Kingpins Stories: Salli Deighton – Closing My Loop

A few years before Covid hit, we started plans for LaundRE, a UK nearshoring and reprocessing denim hub. LaundRE was conceived from all my experiences over the years and my passion to provide a solution for the British denim industry … and for all the discarded denim I am responsible for creating!

This is my denim story and what has led me to LaundRE.

I have always been difficult and wanted the impossible! (Just ask my mother!)

My love affair with denim started around 13 years old, when I bought a pair of Pepe “Betty” jeans from our local high street independent shop, Pants Corner. This tiny store was a mecca for every teenager seeking the coolest (and usually the tightest) pants available. It was usual to see legs sticking out from under the ‘saloon’-style’ changing room doors as we laid down to zip up our jeans. (Thank heavens for the introduction of elastane in jeans!)

I had begged the store to order some Bettys for me. In those days, the retailers would often order your requests as well as a few extra pairs for like-minded customers. This shopping experience made you feel unique and special, just like the buzz we get when we find the perfect pair of vintage jeans.

Even at that age, I felt jeans gave me superpower, a confidence… I felt like me.

You’re not designing anything until you know how we make it!’

This was probably the best bit of advice I was ever given. I was hired as an assistant designer back in the ’90s when Wrangler had a factory in Scotland. The legendary factory manager, Raymond Brown, showed me around the Falkirk unit, sharing his frustrations with my naivety. The challenge the factory was facing at the time, he explained, was adapting production to make a button-fly jean. As an eager young designer, determined to change the world, those few days in Falkirk grounded me and taught me that a pair of jeans is complex and detail-driven; and an incorrect line drawn on a sketch could throw the factory into turmoil trying to construct it!

I designed fashion in a pit village in Nottingham

At Wrangler, I worked in Calverton, a pit village in Nottingham — not quite what you would expect for an international denim brand. I loved it l! We mixed with everyone, the customer service team, the warehouse; it was a united team. Denim was special to everyone in that building and everyone cared. I started my career in the tops department and was often sent to Kedgewick (now Denykem), a local Wakefield laundry, armed with jackets and shirt samples to wash. I was so fortunate to have had the privilege to learn about denim and processing in the UK with the flexibility, speed, and the low carbon footprint this gave us.

In the early 2000s UK denim manufacturing closed and my life became a bag full of samples, a boarding pass, and a long-haul flight! 

I love a 5-hour traffic jam in Dhaka!

Bangladesh, India, China and Turkey became my second homes. Istanbul may be my favourite city, but Dhaka has found a special place in my heart.

In my early freelance days, I consulted for Mothercare, whose profits helped fund a maternity hospital in Dhaka in partnership with Save the Children. Developing products that have a greater purpose built such a sense of pride in all of us. We worked better, smarter and with a purpose.

Many hours in Dhaka traffic gave me the opportunity to get to know many hard-working denim teams and I developed an immense respect for the people who work in our industry. These passionate people may not share such happy memories of being stuck in a car with me for hours, but they taught me so much about the country, the culture and helped fuel my passion to support positive change for all.

There’s something rather addictive about the smell of bleach!

I can still smell the loaded belly washers filled to the brim with stones and pumice. I have seen the good, the bad and the downright terrifying in laundries around the world. The most bizarre had to be a chicken shed in the Chinese countryside, complete with a couple of metal legs, rags, a bucket of potassium permanganate and a few chickens. Sometimes it has been truly heart-breaking seeing the conditions in the laundry and knowing retailers and brands have turned a blind eye for the sake of the margin.

I share these experiences with as many people as possible with the intention of driving positive change.

Thank goodness the smell of bleach is now being replaced with a faint whiff of ozone and many next generation laundries are as technical and spotless as star ships.

Too many stroopwaffels

These laundry experiences drove me to learn the chemistry and the science. One of my happy places has always been sitting at the central bar at Kingpins with Rowan Hunt, Miguel Sanchez and many other denim geeks hearing about the next generation of boosters or enzymes. Our pilgrimage to Amsterdam twice a year gave me the opportunity to connect with every part of our industry and build my knowledge.

Being bossy and stubborn is one of my better talents!

Over more than 20 years, my no-nonsense reputation has given me the opportunity to develop better denim for many brands and retailers including M&S, F&F and ASOS. I have rebuilt denim ranges, engineering every aspect of the jean into the cost frame and delivered huge sales growth to all my clients. Whenever I see those shots of landfill, I wonder how much of that pile are jeans I created.

Developing denim is much more than just a pair of jeans. Everyone in the team goes on the journey with me. It’s no secret that there is a lack of denim knowledge in UK retail. The buying teams frequently move departments and there is no budget for assistants to travel. Buyers are often promoted into a multi-million-pound denim department having never seen a factory or laundry. I feel that the most important part of my job is upskilling the teams and bridging this knowledge gap.

Closing my own loop

All these experiences led me to LaundRE but three significant events cemented our plans.

• At M&S, our new denim broke the sales records and there was no facility to support fast response #jeansgate

• At ASOS, I worked with the sourcing team trying to reprocess unsold stocks. We had laser machines in all our amazing overseas suppliers and not a single machine on our doorstep.

• The recyclers are full of discarded denim and there is a huge opportunity to reinvent this waste by supporting upcyclers like White Weft and other new brands.

The demand for LaundRE came to us.

When Covid hit, I received many calls asking where stocks could be reprocessed. Stores were closed and a seasonal rephase was needed.

Building a local hub to support the retailers, brands, and overseas suppliers will encourage better buying practices and educate the next generation. It’s a no brainer!

I want to be Raymond Brown

I want to be that inspirational factory manager telling designers they’re not designing anything until they learn how to make it. We want to show them, encourage them, and let them experiment and grow aligned with our own R&D and future thinking.

We want to support all the new Pants Corners with small runs and a personalized service.

We want to support overseas vendors with a responsive local facility, so they don’t get hurt if another pandemic hits.

I don’t profess to be a laundry expert or a factory manager, but what I bring is my knowledge, an extraordinary denim life, a world of connections and an incredible, collaborative denim industry that is supporting us with this venture.

I don’t want to talk about sustainability anymore, I want to make it happen in the UK.

Thanks for the inspiration, KPs!

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