Talking denim with Solomon Russell aka Left Hand Twill

The People’s Fabric - Personal Experience with Denim in American Culture

Solomon Russell has built his business, Left Hand Twill, around a desire to conscientiously better the fashion consumption model in America. As an environmentally minded entrepreneur, he is working to showcase the viability of used clothing as an alternative to fast fashion; and as a Black man, he is contributing to a dialogue about clothing and its relationship with American culture.

Denim is ubiquitous across the globe, but particularly in America, so in a way it is not surprising that many of us find ourselves drawn to the stuff. While we may see it every day, not everyone starts a small business centered around the idea of denim. Can you tell us a bit about how Left Hand Twill began, and where your passion comes from?

Indeed, when I was working my 9-5 my old boss would ask me real smug, “How’s your jeans thing going.” It always bothered me because of how much this fabric means to me. I understand that some people just don’t get it but when you’re passionate about something it doesn’t matter if someone gets it or not.

I started Left Hand Twill after I moved back to Denver from New York in 2014. I went through a funk for about a year but when I realized I’d be moving the idea of getting into denim came into place. I did a lot of studying and research, I knew a bit about the history of cotton so reading up on denim was interesting because those two things go together like a hand in a glove. By 2016 I felt like I had enough inventory to start doing physical pop up shops and eventually I started with “Own Your Denim Part 1” and I’ve been rolling ever since.

Growing up in Colorado, did the landscape and people have a strong influence on your opinion of clothing and how it is worn?

If you go to Southwest Colorado, you see a lot of turquoise, a lot of cowboy hats and cowboy boots, which is totally awesome, but not necessarily my style. My pops used to make his own turquoise bolo ties, or use pottery shards to make them. I am more of a city guy though

Did moving to Brooklyn really change things for you then? When did you live there?

I lived there between 2010 and 2014. I grew up idolizing New York, and to me, it was the mecca because of the music I was listening to. In my style, I was emulating what I was seeing. What Mobb Deep was doing, or Wu-Tang and all those guys. So yeah New York had more of an influence on me than anywhere else.

I remember in the early 2010s, denim started to become more mainstream. We started seeing Japanese denim come into the scene more, and vintage started to really blow up here. Was that formative for you in getting into denim specifically?

In the mid-2000s, I remember that the first person I saw really wearing Japanese denim was Pharrell. It just kinda brightened up your eyes a bit, to see a certain style come about. And you could feel like you related to it because of who was wearing the look. We used to do back to school shopping at thrift stores, and it wasn't cool back then. It was like, this shit ain’t new!

Later on in life, it has definitely come to play a part. The last time I went hunting, I went out to Salida Colorado and I found some dope stuff just laying around. It was pretty mind-blowing. You can definitely still find the good stuff at mom and pop shops and occasionally bigger thrift stores.

I remember seeing a pair of Bape jeans with Bape written on the selvedge ID. It’s funny to see these things come full circle, where brands like Naked and Famous and even Kapital are doing things that Pharrell and Nigo were doing years ago.

I think what Bape did back in the day was kind of the blueprint for a lot of stuff that is happening now. You hear a lot of people say streetwear is dead, but a brand like Bape has stood the test of time.

Maybe we could talk about streetwear then because that’s an interesting animal. I feel like when people think about streetwear, or when I hear the word streetwear, I think of things like Supreme, or a brand of the moment like Vetements. At the same time, it could also just mean having a cool personal style that’s eclectic.

I could agree with that. I think that there are some aspects of streetwear and denim that go hand in hand. I like the double denim look, but I also like to throw in some personal components. I’m not a straight heritage dude, because I relate more to the streets. And that’s what streetwear is; it relates to the street.

As you said, streetwear comes out of the street. And whether we like it or not, or choose to acknowledge it, a lot of American heritage is really mixed up. In the past few years, we saw cargo vests become really popular in streetwear, but those look like fishermen’s vests or military gear that are and have been part of this mainstream American image for a long time. It’s interesting in streetwear how it gets chewed up and spit out though, how it’s made different.

Military wear in the 90s was huge. 1997, Capone-N-Noreaga, The War Report, when they had head-to-toe camo on the cover, that shit changed my life. It was an authentic streetwear look. It’s been reinterpreted over time, the fits have gotten slimmer, and it’s gotten a bit more stylish and comfortable, which is cool, but (laughs) I used to do it with the chunky Timb boots.

I like this tangent that we’re on, about the relationship between streetwear and Americana if we can call it that. You see it come up a lot, like in Old Town Road, you see hip hop and cowboy stuff together, and it was at the top of the charts for a record-breaking run.

Lil Nas X, and that song, also brought a lot of people into denim, because there was a lot of denim in that video. It gave people a bit younger than myself a look into that scene. I was on Twitter (I go on Twitter a lot) and this girl posted a picture of her dad in the early ’90s in head to toe denim.

Double denim, polo denim shirt, and polo boots, and the response that that picture got from other Twitter users were that they associated that look with being a plumber, or “old Black dude in the hood that will fix your car for you”. I saw the look and I was like, ooh that shit is hot, I would rock that today. I still feel like there is a disconnect between denim, and I'm not speaking for all Black people here, but there is a disconnect between denim and some Black people. It’s not fashionable in a sense. I don’t know if it’s been rightly reclaimed at this point.

Taking it back to this Twitter thing, what they were saying about this guy’s outfit, that idea has come from somewhere. Maybe their parents, or grandparents, who probably lived through that era probably told them, you gotta put on your Sunday finest and look your best at all times, and that’s not denim. I think there is still a bit of work to do there. And there’s nothing more American than denim, but you gotta be real about why. That cotton didn’t pick itself. I think now, with what’s been going on, people are starting to look into it, which is good. I’m happy about that.

Is it a political statement to have personal style?

It can be… Denim is interesting because it’s a blank canvas. It’s been around some very big events, like Woodstock is an example. Woodstock happened for a reason, and the people that showed up at Woodstock wore denim because it made sense. It’s durable, you don’t have to wash it; it’s the people’s fabric.

Where do you think denim fits into the visual language of personal politics now? Does it depend on the jeans, or the people wearing them?

I think it depends on the people wearing them. The people wearing those jeans are the ones who will have the story to tell about what they were doing at that particular moment while wearing those jeans, that jacket or shirt. I went to a couple of Black Lives Matter protests and had on my Japan Blue Jeans, so if I think about what I was wearing that day, my jeans were at that movement. I can’t be the only person who thinks of a particular outfit they had on for a monumental event. You look at pictures of when the Berlin Wall fell, there’s a sea of denim in those photos. Politics aside, if something big is happening in the world you can expect the blue jean to be there as well.

Because denim is so popular, it stands to reason that an enormous amount of pollution and waste comes from the denim industry. Brands like Levi’s and G-Star have already begun to switch to more environmentally friendly processes, but mass production still inherently demands more resources. What do you see as some alternatives or solutions?

I know the denim industry has made leaps and bounds to correct the mass amount of waste that is used to produce garments. A lot of mills are certified in their sustainable practices and I love to see it. The issue that needs to be dealt with is fast fashion. One of the solutions I see to fix that is by educating and providing more outreach to communities who are the prime buyers of fast fashion. At no fault of their own, shopping sustainable isn’t a cheap option and what’s been deemed sustainable isn’t necessarily the hottest look to be in either. Sustainable looks aren’t readily available either in a lot of urban areas so what they're left with are box stores full of cheaply made apparel that fits the look that they want. Something needs to be done about it and I’ve put a lot of thought into how to do that. It’s a large task to think about but it definitely can be done.

While many proponents of the vintage movement might cite the middle majority of the 20th Century as their inspiration for style, the American past is a Trojan horse of ideology. When vintage style is meant to evoke a character from the past, does it threaten to distort history? Is it not that complicated?

I’ve met quite a few vintage sellers who are head to toe in clothes from the ’40s and their ideologies and mindsets are stuck there also. I deal with the past but very much live in 2020.

Vintage workwear has seen a steady rise in popularity in American mainstream fashion for the past decade or so. Is it because of the declining quality of goods in the global economy, a desire to waste less, a nostalgia for a time that none of us actually lived through? Why vintage, and why now?

I think the nostalgia aspect played a big part in the resurgence, for example, the release of Stranger Things definitely put people on who didn’t live through the ’80s to gravitate towards that style of dress. To the point where Levi’s did the Stranger Things collaboration as well.

From there I feel like the pot boiled over to include less waste. There’s a good amount of people who shop for vintage or just thrift to complete their wardrobes but also have the intent of lessening their blow to the environment by shopping secondhand. The way clothes are mass-produced the quality of garments has taken a hit so if people are out there finding Levi’s made in the ’70s in perfect worn-out conditions they know they’ll have that pair for as long as they want them.  

Are there certain vintage pieces, or pieces in general, that are most desirable? What constitutes a great pair of jeans, or a great work shirt?

Quality for all denim is a desirable trait. Clothing made in the ’50s and ’60s were just built to last. Workwear particularly, you could beat the hell out of a pair of jeans or a jacket for years before any mending needed to be done. As far as what constitutes a great pair of jeans or shirt is something that is comfortable and the fit will get better over time the more you wear it.

Do you have a favorite article of clothing or a holy grail that you are looking for?

My favorite pair of jeans I have are my Japan Blue Jeans JB0601’s, they get the job done for me and I just love the fit of them. Also my vintage Lee Storm Rider Jacket, it’s perfect for the fall and winter months no doubt. I’m not much of a grail seeker, if I got it, I got it. If I don’t, I don’t and I’m okay with that.

 A quick look through the LHT archives will prove that while the brand showcases people as well as pants - even people from other brands that could be seen as competitors. Can you tell us about this aspect of your online presence, and what LHT stands for beyond selling clothes?

My whole life has been a cultural experience and that's something that I want to translate to LHT. I’m all for the spirit of competition but at this point, my main concern is running my own race. I show love to my peoples in the denim community and I get it back because I’m a genuinely nice dude. There’s a few brands and designers out there that I really admire and take pointers from, Lauren Yates at W’menswear is one of them - LHT is evolving pretty naturally, I’m working on my first collection called Twill Beach and I’m really excited about that. If anything LHT is for the people and I’m just the guy bridging the gap.

Bonus question: what are two of your favorite things at Standard and Strange and why?

I love the accessories S&S carries, that Peanuts & Co “Same Shit Different Day” lighter is hard and pretty much anything First Arrows touches is spectacular but the Feather Ring is where it’s at.

By Dominic Frost

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