The Competitive World of Denim: Keat Chan Fills Us In On Denim Fade Contests

Levi Strauss & Co.
January 6, 2015

You might never have thought of wearing jeans as a sport. But a community of denimheads regularly takes their love for indigo to a competitive level. In the name of raw denim fade contests, jean devotees wear a select pair of raw denim day in and day out, posting photos of their evolved pants online and winning prizes depending on wear and tear.

Keat Chan’s Dry vs. Dry, which wrapped up at the end of October, is one such contest. The event had five categories: Most Destroyed, Best Vintage Fade, Best Contrast Fade, Best Overall Fade, and Lucky Draw—a category Chan invented to help encourage those who might be insecure about their entry to post. Denimheads enter by submitting photos of their most worn denim to Hall of Fades’ The Vault, which has become a go-to internet encyclopedia of for how different types of denim fade over time. Not surprisingly, it happens to include some beautifully broken in pairs of Levi’s.

We caught up with Chan to learn more about the underground world of competitive denim.


Keat Chan

Keat Chan

Unzipped: Who enters denim contests?

Keat Chan: People from all walks of life enter denim contests. Hall of Fade has a very international viewership. I’ve found submissions from everyone from veteran denimheads to the fresh-off-the-wagon denim enthusiasts.

What are the most prized fade elements that you look for in an entry?

Structure. That’s the first thing that jumps out at you. When the front left and right look almost symmetrical in fade structure, that’s a sight to behold. We also look out for Atari fades on the seams, honeycombs on the back of the knee, stacking, and roping on the hem. I personally like some small rips in beat-up denim—this gives it character. Like fades, every rip is unique, with its own story to tell.

Hall of Fame Contest Entry

Hall of Fade Contest Entry

What extremes have you seen contestants go to in the name of victory?

Where do I begin? The most common artificial method to achieve structured fading is starching. People add starch to the whiskers and honeycombs to have that ultra-defined structure. I’ve also seen people use the back of a ballpoint pen to rub the whisker creases to wear out the indigo, for contrast. Another method is using sand paper to rub down the lap. And how could we forget sandblasting?

What is it about a pair of well-worn jeans that is so beautiful?

It truly is art. Every year that I host a Dry vs. Dry contest and see the submissions, each pair looks unique. It could be between twenty and fifty submissions—which might not seem like very much, but remember, these are pairs of jeans that people have dedicated years of their lives to. If you framed a well-faded pair of denim and sold it at an art gallery, it wouldn’t surprise me if it fetched a pretty sum. I have every intention of framing a few of my pairs at some point!

Fore more from Keat Chan follow him on Twitter @SaintKeat.