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Denim do-over: DTLA company gives jeans, jackets a second life

By Hayley Fox
Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012, at 10:51AM
Denim Factory

Janet Sung is the one-woman show behind Denim Refinery.

Denim Refinery is nearing its one-year anniversary of acid-washing, camouflaging and customizing customer's outdated or old denim clothing items.

The exclusively online store was created by DTLA resident Janet Sung, who said she "grew up" around denim and loves the creativity and artistry involved with specializing it.

Sung is based out of her apartment on 6th and Hope streets, but spends most of her time in Long Beach -- where she rents a small piece of her father's factory. He washes and treats clothes there for manufacturers; Sung does it for individuals.

The Denim Refinery website sells vintage and designer finds Sung accumulates and alters, as well as customer-customized articles. She doesn't build clothing from scratch, but has people send in their own denim items for a makeover.

Sung said her process is: "refurbish, reinvent and conceptualize."

The refinery takes the denim and distresses, paints, waxes or washes the pieces into having a second life. Sung said customers order processes as basic as lightening the color on their jeans -- to having an entire jacket coated in a gold snakeskin foil, or their name lasered into the back.

Many of these techniques seem and look like D.I.Y. approaches, but they do come with a commercial price.

Dipping sleeves costs $62, splashing jeans costs $74 and overall hazing is $68.

Pre-made vintage pieces can cost as much as $230 for a leopard print jacket or $225 for a two-tone camo coat.

"The whole rarity factor is very big," Sung said in regards to how she determines the price for certain items.

Sung's pre-made pieces include the "Kapowski" acid-wash denim jacket and the "big dipper" jacket with a spattering of stars on the shoulder.

She encourages people to experiment with their clothing at home too, but says the benefits of having them altered at a store like hers are numerous.

She has all of the professional tools and equipment to feign the desired worn look most people attempt on their own -- using knives and razor blades. She explained that many big name jean companies don't do in-house distressing, because creating that vintage look is an art form.

Many denim pieces that come through the refinery also get a thorough washing and softening treatment. Sung describes the transformation as, "it's like touching jeans...and then touching a cotton shirt."

She receives anywhere from 20 orders a week to more than 100, but that over time her business has been consistent in its growth.

"I'm excited to see where I'm at 10 years," said Sung. "I also want to be one of the pioneers Downtown -- hopefully once I'm ready."

Sung wants to open a Denim Refinery store in DTLA, and gave props to the fairly new custom jean store Den'm Bar on 7th Street.

"I'm just kind of waiting for the right moment," Sung said, adding that she's always scouting locations and new Downtown areas.

Sung sees Downtown as a "huge retail opportunity," and said she appreciates the sense of community in the area, as well as the fashion and artistic sensibilities of many of its residents.

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