The oki-ni editorial team sat down with Natural Selection designer John Park to explore how a twist of fate landed him with the only existing roll of organic selvedge denim from one of the world’s most famous mills.
The resulting No Evil project has woven the chance and coincidence of this intriguing tale together to create what is arguably the most collectable jean currently in existence. And so the story goes…….
In 2007 John Park made a call to Cone Mill’s sales agents in New York with a specific request. He was looking to buy organic, selvedge denim in 14 ounce weight.
“What brand do you represent”, the sales agent asked. “I’m going to start a brand soon”, he replied.
“I could feel them rolling their eyes over the phone” says John, recalling the conversation. “They didn’t know me from Adam and being too naïve for my own good, I bought this fabric – 1000 meters.”
For the uninitiated, there are already certain elements to this story that will prick the ears of denim aficionados.
Firstly, Cone Mills: the oldest and most famous denim mill in America. An early supplier of Levi’s, “Cone” is central to the history of denim. Next, 14 ounce: the authentic weight sought by any serious denim collector. Finally, selvedge: the finishing edge left by vintage shuttle looms that serves as an unmistakable sign of quality. Already, the component parts are beginning to add up to something special.
“As someone who is passionate about denim, I just went straight for what I thought would be a great fabric”, says John, recalling the thought process that led him to make the call to Cone Mills. “When the slate is blank you go and ask the ideal question”.
John’s original intention was to launch an organic denim brand, but during the development process the organic element was dropped and the resulting label, Natural Selection, instead opted to use high quality Japanese selvedge denim. Subsequently, the roll from Cone Mills was surplus to requirements and John placed it in storage, sensing it might be of use at some later date.
That later date came a year later, when a piece of US agricultural legislation would alter the destiny of this unique roll of denim. Passed by Congress in 2008, The Food, Conservation and Energy Act, among other things, increased the subsidy on cellulosic ethanol production – a common biofuel – resulting in the dramatic collapse of America’s organic cotton industry.
This seemingly unconnected event across the globe transformed John’s roll of Cone denim into a one-off rarity. “I just happened to be sat on 1000 meters of the only 14 ounce organic selvedge that Cone ever made”, says John.
A copy of Cone Mill’s specification sheet for this unique roll of
organic denim is included with each pair of No Evil jeans.
Possessing such a rare commodity comes with its own pitfalls. The weight of expectation hangs heavy, especially in the heavily scrutinised world of denim. For those in the know, this wasn’t just 1000 meters of fabric, but a roll of denim history. Cone Mills offered to buy the denim back, but John had other ideas.
“We decided to cut it into a limited edition jean and 1000 meters makes approximately 360 jeans”, says John. This is the transition point where chance and design begin to merge. As a former mathematician, John was trained to recognise and respond to patterns. The name of the project is a neat case in point.
“Instead of saying out of 360 we’ve put a degree and we called the project No Evil because backwards it’s ‘live on’ – the circle of life”. Yet, this was only the tip of the iceberg. “When I bought the fabric its designation was W077-13”, continues John, clearly enjoying himself. “All Cone fabric is designated W, 77 is a number and 13 is a shade. But those are big, powerful masonic numbers. I’m not a mason but this coincidence started the whole thing off… It was supposed to be more clever than profound, but you weave the coincidences [into the design] and other coincidences fall out”.
7 and 13 – “big, powerful numbers”, in Johns words – echo throughout the project. As well as being sold by 13 retailers worldwide, the jean has 13 rivets. The colour of those buttons and rivets is iridium, the metal of learning with the atomic number 77. 13 stitches feature on the side of the jean and this zigzag pattern is carried over onto the packaging and paperwork.
“There are 13 stitches”, says John, “which means there are 7 points pointing forwards and 7 pointing backwards – it’s a neat way of representing the number. Then you put No Evil into those 13 stitches. The alphabet is 2 rows of 13 and if you pull No Evil out [with 1 as A, 2 as B, etc.] those numbers add up to 77.”
The significant 13 stitch motif (left) alongside numbered paperwork that comes with each jean.
It will depend on your mind-set whether you think these numerical patterns are smart or spooky, but whatever your opinion they belie a purpose: they are hallmarks of intelligent and considered design.
“I wanted to do something where the quality is evident at depth”, says John. “Almost the opposite of fast fashion, when you open up the jeans to see the construction, I wanted there to be no compromise and there to be full depth of integrity and quality.”
Like all good design, the detail is there if you are prepared to look. The No Evil jean carries its history and heritage encoded within its design, whether it’s the green selvedge, the iridium buttons or the 13 stitches.
Green is the colour of the top button, hinting at the jean’s organic origins.
Below, iridium buttons carry the Greek letters GOTS
One common mistake with similar “story” products is that the item becomes bogged down by the narrative. In this case, however, the neat numerology plays second fiddle to the fabric, which is, fittingly, the focal point. “In design terms, we’ve taken almost every brand detail off to make it as clean as possible”, says John. Stripping away extraneous details leaves the denim to speak for itself.
“You don’t have to get a feel for 14 ounce jeans to know that this is pretty special”, says John. “For us, we didn’t have to design an amazing product; we had to take away the reasons not to buy.” Not just this, but this jean is a confident statement of intent from a denim designer who has found himself in possession of a very fine fabric.
“It’s the ultimate statement for us”, says John. “We think there is no weakness: you can’t choose a more unique fabric, the fit is great, the construction follows all the details of the best jeans of the 1940s”.
Fate and fortune may have brought John and this roll of denim together, but it is clear that it could not have found itself in better hands. The relationship is reciprocal; there is the sense that John feels indebted to it, that he sorely wants to do justice to its story.
Every serendipitous event that has fed into this project has deepened John’s bond to the denim. “They’re so precious”, John says, “I inspect each one and then number and sign it”. Created at a crossroads of coincidence and passion, it is certain that the No Evil project will live on in the minds of denim fans and those who are willing to stop, look and listen to its compelling tale.