There were three brands that spearheaded the evolution of denim in the mid 20th-century; Levi’s, Wrangler and Lee. Levi’s already boasted a history unmatched at the time and the they were continuing to innovate with new fits and expanded product ranges. Wrangler, although lesser known, successfully capitalised off the popularity of the American West, even going as far to hire professional rodeo riders in 1947 to promote their most iconic pair of jeans, the 11MWZ. Whilst not as lauded by the masses as Levi’s, Lee had the full package, and were the first brand to introduce a slim-fitting denim jacket in 1931, the evocatively named Storm Rider. For some however, it’s Lee’s jeans that have had the biggest impact even to this day.
Ryan Martin, founder of the Colorado-based W.H. Ranch Dungarees completely hand-makes denim jeans from start to finish in his one-man workshop, producing what are perhaps the finest vintage-style work pants around. As is the same for many denimheads, he feels a somewhat personal connection to denim but his love for the fabric was very much born through his ‘personal connection’ to Lee, “I grew up in Salina, Kansas, the birthplace of Lee jeans. They outfitted my forefathers working the farmland on the dusty plains of Kansas…there is this romanticism to the notion that I am wearing the same jeans that my ancestors wore on the farm while they were struggling to survive The Dust Bowl. There is something very special about knowing you are essentially wearing the same jeans made from the same denim that your great-grandfather picked up at the local feed store. All of my cuts are based off of cuts Lee offered from the 1930-1950s. This period to me was really the golden age of denim, so I tirelessly strive to replicate what made those jeans so great. It's not just the fit of course, but the construction techniques that were used. I obsess about every detail and have finally reached the point with the acquisition of machines to fully replicate the construction. It was a long, tiresome, and often-times defeating journey, but now I can honestly say that what is being produced out of my studio is simply the best, if only because it replicates the best”.
W.H. Ranch Dungarees is a complete one-man operation. Ryan has joked to me saying that he’s the ‘spokesman, CEO, CFO, head of design, production, marketing…even the janitor!’ His company is no joke though. It is the embodiment of his constant strive for perfection. You can see it in every garment he produces. Take for example his signature 1901 Ryder jeans. These are made by Ryan from start to finish using single needle construction with vintage sewing machines, which allow him to perform such rarities as three-thread overlocked edges and double chain-stitched inseams, two markers of outstanding quality and attention to detail. A typical pair of Ryan’s jeans will also feature heavy 10oz cotton drill cloth pocket bags, vintage-inspired Japanese thread, YKK raw brass buttons and pure copper hand-set rivets. His vegetable-tanned leather tags are branded with his logo, by hand of course.