In 2009, the former director of Amsterdam International Fashion Week, James Veenhoff, and fashion consultancy owner Mariette Hoitink, launched a non-profit multi-disciplinary initiative called the House of Denim. Barbara Russ writes about a venture that has since also established the world's first jeans school.


Amsterdam's House of Denim is a truly unique enterprise: an old tram depot in the city's De Hallen area has been refashioned into 'Denim City'. Aiming to connect and inspire all players in the denim industry and founded by James Veenhoff and Mariette Hoitink, it now hosts a denim archive, serves as a denim embassy and features an up cycling workshop as well as a Jean School for future denim-makers.


After launching Amsterdam Fashion Week in 2004, a bi-annual fashion event that still enriches Amsterdam's fashion culture today, Veenhoff decided to take on a new challenge. In 2009, by that time running his own consultancy company, Veenhoff established the House of Denim together with Mariette Hoitink, who ran her own HTNK fashion recruitment and consultancy agency. "The idea of House of Denim was to create a denim institute which focused on education, research & development, enterprise and networking," he explains. "We wanted to create a platform for all the great denim brands that are already here, plus give new talent a place to learn and develop."


With an average of five pairs of jeans per person, Amsterdamers lead the global charts in terms of denim ownership. But it is not just the inhabitants who see the value of a proper pair of jeans. For years now, Amsterdam has been a design and development Mecca for a variety of denim brands and can now claim one of the highest densities of denim companies in the world. The city has attracted big brands like Tommy Hilfiger, which have their global headquarters in Amsterdam; and others like G-Star, Scotch & Soda, Calvin Klein and Pepe Jeans have followed and set up their European headquarters in Amsterdam. There are also innovative Dutch denim brands like Kuyichi, K.O.I or Denham, who stamp Dutch denim firmly on the world map, pushing the business' boundaries.


Veenhoff is now creating some interesting opportunities for Amsterdam's denim industry to grow further. The campus is attracting innovators, experts, students and other players from industry. "It is an incredibly inspiring place for anyone who's affiliated with denim in any way," he explains. In his opinion, Amsterdam offers a crucial advantage over other locations: "Brands and denim mills that are considering a move to Amsterdam will have an incredible talent pool at their disposal. From design and development to merchandise and social media: all the know-how is already here." The creation of Denim City will make Amsterdam the world's denim capital, he predicts.


Connecting business and talents

The centre of House of Denim is a development centre called Blue Lab, in which each step of jeans production can be demonstrated and taught to professionals who want to learn the production process hands-on. House of Denim is also the organiser of the Amsterdam Denim Days, an event for industry experts and denim lovers alike. Denim Days and the B2B event Kingpins are now furthering Amsterdam's claim to fame on the international denim scene.


To make sure this locational advantage is built upon, the entrepreneur has also set up Jean School, the first of its kind in the world for aspiring denim designers to learn the peculiarities of the trade. Designing denim is a very different kind of craft than working with any other textile; from washes to finished, everything is specialised. In this ecologically challenging industry, young specialists who push sustainability issues are in dire need.


With the opening of Amsterdam Denim Headquarters in the spring of 2015, Veenhoff is bringing talents and businesses together to work on new solutions. "We were looking for a place where we can bring new talent and established brands together," he explains. "There is such an incredible talent pool in this city when it comes to denim; it would be a waste if we did not share that knowledge and build a platform for further innovation."


The international, one-year programme is intended for anyone who wants to specialise in denim. Students who complete the Jean School course receive a diploma in 'Fashion design, junior stylist' with a specialisation in denim. The school focuses on technical and practice oriented elements of the profession. Within a year, students are taught how to transform a design into a saleable product, how jeans are woven and washed, besides practical lessons. And all students collaborate with real brands during their studies.


"I graduated with my internship collection which I have expanded a little, and that same collection also was the base for my participation in the Global Denim Awards (GDA). At the GDA, young designers work together with premium denim-weaving mills in order to achieve innovations in denim. Within a determined period, you develop a collection that consists of five entire sets made with the fabrics of the manufacturer. My exam collection was already durable for 92 per cent, but I have adjusted it for the GDA to 100 per cent," explains John-Randy Anthony, who was among the first graduates of the programme.


With these new and unique facilities, the rise of Amsterdam towards denim domination is well on its way, and is also being recognised around the world, Veenhoff notices. "After our first edition of the bi-annual Amsterdam Kingpins show and annual Amsterdam Denim Days May 2014, Adriano Goldschmied - internationally considered the Godfather of Denim - called Amsterdam the new place to be when it comes to denim. And when he says it, you know it is true!"