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Hood Jeans interview: Hood Jeans are a UK based motorcycle jeans manufacturer with a long history. I go and meet them to find out their secret of their success…
Hood Jeans may well be ‘small’ in numbers of personnel and indeed output when compared to other market players but reading their online bio, it’s plain that they have been involved in clothing manufacture for many decades and that surely that should translate into a wealth of experience? I made contact with Chris Easterford (co-owner with his wife, Julie) and wound my way to their office in Norfolk, UK to find out…
The corporate entrance is unimposing and belies what lies beyond; apart from Chris and Julie there are racks of jeans and T-shirts all neatly piled up waiting to be dispatched. Whilst most production is carried out at another factory, over at the far end are the sewing machines, all of which, as I was to find out, have specific purposes in the various stages of manufacture… indeed, one of them is highly coveted – not only is it close to being the last of it’s kind but it produces a dual-thread ‘chain stitch’ which according to Chris results in a stitch that is easy to remove, yet provides a lateral ‘stretch’ and so it is very difficult to snap merely by pulling. The use of different types of stitching as being important in manufacture wouldn’t have necessarily crossed my mind, but I was encouraged that even something as (ahem) ‘simple’ as a stitch would garner such a level of importance.
Chris’s enthusiasm and knowledge of jean manufacture become glaringly obvious over the next two hours and I was his attentive student. I realized early on that there was much more to making a pair of motorcycle jeans than I had previously thought – it’s not just adding an expensive layer of Kevlar as a liner and calling it a day.
The cut is plainly important, not only from a visual ‘fashion’ point of view but Chris has to take into account the amount of ‘ride’ that any leg-covering garment will suffer as the leg is bent. This is a key aspect from a motorcyclist’s perspective since it will dictate where any knee armour is placed in the trouser – since a biker may well hit the tarmac with knee bent (or not) and either way, the placement must be right to give him/her the maximum chance of walking, rather than hobbling, away. Furthermore, room around the thighs and buttocks aid armour placement (ie staying in the right place or not) as the bent leg pulls on the fabric.
And if that wasn’t enough, motorcycle boot shin protectors have been getting ‘chunkier’ (even I have noticed that) and therefore the jean has to allow for this vogue… All these items require new templates, stitching together and trialling – a time (and money) consuming process.
Fortunately, given Chris’s penchant for experimenting and detail means that he rather enjoys it all. He’s constantly looking for new fabrics, different methodologies in stitching (different strength threads… mix and match or two the same?), new protective liners and all of these trials and re-appraisals mean that he has built up an industry-leading experience, so much so, that he is regularly approached and engaged by third parties to “advise and build” apparel for their own particular tests.
An example of such a relationship is apparent when the conversation moves to the armour that Hood supplies.
Chris and Julie only supply D3O armour in their jeans for the simple reason that (apart from being amongst the top three manufacturers) they are a British company and Chris trusts their products, not only through personal experience but also because Chris has “never received any negative feedback on D3O armour” from Hood-owning riders and if that wasn’t enough, the results of D3O destruction tests back up their abilities.
This seemed like a good opportunity to bring up the issue of ‘CE ratings’. Hood don’t make many references to the CE mark on their site and I wondered why…
Chris explained that in his opinion, the process is (whilst there with all-good-intents), it’s over-rated as the only benchmark as to the effectiveness of a motorcycle jean come the final and all-important crash test. For example, the abrasion test is only one factor in the whole approval process and the abrasive surface that is used on the official machinery doesn’t accurately reflect the bumps and lumps that exist in the average piece of tarmac! It’s also a lengthy process to wait on and the associated costs all add up and so Chris has devised his own road test to which he subjects all his new designs.
This test involves dragging the jean over an 800m track behind a motorcycle with a 50Kg weight on it… This, in his opinion, far exceeds the ‘standard official’ test.
He then went on to show me various post-crash jeans that have been returned to him for examination (and one particular pair which took the hit from a wheelie-ing journo) and they bear some impressive scarring… but ultimately the riders involved got up and walked away. That, in Chris’s opinion, attracts more kudos than any static machine-induced abrasion test.
Studying what these crashed jeans can take did bring to the forefront what sits in the back of all motorcyclists’ minds. Falling off hurts. Sometimes a lot. But we choose to not dwell on it. We choose to keep it where it belongs, conscious of the possibilities yet we consciously make best efforts to minimise the probability of that ‘hurt’ as we ride.
The stark reality is that we all know that if the ‘worst comes to the worst’ and it all goes ‘belly up’ we trust our clothing as the last resort to minimise the impending (possible) bodily damage.
And that, I think really sums up Hood. They have a range of what could be glibly seen as ‘casual wear’ but their products (and ethos) are much more. Yes, these are cotton jeans styled ‘casually’, but when it matters, they are safety equipment and Hood strive to keep the trust that the rider has placed in them.
With many thanks to Chris and Julie at Hood Jeans. Check out their site at http://www.hoodjeans.co.uk/