Step into the Light
Making the Case for Competing
In a recent post, I highlighted a few of the reasons why we compete in the Indigo Invitational. We compete because fading is an experience that becomes more exciting and rewarding when it is shared with other enthusiasts. We don’t compete for the prizes, or even for the glory of victory. This competition is not a battle for first place. It is a year-long communal celebration of a shared passion.
The proof of this is everywhere you look. Look for smack talk and gamesmanship. You won’t find it. Instead, you’ll find competitors supporting and encouraging each other. You won’t find any boasting, bullying, or jostling for position. Instead, you’ll find the Indigo Spirit, a powerfully magnetic fellowship of fading.
All of us can attest to this magnetism. It is felt by all, even at a tremendous distance. Selvedge enthusiasts are, by and large, few and far between. Some of us (the lucky few) are plugged in to local denim scenes. Most of us, though, fade alone. The Indigo Invitational turns the solitary activity of fading into a communal one.
This is reason enough for most people. Some, though, still aren’t convinced.
The Argument Against Competing
If the Indigo Invitational has appeared on your radar, there’s a good chance that you’ve got a few pairs of raw denim on the go. A handful of people joining the competition are making their first foray into the world of raw denim. The vast majority of us, though, have closets bursting with selvedge. We’ve faded at least a pair or two down to white bone.
Having once faded a pair to perfection, we want to do it again and again. We’re hooked, and we start looking for our next project pair. Here’s the thing, though: the more we look, the more we see. The more we see, the more we learn. We begin the slow slide into enthusiast territory, and along the way, we armloads of the stuff. We end up with a stack of fresh pairs that (we’ll readily admit) only get part of the attention they’re due.
And now, here comes a fading competition that asks you to take a step back from collecting and wear one pair for 365 days. For those who given themselves over to the collecting impulse, this is simply a bridge too far. “I’ve got too many pairs on the go”, they say, or “I can’t do justice to my rotation if I only wear one pair.”
I don’t have an answer for this. It’s not my place to tell you what your denim priorities should be. If you’d rather collect and rotate than fade aggressively, I’ll admit that you’ll probably find the Indigo Invitational more frustrating than rewarding.
If you know that you won’t be able to resist the siren call of your unworn pairs, if the thought of monogamous fading for a month (let alone for 365 days) sends chills down your spine, it’s unlikely you’ll cross the finish line.
From Out of the Darkness
Nobody wants to start something that they’ll lay down half completed. If you know you won’t cross the finish line, the Indigo Invitational probably isn’t for you. Perhaps, though, you’re caught between the competition and your rotation. You have a few pairs on the go, and you don’t want to lay them aside for a year to compete, but the idea of the competition intrigues you. If you’re one of these fence-sitters, allow me to approach this from a different angle.
While there are definitely denim lovers who prefer the look of crisp, dark selvedge to faded pairs, we don’t see many of them round these parts. Most of us were drawn into this world (and into this competition) by the pull of the light side. We light-side acolytes know that denim in its raw state is essentially incomplete. It is not truly finished until it bears on its surface the outline of our body, until the sun shines on the white core of the yarn.
This is what almost all of us want. We want to be on the light side, but the dark side calls out to us each time a new collaboration drops or a long-coveted pair goes on sale. We love the look of beautifully faded raw denim, but we add new pairs into the rotation faster than we can fade them. With each new pair, we swear that this time will be different. We will, we say, dedicate ourselves to this pair and forsake all others. We try, but we can’t resist the call of the other pairs in our rotation, and, to make matters worse, that rotation grows by a few pairs every year.
We want to step into the light, but the pull of the dark side proves almost impossible to resist. The dark side exacts a cost in more ways than one. We spend thousands of dollars chasing the perfect pair. And this isn’t all: when we give in to the power of the dark side, we never do justice to our jeans.
Do Justice to Your Jeans
The Indigo Invitational was born as a rejection of the dark side. In 2019, I challenged members of the Raw Denim Facebook group to show me their fades. I was seeing a lot of pictures of amazing selvedge, but it all looked practically brand new. When I asked why this was, the answers had a familiar ring. They had too many pairs. They knew they couldn’t fade them all at once, but this didn’t stop them from trying.
They needed a very good reason to focus exclusively on one pair, and I gave them that reason by starting the competition. Sponsors soon joined and gave us an added incentive to hold the line. Nearly half of our competitors bowed out (many drawn back to their neglected rotations) in the middle of the race. Those who crossed the line a full year later, though, felt the full power of the light side. Their jeans were beaten and tattered, held together with homemade patches and crude stitches. They had embraced the light side and, in the process, they’d done justice to their jeans.
This is what has pulled so many of our faders back into the starting blocks this year. Last year, with only a month of lead time, many of us reached for the closest available pair. This year is different. We’ve carefully selected our pairs, and we know that, as long we can hold our nerve, we’ll cross the finish line next October with a pair that has been given its due.
It’s a partnership between the fader and his or her pair. Give a year of uninterrupted wear to one pair and it will return the favour. It will give you it’s absolute best.
Show and Shine
I close my case with this. My best friend (and this competition’s co-founder) Dave recently told me a story. On the quiet street he lived on as a child, there was a man with a ’69 Mustang convertible. On weekends, when the sun was shining, Dave’s neighbour would back his car out of the garage and onto the driveway. He would polish the Mustang for hours and then, after he was done, he would climb back behind the wheel and, feathering the pedal, inch his pride and joy back into the garage.
Dave only ever saw the car leave the man’s driveway once. It was a Saturday morning, and Dave watched as his neighbour eased the car onto a trailer and took it to a show and shine. At the car show, it sat next to other pristine muscle cars. Owners bragged to each other about the low mileage on their babied machines.
Dave’s neighbour was intensely proud of his Mustang, but it was, he said, too nice to drive. He had taken it out for a spin once when he bought it, but the sight of the odometer running was more than he could bear. He took it home and parked it in the garage. He was more concerned with preserving the value of his investment than he was in flexing the American muscle atrophying in his driveway.
The car cried out to be driven on the ragged edge of physics down a windy country road, the top down, the throttle wide open. It deserved to be pushed to its limits, to do what it had been designed to do.
Our jeans deserve the same kind of throttle-wide-open use. They were built to fade, so fade them. The light side is calling your name. Your jeans want you to answer the call. Just as that Mustang wanted to belch smoke and fire and eat up the tarmac, your denim is begging to be used and abused.
There are, at last count, more than three hundred of us, all poised in the starting blocks ready to give our pairs absolute hell—it’s what they were built to do, and it’s what they deserve. Join us. Stomp on the gas pedal and leave a trail of indigo in your wake. Empty the tank and spin the odometer. Your rotation will be waiting for you when you return back to the garage next October.
Step out of the night and into the light.