HAN ATES - blackhorse lane craft jean revolution

HAN ATES - blackhorse lane craft jean revolution

Community building has become a frequently used term in branding exercises and marketing plans. But what does it really mean to build a community, to share a common interest, to aim for something and grow together. 

community building

A shared bond brings people together over dinner, where food becomes more than a refuelling exercise, it becomes about being part of a family.

It’s with no surprise that Bilgehan ‘Han’ Ates, founder Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, in a previous life was a restaurant owner. Although food still plays a role in Han’s world, and can be experienced through Denim & Dine experiences held at the atelier, his focus is firmly on the Craft Jean Revolution taking place, in what has become a place of pilgrimage for denim disciples.

The journey from a tailor working in his uncle’s factory in East London, to restauranteur, and giving it all up to spend more time with his family (he felt his relationship was suffering due to the demands of working in the clothing industry), Han’s story is one that makes you believe there is a bright future for fashion. Blackhorse Lane focus on making the best pair of jeans from the best fabrics they can source. But it’s not just the jeans that make people want to spend time at the atelier (which has an open door policy and welcomes visitors daily) it’s the history, the story, the sense of community.

In a world where we are striving to do things as quickly as possible, using technology as a tool to aid efficiency, it’s a breath of fresh air that Blackhorse Lane take their time. To make a beautifully tailored pair of jeans, immaculately finished both inside and out takes time. Blackhorse Lane are not in a rush. 

The slow made approach is not a business model that supports producing hundreds of pairs of jeans a day, and it also requires highly skilled machinists to produce jeans that will last a life time. 

Passing skills to the next generation is something that Black Neon Digital (and Blackhorse Lane) are extremely passionate about. There’s a distinct lack of alternative routes to learn the less ‘glamorous’ roles in fashion such as an industrial machinist or patterncutter, something that we are slowly working on to put right. The education system and fashion media tend to focus more on the star role of designer, but there are only a few positions available as Creative Director.

The machinists at Blackhorse Lane are given the opportunity to be shareholders, their skills valued not only through respect but through financial gains. Everyone who enters the atelier begins to understand the level of respect that skills and knowledge can earn you. 

We have created a structure where by they (the machinists) have an opportunity to become shareholders in the company. I want our staff to understand that they really are as important as partner.
— Han Ates, Black Neon Digital Podcast Episode 14
Han Ates and David Giusti Blackhorse Lane Ateliers

Respecting the heritage of denim whilst looking ahead to servicing their global community is David Giusti, Head of Digital & Retail at Blackhorse Lane. David’s passion for and knowledge of the denim industry is extremely impressive. Coupled with his tech background gives an indication of the way in which Blackhorse lane are looking to grow. It’s a pretty rare thing to find someone who has completed a menswear design course at Central St Martins, and has the level of tech skills that David does.

With a degree in computer science, experience of holding Product Manager roles at Microsoft, Shazam and Lyst working in San Francisco, Paris and London, David had great understanding of the digital landscape and the possibilities it can offer Blackhorse Lane. 

We don’t want to let digital get into our product but rather use digital as a means of communicating something beautiful about analogue.
— David Giusti, Black Neon Digital Podcast Episode 14

Sustainability is fundamental to Blackhorse Lane’s approach, from their investment in skills, their community to the fabrics they use. Each denim has a rating which takes into consideration it’s durability and environmental impact, including it’s carbon footprint, as premium denim is flown in from the USA and Japan.

Japanese mills produce one of the best fabrics in the world. But they don’t produce cotton so they buy their cotton preferably from Africa because it is hand picked. Hand picking means the fibres in the cotton don’t break because they are longer fibres. When they put that into yarns the yarns become stronger, and when they weave that into denim the denim is stronger. We love that. But something from Central Africa to Japan…and then to the UK, so by the time the fabric arrives it has 25000km as a carbon foot print. Even though we love Japanese fabric, somehow we feel that this is not right.
— Han Ates, Black Neon Digital Podcast Episode 14
We’re against junk fashion, trash fashion and we want to use digital as a means to educating our consumers, helping people appreciate garments for longer, keep them for longer and ideally buy less. It would be great to sell someone one pair of blue jeans and one pair of black jeans and that’s it. And not sell them more jeans and just repair the ones they have.
— David Giusti, Black Neon Digital Podcast Episode 14

The blend of heritage, elevated craft and digital foresight at Blackhorse Lane is extremely exciting. It’s no wonder they have created a Craft Jean Revolution, a revolution that everyone is welcome to join in. 

If you create a different consumer experience then you are more likely to succeed...because you are connecting, on a very deep level, it’s important.
— Han Ates, Black Neon Digital Podcast Episode 14

In this podcast I speak with Han about; the changes that he has seen over the years, how it’s important that craftsmanship, technology, sustainability and business aims work together in harmony, and about the Craft Jean Revolution taking place at Blackhorse Lane.

Listen to podcast above, on iTunesSoundCloud or Stitcher

all photos taken by bec o'conner for black neon digital

podcast recorded at blackhorse lane atelier in walthamstow, north east london

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