A culture for jeans like no other

“There were many reasons to select Amsterdam as our location,” Andrew Olah, founder of the Kingpins Show, explains. “The most salient reason was the chance to collaborate with the House of Denim and share Amsterdam’s energy towards blue jeans.” He’s referring to none other than the House of Denim Project, a sustainability-focused initiative that trains people for fashion careers through its Jean School, a denim museum and a research centre that studies issues related to water, chemicals and recycling. 

This organisation is also a key part of the city’s expanding denim hub, which includes the headquarters of high-street giant G-Star Raw, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. “Amsterdam is a brilliant place to set up, because there is a culture for jeans like in no other place and a school to supply a long-term flow of educated jeans lovers,” says Olah.

Kingpins show teddy bear

An attendee snuggles up with a giant denim teddy bear at the Kingpins Show in Amsterdam

An idea born in a bar

For Olah, fashion runs in his blood. He’s part of the second generation of his family to run Olah Inc, a textile-marketing firm founded in 1959 and he started the Kingpins show in 2004 in New York City. As the story goes, he was in an art gallery in the chic SoHo neighbourhood and “We opened a bar at 10am, had a salami and cheese party at 7pm and Kingpins was born.”

The show remains deliberately selective in its exhibitors, and collegiate in atmosphere. Its relatively small size belies its international influence at a time when the denim world is changing. “The industry is bubbling along with small growth rates in consumption in the USA, EU and Japan,” says Olah.

Kingpins Show attendees

Fashion professionals mingle at the Kingpins Show

However, fast fashion – the trend for shifting styles swiftly from the catwalk to the high street – “has taken over a significant amount of branded business, allowing consumers to treat denim as disposable fashion. This has given jeans a wider reach in consumers’ closets and made ‘traditional jeans’ more significant and special. At the same time, it seems the industry is beginning to get serious about its negative impact on the environment.” 

Navigating an industry in transition

He also sees more significant changes ahead for a trade that has not yet felt the full impact of the digital economy. “I see huge change coming,” Olah says. “Years ago, we all read magazines and news on paper, whereas now we read [things on the web]. We see movies on our computers. We buy more and more online. The world is changing, and our industry has yet to make the changes.”

Continuing, he says that “I see customisation as being important, sustainable and transparent production as being important, and online delivery of merchandise as the new way to get our goods, or at least many of them. Stores, the good ones, will exist, the rest will be showrooms for online buying.”

Kingpins show

The Kingpins Show in full swing

Though challenges lay ahead, he remains positive about the future. “The fashion industry is a wonderful place in which to work and live,” he says. “The jeans business in particular grants huge opportunities on many levels: creative, managerial, manufacturing and most importantly socially, where people can impact the environment and social responsibility.”

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