It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Who knew Andy Williams was actually singing about the Indigo Invitational? Not buying it? I knew it’d be a tough sell. Moving on.
We are just one week out from the start of the third installment of the Indigo Invitational, and the excitement is palpable. I have had extensive conversations with friends and incoming participants about the competition, and some themes have started to emerge. The same questions seem to pop up frequently. Obviously, the most frequent question is, “What pair should I compete in?”, but questions about denim care and switching pairs aren’t far behind.
If you competed in years past, you probably remember asking similar questions yourself. If you’ve been through the process at least once, you probably know the cold, hard, and dirty truth: there is no “right way” way to Indigo Invitational. Each journey is unique, and this is the fun of it. There are, however, definitely things you can consider that will ensure your experience of the Invitational is a positive one.
Pick the Right Fit and Fabric for Your Journey
If you’re an experienced fade enthusiast, you likely already know what fabric weight and type will be best suited for this indigo-clad orbit around the sun. If you’re still exploring and getting your footing in selvedge space, there’s plenty to consider.
First, not all fits fade equally. Consider this: indigo sheds in several manners. UV exposure weakens the physical bond of the indigo dye to the cotton yarn and causes it to shed slowly over time and exposure. Washing your jeans, introducing soap and water, plus agitation, will also loosen the physical bonds of indigo dye and rinse it away. However, the most constant source of indigo shedding occurs through friction.
Friction, or the physical contact of your jeans against other surfaces, including other parts of your jeans, is the constant and consistent source of denim fades. So how does friction enter into our fit and fabric calculations?
When you leap off the line in April, looser-cut jeans might feel more comfortable, but they may not have as many friction points as a slimmer fit. If you start with a slimmer-fitting pair, you can expect a more difficult break-in period, but the initial discomfort doesn’t last very long, and, most importantly for fades, the tight fit ups the friction. Fades come faster—but so do blowouts and other breakdowns that make repairs necessary.
Climate should also factor in to your fit and fabric decision. Tighter fits result in less air movement between the body and the fabric, which can insulate your body more than a loose-cut pair of jeans. This might be great in colder climates, but awful in hot climates.
In that same vein, fabric weave and weight should be considered. For example, low-tension denim breathes easier than tight weave denim. Think ONI Secret denim vs. the Piger MD22; the weights are similar (20oz vs. 22oz). However, on a cold and windy day, the chill cuts right through ONI’s despite their heavy weight, while the tightly woven Pigers are relatively impervious. Turn those conditions on their head, and you might sweat balls in the Pigers and live comfortably in the ONI jeans.
When choosing a pair, be sure to consider more than just faded examples. Also consider your comfort, environmental tolerance, and repair abilities.
Stay the Course
Now that you have settled your nerves and picked the right pair for your race, you need to commit to them, dammit. It’s the entire premise and argument for the Indigo Invitational competition.
It is so easy for us to make that move from denim lover to denim collector. The closets of denimheads worldwide are brimming with unworn and unfaded denim. The idea behind the Indigo Invitational is to journey together toward the destination of well-faded denim. To realize the potential of raw denim is the real reward at the end of the race, not the prizes.
You will see others change their pairs within the allowed time frame at the start of the race. It may be tempting to do the same, thinking you’ve chosen wrong. This temptation may be greater if you notice someone wearing the same jeans you’ve chosen. There’s no need to panic. Stay the course and run your race.
If you feel the need, make the change for a practical reason, not for a hypothetical one. What does this mean? Simply put, if you’re making a change, make it because the jeans don’t fit or are somehow impractical. Don’t do it because you see other pairs fading quickly and think you might have made a wrong choice.
You may also be tempted to rotate your non-competition jeans into the weekly wear cycle. I understand you’ve got great jeans hanging in the closest you want to wear, but I implore you, resist! Sticking to your Y3 jeans is the best course of action if you want the fades we all covet. The magic starts around the 250 wear mark, and rotating pairs will rob you of the competition’s best prize. Save cheat days for when you need to wash your competition jeans or when you need to send them off for repairs.
Run Your Own Damn Race
This one can get tricky. Everyone is going to take a different approach to the Indigo Invitational. While the approach—simply wearing one pair of raw denim for a year—might sound straightforward enough, everybody has slightly different styles, and everybody’s results are a little different. There are as many approaches to this denim game of games as there are competitors, and though it may be tempting to emulate those who are showing early progress, comparing yourself to others is a quick path to disappointment.
Pocket trinkets and fading gizmos are popular amongst some competitors. These items can vary from everyday carry items like wallets and pocket knives to knuckle dusters, worry coins, and lighters. Some competitors will even fabricate items to go in their pockets to create images or patterns in their jeans. This all comes down to individual preferences. Though some of last year’s finalists featured fades of this kind, they won’t put you over the top. If you don’t have or want to put a doodad in your pocket, just don’t. If it’s something that looks cool to you, give it a shot.
Let’s talk about denim care. This might be the only topic more hotly debated than sex, religion, and politics. I will start this section by saying I definitely don’t have all the answers. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. But, I can say that there are definitely some approaches to denim care that we can do without.
The first of these is the zero-care approach. Everything needs washing. While there’s a reasonable amount of data discussing the antimicrobial nature of indigo, that data is specific to natural indigo and not synthesized indigo. The claim that jeans don’t need washing ever just doesn’t hold water. If the indigo in your jeans is synthetic (it probably is), your unwashed jeans aren’t killing germs, they’re breeding them. The only thing they’re killing is your shot at a date (or a happy partner).
Here are the facts: The average person sheds roughly 40K skin cells a day. That debris is made predominantly of devitalized collagen (i.e., bacteria food). While your jeans may have some antimicrobial properties, there is a solid chance your underoos do not, and your skin definitely doesn’t. Leave your jeans unwashed for the full year and they’ll become a Golden Buffett for every microbe crawling around on your skin and grundies. You might have gorgeous fades, but to get them, you’ve created a feeding and breeding ground for bacterial colonies. Grim.
Instead of holding out long past your jeans’ best before date, wash your jeans whenever they need it. If you spill something small on them, spot cleaning with a damp rag will keep you going. If you soak them in merlot or marinara, that’s a quick trip to the tub—otherwise, they’ll colonize.
Keep Your Chin Up
The moment may come when all feels lost. A year can feel like a mighty long time in one pair of pants, and it might feel like the wheels have come off at some point. You’ll spill that glass of wine all over your lap, or maybe your infant fills his diaper to overflowing or pukes in your lap. Hell, in a deft attempt to prove you’re still as spry as you were in college may tempt you into some stunt that results in a denim disaster. Just remember two words: wabi-sabi.
Wabi-sabi, in the traditional Japanese aesthetic, simply means finding appreciation and acceptance for imperfection. Or, if that is too meta, try Hakuna Matata on for size. No worries, things didn’t go to plan, accept it and move on. During the Indigo Invitational, setbacks, imperfections, and mishaps are imprinted on the jeans. They become a part of your unique journey. For best results, stop thinking about perfect fades. Instead, think about your jeans as a roadmap or a journal that documents this trip round the sun.
In that vein, sticking close to the concepts of “staying the course” and “running your own race” will help you avoid negativity k-holes. Everyone’s jeans are going to evolve at different rates. Negativity is an easy trap to fall into when we obsess about either our own progression or (even worse) the progress of others. It can be tempting to throw shade or make baseless claims about another competitor’s progress. Don’t go there. It will ruin the experience, both for yourself and others. Keep your head up, be proud of your own progress, and keep the finish line in mind.
Get Involved, Mingle, Make Friends
Arguably the best parts of the Indigo Invitational are the community and the spirit of camaraderie that pervades it. I’ve had many passions and hobbies in my 38 laps around the sun, but there is nothing quite like the Indigo Invitational community.
Heading into my first year (year two), I really only knew a dozen of the participants. However, at the close of the second year, I regularly communicated with at least forty competitors, many of whom I now call friends. This competition forges new friendships through a common goal: cross the damn finish line. Friendships have blossomed all over the world for me. There are places I have never been where I am now welcome as a brother.
These precious side-effects of the Indigo Invitational happen due to engagement and participation throughout the year. Whether on the Facebook page for competitors or through the Instagram hashtag, participants will gravitate toward one another. They will push and encourage each other to preserver through stumbling points, like blowouts and repair needs, or during the dreaded lull somewhere around the nine-month mark.
I don’t want to suggest you can’t get to the end of this competition without camaraderie. Plenty will, and they still end up with well-faded denim. But like most adventures in life, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Like Frodo Baggins, the burden will be easier to bear with a fellowship. If there’s a second-best prize to beautifully faded jeans in the Indigo Invitational, it’s new friends. Corny? Maybe. Still, it’s true.
In Summation (Finally!)
Make no mistake; the next 365 days are an endurance test. How you get to the end is entirely up to you. So try not to become distracted by prizes, voting, and where you finish. Instead, focus on new friendships, the appreciation of denim evolution, and how you finish. Stick to the five points above and I am willing to bet that on March 31st, 2023, you’ll look back in disbelief at what you’ve accomplished and smile…and then immediately put on a new pair of jeans.