices around the brands that care and want to produce quality clothing for you, without sacrificing the environment we share.