At its core, raw denim is denim fabric that has not been touched by water after it has been manufactured at the denim mill. What makes denim raw has nothing to do with the color, weight, mill, dye, fit or look and should never be referred to as a wash color or type.
Not to be confused with selvedge denim (but often is), raw denim is also referred to as dry denim or hard denim in slang. Denim is made from white cotton yarns that are then dyed to the desired color and woven to produce a sheet of fabric. This process leaves the denim in its natural or “raw” state.
Jeans are the article of clothing most referred as “raw denim” or “raw jeans” for short. Whether talking about jeans or fabric depends on the context of the conversation. Other articles of clothing most often described with raw denim attached to the title are shirts and jackets. Most denim clothing comes off the manufacturing line unwashed or raw, which is the traditional way in which jeans and other denim items are produced. After sewing, they are often washed or dyed in further processing, especially to create artificial aging, which is how most denim clothing is sold today.
What is selvedge denim
Purist choose selvedge denim for the imperfect look and legacy of denim manufactured on shuttle looms. It doesn’t necessarily equate to better quality, but an old-school, slower, artisan approach at denim fabric production. Selvedge denim is particularly desirable for those that like to roll or cuff their jeans. Rolling exposes the selvedge or self-edge instead of a machine bound edge (regular denim). For denim traditionalist, the shuttle looms used in manufacturing selvedge denim can leave an interesting and more vintage texture in the fabric.
Photos above show jeans with rolled hem, which is a popular way to show-off jeans made with selvedge denim. To the left: Two rolls of raw denim fabrics. Selvedge on the left, non-selvedge (wide goods or regular denim) sits to the right in the foreground. The clean finished "self-edge" of selvedge fabric is usually used somewhere as part of a denim garment as shown at the out-seam of the jeans. Denim with unfinished edges (non-selvedge) is not cut to the edge. After cutting, it is treated as waste.
Selvedge, which is derived from self-edge, refers to the way the edge is finished on a roll of fabric. The denim is woven back at the end of each row creating the self-edge. Traditionally woven on shuttle looms, the result is a clean, finished edge. Selvedge can come in a variety of different color combinations, but commonly has a white edge with a red line down the center. In the 1950s, there was a switch to more modern techniques, according to quality clothing online resource, Heddels, which weave larger swathes of fabric and don’t use a selvedge edge. This was done to make the process faster and cheaper.
Is selvedge better quality denim?
Don’t let the name selvedge fool you into thinking it is better denim. Like with all products, quality standards can range depending on the supplier. There are good and bad quality fabrics in both selvedge and non-selvedge denims. Often, mass producers of value priced jeans use suppliers not recognized for making high-quality denim so do your home-work.
The process of making denim apparel
Above photo shows a denim mill in China producing large rolls of raw denim fabric. Later it will be standardized, cut and sewn into denim clothing. Most styles will be further processed with washing.
At one of our cutters in the USA, rolls of unwashed denim are spread out on tables, layer-upon-layer as markers (jean patterns) are cut, one size at a time. Example: A stack of 10 jeans in size 42 would be cut all together.
Today, most jeans are sold pre-washed. Various techniques are used at industrial washing facilities or laundries to create a variety of finishes, from vintage looks to replicate natural aging, to distressed looks decorated with rips and tears, simple stone washing, coatings and so on. However, they all start their journey after sewing as raw denim jeans, void of buttons and outer labels, with shrinkage calculated and built into the size of the patterns before heading to the washing factory because once the raw fabric comes in contact with water, it will shrink. Later, after washing, the processed jeans head back to sewing for finishing. This is where buttons, rivets, outer labels and tags are added. Also, any repairs needed because of wash damage is also done at this time
Above, jeans in raw form lay awaiting sewing at a denim factory.
What separates raw denim clothing from other types of denim clothing?
What separates raw denim clothing from other types of denim garments is simply the process of the wash or any process that involves wetting or soaking the fabric or finished garment. In order to be classified as raw, the manufacturing process ends after sewing and labeling. Raw denim garments do not go into the wash after sewing, they are ready-to-wear after sewing. They are cleaned up, labeled and shipped to the brands warehouse. Later, the jeans are shipped to retail stores, distribution centers or sometimes directly to consumers if purchased directly from a brands website.
Above photos show jeans in raw denim form being further processed in the hand sanding section of the laundry (washing factory). Finished raw jeans that consumers purchase, do not go into this step of manufacturing. This is where hand sanding and other effects are applied to make jeans look aged, ripped, damaged with holes, etc. before enzyme, stone washing or dying.
We have multiple articles that go into depth about the differences between naturally aged jeans and artificial processing and techniques which are applied at the manufacturing level to make denim looked older or damaged. See our blog post called the anatomy of aged jeans, to learn what factories do to replicate details usually found on naturally aged raw denim jeans.
Authors: Maurice Malone and Justin Broxton