AG was founded in 2000 in a partnership between Adriano Goldschmied and infamous jeans manufacturer, Mr. Ku from Koos Manufactoring in California. Goldschmied left in 2004 to start new ventures and left his namesake brand in Mr. Ku’s hands, who has carried the brand ever since.
Koos Manufacturing, Inc. is one of the largest denim manufacturing facilities in the United States. The facility is located in Los Angeles, C.A. and is a vertical operation housing a design studio, cutting, sewing, pattern, washing and finishing departments, a retail division, customer service department and a photo studio, among others.
Since its inception, AG has grown from a boutique line to a huge name in denim. So large, in fact, that Mr. Ku decided to focus his manufactoring entirely on AG and their other brand Big Star and cease producing for anyone else. No big deal you think? Not when you learn that Koos Manufacturing has been paramount in the success of brands such as Calvin Klein,The Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic, Lucky Brand, J. Crew, and The Buckle to name a few. At one point they were producing 150,000 Calvin Klien jeans and 150,000 Gap jeans per week. So to go from those kind of numbers to simply producing two of their own labels? Things have got to be going pretty well!
We sat down with Mr. Ku, as well as Kathy Kweon, VP and Brand director, and Janet Choi, Sales Manager, to find out a bit more about what makes AG so successful and what their plans for the future hold.
What was behind the move to only producing your won brands at Koos?
Kathy: “With the demand and the growth of our product we want to concentrate solely on our own brands. With everything being housed under one roof, creatively that gives us so much freedom. We can get an idea, turn things around fast, experiment with laundries and looks on site, and it makes it a more easily controllable product.”
Mr. Ku: ”It also means that the bulk manufacturing quality always surpasses the samples. For other normal denim brands, you see the samples and they are 95-100% but when it comes to manufacturing bulk, the quality tends to go down to 80%. For us its the other way around. We produce samples at 80-85% but the bulk is always higher spec at 100%. Everything is made in the factory: the trade show stand, the furniture, the signage, so we have have complete creative control of the AG look. I even drive out to find the pieces of natural wood that they carve the logo into myself!”
What’s next for AG; what do the next couple of seasons hold?
Kathy: “We’re expanding into ready-to-wear and the tops business, which is exciting for us.”
Janet: “Inspiration for S/S 13 involves embroidery and crochet looks inspired by a Santa Fe story. We’ve really mastered the last couple of seasons on catching onto trends and applying them into our ranges. We utilize our own ideas into flash fashion items. We’re also working on some future collaborations to be announced shortly so watch this space.”
Tell us about the AG customer
Kathy: “The AG customer is very loyal and once they start buying AG, they rarely leave. One consumer who is in love with our product loved his denim so much he kept repairing it, and repairing it and it got so destroyed he could no longer wear it. But he loved the jean so much couldn’t bring himself to throw it away, so he sent us a letter along with the jean and we have it in our archive and sent him a new jean. That’s how much some people love AG.”
Tell us about your strong links with Japan.
Mr. Ku: “Our own head designer, named Masaaki Matsubara, is Japanese and comes from Edwin Japan. We also work closely with Italian denim consultant, Piero Turk. So our aim is to grow the global appeal of the brand with links in Europe, Asia and America. In Japan AG is the no. 1 premium denim brand, holding 52% of the premium denim market. When we opened a store in Omotesando, in Aoyama, Tokyo on March 16th we had fans flying in from Osaka to visit the store. The store, which is reasonably small, is selling 400,000 jeans per month.”
And you have a story behind your button design?
Mr. Ku: “Yes, the button reads 49 but also resembles the letters AG. The inspiration came when I was playing golf and I was walking alongside an old railway track. I looked down at the sleepers and saw a beautiful old giant nail in the railway track. I tried to pull it out and failed but called someone from the office to bring tools and they pulled it out and I felt I had a very beautiful thing. I went back to the factory and showed it to my son, he also recongized we had something special and we based the button on this nail. The rivets are also based on [it]. Even the trims, made by Cobra, are about ten times more expensive to produce than other brand’s trims.”
Mr. Ku then very passionately took us through the key quality details that go into every AG jean:
- The fly opening seam has been moved so that the opening is not bagged out. This creates a cleaner edge and less bulky feeling (as well as preventing a nail break ladies!)
- No bagged out pocket bags to create a smoother line on the top block.
- Extra reinforced layer within fly button waistband to create increased strength. This is particularly relevant because of the use of lighter weight and stretch fabrics currently in fashion.
- Chain stitch hems and the use of high-spec sewing machines to produce the garment that cost twice as much as traditional sewing machines.
- 85% of the fabrics they use are top quality Japanese fabrics and the rest are all Italian. The softness of the fabric comes from the fiber itself rather than the treatments: for instance pima cotton yarns and sateen weaves. They also exclusively design certain fabrics in collaboration with their mills.
These details make for a better product but also mean the brand hardly ever gets returns.