No Evil: Natural Selection x Cone Denim Mills

Denim connoisseur John Park talks to Chris Chasseaud about his latest project; 360 limited edition organic selvedge jeans made by the iconic North Carolina mill

For many denim lovers, Cone Mills in North Carolina stands above the rest as the epitome of quality and heritage. They produced fabric for Levi Strauss and Co. from 1925 until they moved production overseas and were at one point the largest denim manufacturer in the world. Their quality selvedge denim is highly revered, and attracted John Park, co-founder of London-based denim brand Natural Selection, who set up his brand wanting to use this very particular material for his jeans.

“I knew the kind of fabric I wanted to use. Being a bit of a denim nerd, there’s only one mill and that’s the Cone Mills”. Back in 2007, John approached Cone Mills with a very specific order: “I knew I wanted to us their fabric. I told them that it had to be selvedge and organic because I wanted to make a difference, using only ethical and sustainable denim. And it had to be 14oz – that isn’t a random number – 14oz is the authentic fabric weight.”

But with Cone Mills, it isn’t always as easy as just calling up and buying denim: “They asked me who I was, and what brand I was from. I said I didn’t have a brand yet but would do soon. They told me if I wanted to make my own pair of jeans I could buy material anywhere. To put me off, they said I had to buy 1000 metres. I was totally naïve as I had never set up a fashion brand before. I just wanted to make product.”

“To put me off, they said I had to buy 1000 metres. I was totally naïve”

Cone Mills told John that it would cost him $14 per metre and that he should wire the money. Once it landed in their account, then they might make some for him. A few months later they got in touch saying the fabric had been produced and asked where they should send it. A year after buying the denim, George Bush, president at the time, implemented subsidies for corn farmers to enable them to produce cheap ethanol. It decimated the organic cotton farming industry. In turn, John found himself with an extremely valuable batch of denim – having the only 14oz organic selvedge by the most unique and most historic mill in the denim world.

Six years after his organic selvedge order, John felt was finally the right moment to release the No Evil project. By no means is it the first unique limited edition concept, but it is unique in its own way, due in no small part to its convoluted route from conception.[/one_third]But perhaps because of the various constraints and happenstance, there will certainly be a wide range of appreciation, not least from denim fans.

“The consumption on a selvedge fabric is about two and a half metres per pair, meaning you can make between 300-400 pairs of jeans with my fabric. I made 360 because No Evil was supposed to be sustained as a circle of life. It’s nice to make a full circle of jeans from 1,000 metres.”

But it isn’t just the aesthetic that matters for Natural Selection; the way the products are constructed is also part of the brand DNA. “We wanted to do it organically rather just cutting and sewing jeans. I see it as being my role as a leading producer of jeans, not to change the balance of organic cotton in the world, but to show people who can change how beautiful something can be done so they can make the leap.” The No Evil range will be available from 13 carefully selected stores worldwide at the end of July. Each pair of jeans has simple branding of 13 stitches, with seven points forward and seven points backward correlating to Cone Mills’ W077-13 fabric spec. There’s even a letter included in the packaging that explains the story of this unique ‘hello and goodbye’ product.

The scarcity of the material, the way John sourced and the myth that surrounds the mill that made it means that No Evil isn’t just a premium jean, but also a good story.