Tim Kaeding is something of a star in the US denim fashion scene. His fans enthuse about the skillful cutting techniques that make his jeans flattering to every shape and kind of derriere. But, were it left up to the designer who has worked successfully for jeans labels like "7 for All Mankind" and "The Gap Women's Jeans," the subject of his talent would never be brought up. As a Midwesterner from Chicago, he is much too well-bred to do so. Style – in every sense of the word – is his motto.
I am extremely critical when it comes to fit, fabric and execution.
Fittingly, Kaeding lives in an elegant Spanish Colonial residence in Los Feliz, a fashionable district to the east of Hollywood. His unerring sense of style is reflected in his home’s interior decoration; obviously, absolutely nothing has been left to chance. Yet, most impressive of all, this perfection comes across as very relaxed and organic. Tim Kaeding likes to use his domicile with its leafy, park-like grounds as a location for video and photo shoots for his new label MOTHER Denim, established in 2010. His home’s West Coast rock 'n' roll glamour is both timeless and hip, and captures the essence of MOTHER Denim perfectly.
The actual "glamour engineering," however, is conducted in a completely different world. South of the 10 freeway in Los Angeles, this is an area that stands for gangland or, as in MOTHER Denim's case, the city’s bleak gray – aside from the blue southern Californian sky – industrial zone. Kaeding's office is on the first floor of the production plant – small, cramped, and cheaply furnished. The floor is littered with denim fabric samples; a clothes rack is closely hung with the next collection. The walls are covered with sketches, color samples, and photographs. Books, magazines, labels, rivets, and buttons are spread out on the desk he shares with his two assistants.
In 2008, of all years, when the financial crisis nearly brought the world to its knees, Kaeding started making plans to launch his own jeans label. He had recently left his job with "7 for All Mankind" after the owners had sold the enterprise to a textile giant. Too risky, deemed the investors when Kaeding applied for financing, and friends and colleagues gave worried frowns whenever he brought up the subject. In the end, it was Lela Tillem, former head of sales at the premium jeans brand "Citizens of Humanity" who ventured to join forces with him. Inspired by the jeggings trends – that comfortable though not always elegant jeans and leggings hybrid – Kaeding had the compelling idea to use soft, luxurious fabrics that feel like cashmere and to pair this texture with the sexy look and perfect fit of authentic West Coast jeans. Tillem is not the only person he’s managed to win over with his concept. After seeing his first collection in spring 2011, international lifestyle magazines and fashion bloggers instantly proclaimed MOTHER Denim to be the new must-have label.
We will never advertise MOTHER Denim on a billboard. It’s always great for a customer to have the feeling, I found this brand!
“As a designer you want to leave your mark and change things all the time, just to prove your own creativity,” says Kaeding while showing us around his jeans factory. “But you have to understand that branding is taking one idea and building upon it.” His refreshing pragmatism is not just resolutely applied to business. Wearing an unbuttoned shirt over a T-shirt, jeans, Comme des Garçons Converse sneakers, together with his spiked hair – Tim Kaeding's personal dress style has remained consistent throughout the years. Yet, with his ability to subtly imbue it with the newest trends, he manages to get away with it all the same.
I am a huge fan of photography, art and music, and I love the vibes of cities like Antwerp or Tokyo – all this is truly inspirational to me.
The MOTHER Denim founder admires brands with enduring values – premium quality, timeless design, kept promises. A few of these are: Basics by French label APC, British designer Paul Smith's colored socks, garments by Commes des Garçons, the Porsche Boxster, and the Leica M9. He designs his denim collections for a clientele with similar values. “I am aiming to create a loyal customer base,” he says. “We don’t want to become a mass brand, but one that people recognize and adore.“
We want people to come back to the store, saying I love my MOTHER so much.
And so, Kaeding has each pair of jeans sewn on-site at the production locations in Los Angeles where they are also refined with finishing touches that can include elaborate used-look techniques, decorative seams and stonewashing. Kaeding: “I see every step of our production every day. This is the only way I can ensure great quality.” And he has signed contracts with the world's best denim suppliers, located in Japan and Italy, for exclusive delivery of the chosen fabrics. As a result, no other label is able to work with the same soft denim fabric that MOTHER does. An advantage that Kaeding was able to secure thanks to the network he has built up over the years.
When I was 25, I used high-end, expensive fabrics to make clothes. The lesson I learned was, that no matter how amazing your product is, if it’s too expensive, you don’t have a business.
Even more difficult, once they started making plans, was finding a name. Kaeding and his team spent countless brainstorming sessions going through entire lists of names. MOTHER was the one that struck. “It’s iconic,” Kaeding is convinced, “the word has a strong emotional value.” MOTHER means something to everyone: Some associate it with sweet memories of mother love. Others have the more immediate association of motherf**er – “It kicks ass,” laughs Kaeding.
The MOTHER team spent an entire year developing the brand concept. From decisions on fonts, colors, and logos and the choice of studs, buttons, seams, pocket sizes and labels, down to proportions and positioning – everything was systematically considered in minute detail. “Every single detail is hugely important. In the end everything has to add up to a specific look and a specific identity.”
The fact that MOTHER “kicks ass” is also the result of a stringently applied concept. The distribution area was quickly enlarged to include Europe and Japan, and sales figures have exceeded expectations by far, says Kaeding. “The fact that we are still in a recession, and yet a growing number of people wants to spend 200 dollars for a pair of MOTHER Denim jeans, is just amazing. I guess we must be doing something right.”
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