A good pair of jeans has been a wardrobe staple since 1873. Whether it’s date night or casual Friday, we reach to our favorite pair for comfort and style. Denim has a rich history and a precise manufacturing process that brings it from raw cotton to your bedroom closet.

Where did denim come from? How is it made? Take the time to appreciate your favorite pair of jeans and learn the fascinating facts about denim!

Who Invented Denim?

Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss, of the famous Levi brand, are often credited with inventing denim in 1873. They were inspired by a cotton corduroy fabric called “Serge de Nimes” that originated in Nimes, France.

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“Waist overalls,” as jeans were known at the time, were very popular with miners during the Gold Rush. With the sturdy twill fabric and metal rivets at points of strain, their pants could withstand tough conditions. They were also popular with factory workers, farmers, soldiers, mechanics, and carpenters.

Over time, denim moved away from its blue collar origins. Pop culture icons like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe made the pants fashionable and the world never looked back.

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Baby Boomers started referring to the denim “waist overalls” as jeans in the 1960s.

The Early Manufacturing of Denim

Denim was created by hand when it was first invented. This involved an intricate weaving process known as weft and warp. To create the blue color, manufacturers used a special indigo dye imported from India. However, hot temperatures and rough sea conditions caused this dye to quickly fade in color.

How is Denim Made?

By the Industrial Revolution, machinery had been developed for faster production of denim on electric looms. The indigo dye is now created synthetically to reduce costs and make the material more accessible than ever before.

Today, denim is made with the following process:

  • Step One: Cotton is gathered and put into machines where it’s detangled and spun together into strong threads.
  • Step Two: The threads are dipped several times into tubs of synthetic indigo dye.
  • Step Three: The indigo threads are woven together either through selvage or warp and weft.
  • Step Four: The denim is then sanforized, which means it’s stretched, heated, and shrunk down.
  • Step Five: The denim is ready to be shipped to stores!
  1. Step 1

    Prepare the Cotton
    Cotton is gathered from fields all over the world and undergoes a process called carding where it’s put through machines that contain brushes with bent wire teeth (cards). At this point, each fiber (known as silvers) are detangled, cleaned, and spun together to create thicker pieces of thread.

  2. Step 2

    Dye the Yarn
    The threads are dipped into tubs full of synthetic indigo dye before being woven together. Large balls of yarn called ball warps are dipped into the dye several times to retain the color. Eventually, the dye loses its vibrancy, which is why denim fades in color after being repeatedly washed. However, a small amount of sulfur is used to stabilize the layers of dye ensuring that a good amount of blue will still be visible in the end product.

  3. Step 3

    Weave the Yarn
    The indigo yarn is woven together through two different methods. First is the most common process known as the 3-by-1. The blue threads forming the warp (long, vertical threads) are combined with white threads forming the weft (shorter, horizontal threads).

    During this process, more warp (blue) threads are used than weft (white) giving denim its vibrant color. The other method of weaving is through a process called selvage. This is when the denim is created the original way on old looms dating back to the 1950s. Production speed is much slower, reducing the tension on the yarns and creating a softer, more durable fabric. Due to the costs and need for skilled workers, selvage weaving is only done in Japan and Italy.

  4. Step 4
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gO_T0vT2J94

    Finish the Denim
    To prevent the fabric from twisting, the denim is sanforized, which means it’s softened, stretched, heated, and shrunk. This ensures the fabric retains its size and durability. The denim is also brushed down to remove any loose threads and lint and washed to give it a faded look. Denim manufacturers take quality control very seriously and monitor any defects or variations in color.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gO_T0vT2J94
  5. Step 5

    Ready to Wear!
    After being shipped to retailers across the country, the denim is ready to be sold and added to your closet!

Watch this informative video to see how denim is made!

Approximately 20 thousand tons of synthetic indigo are produced a year for dying blue jeans.

What Are the Different Types of Denim?

Everyone has a unique style, which is why it’s important to have variety of denim. There is a mix of many different styles that range in price and accessibility.

The different types of denim include:

  • 100% Cotton
  • Raw/Dry
  • Polyester Blends
  • Sanforized
  • Colored
  • Stretch
  • Selvedge/Selvage
  • Crushed
  • Waxed Reverse
  • Acid Wash/Marble
  • Ecru
  • Bull
  • Organic
  • Ramie
  • Printed
  • Bubblegum
  • Crosshatch/Slub


Why Do We Love Denim?

For over 100 years, people have been turning to denim for style and comfort. In fact, the global denim industry is worth roughly $56.2 billion. From cotton to acid wash and everything in between, we’ll always turn to this durable fabric.

Stats for Success

1,240,000,000 pairs of denim jeans are sold every year.

96% of U.S. consumers own at least one pair of denim jeans.

There were 513 denim mills worldwide as of 2017.

The United States, China, India, Brazil, and Turkey are the top exporters of denim.

The Bottom Line

Creating denim involves a precise attention to detail. Manufacturers use a particular weaving pattern to achieve the final look, and as a result, each stitch is added with love. No matter what, denim is a jean-ious addition to every closet!

About the author

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a promo expert with over three years of experience in the industry. Her passion for writing has led to a BA in English & Communications from Aurora University and work published for the Advertising Specialty Institute and The Bolingbrook Sun Times.