Jeans do not belong in the washing machine. Or so says Stiles Anderson. The 24-year-old talks about the closet staple the way wine aficionados talk about Grands Crus: protectively, almost reverently. And much like fine wine, according to Anderson, premium denim needs to age gracefully, far from the spin cycle. “Letting your jeans take shape and wear in naturally is what really brings them to life,” says the designer, one half of the team behind a new Chicago-based denim line out late this summer.
Photograph: Katrina Wittkamp
BYA founders Stiles Anderson (left) and Glen Schwartz
A Minnesota native, Anderson was working at his first job as a financial analyst two years ago when he met Glen Schwartz, an environmental clean-up consultant, in the elevator of their Lake View building. Anderson was walking his English bulldog; coincidentally, Schwartz had his French bulldog. They got to talking, and soon had hatched a business. Schwartz, 31, coined their fledgling denim line BYA, which means “billions of years ago.”
Launching a premium denim brand (defined as $175 a pair or up) outside of California, the industry’s current epicenter, has offered a sizable challenge. Schwartz spent months courting a Southern jeans launderer that produces some of the country’s most illustrious brands.
Eschewing typical, over-the-top whiskering, Anderson and Schwartz rely on an archive of thousands of classic jeans from the 1940s and ’50s to gather patterns for authentic wear marks, which the laundry replicates by hand on fine Turkish denim. BYA’s back pockets are bereft of insignia; the only outward sign of the brand’s signature are the buttons-a concave, thumb-pleasing design.
The two hope that such zealous attention to details, combined with limited production runs and a handpicked list of retailers (to find BYA locally, check www.byadenim.com), will help their brand transcend the fickle three-year life span of most premium denim lines. “Jeans are a living impression of who you are and what you do every day,” says Anderson, whose own personal denim habits include rolling his cuffs and pledging to eschew traditional laundering. And when his jeans become truly filthy? “I take them to the dry cleaner.”