We are not here to talk about work. Or womenswear. With brand slogans like “Be Honest, Stay True” (Hot Cakes) and “Find Some Place to Get Lost” (Iron & Resin), Desert & Denim is the anti-trade show. Here, you’re more likely to juggle a herb-infused organic cocktail (Art in the Age) while hand-dyeing a hemp tee-shirt (Jungmaven), when waiting for a constellation tattoo (Premium Oakland), than discuss how to make outdoor gear appeal to both your fly-fishing dad and your vagabond little brother. Desert & Denim isn’t about selling another slightly different jacket. It’s about a larger cultural shift. One could argue that it’s inspired by the distinguished dirtbags at Patagonia on Black Friday, who told us “don’t buy this jacket,” and instead urged us to repair our thrift apparel. The choice not to consume and conform reflects a mindset and value structure that has developed outside the paradigm of retail supply chains.
Desert & Denim was a two-day gathering, though most folks hiked and camped for a week, hosted by Juniper Ridge—a wilderness perfume company whose fragrances are inspired by scents experienced on trails and around campfires. Upon entering and receiving an intoxicating Desert Denim Wash spray, I asked how the event came about and if it was going to be an annual affair. I was told, “Basically, Obi Kaufmann and a couple other guys got drunk and were ragging on all the shitty trade shows they’d been to. Will it happen next year? Ummm, ask me at the wrap party.” A self-proclaimed “drunken poet,” Obi is as authentically Kerouac-ian as they come, and is wicked at remembering names. He’s the same vibrant spirit around a campfire at midnight as he is at 9 a.m. leading a foraging hike in the Mojave Desert. The event was small, approximately 23 brands and 100 or so attendees. The booths were invite-only, and tickets to the public were offered only a few days in advance, making it more akin to a curated artists’ salon than a giant outdoor industry trade show.
Focusing on creators and makers, Desert & Denim is equal parts debauchery and inspiration. It’s only fitting that it took place at the Mojave Sands, an eco-chic boutique motel in Joshua Tree. The hotel is managed by Sue Burnett, who was formerly a part of exclusive vintage and vintage-inspired brand Wasteland. One of the most refreshing parts of walking around the booths was interacting with authentic designers and visionaries who are on a mission to reconnect raw, hand-processed goods to thoughtful communities. There weren’t any well-intentioned representatives: Everyone in attendance had indigo-dyed fingertips, scars from welding, and stories to tell about failed dye processes. There’s an honesty to the people behind the brands. Peg and Awl, a contributing couple, said, “Well, we got started because I got pregnant. Our work is made from old things. We used to make them for ourselves, and now we make them for everyone.” Similar stories abounded as creators shared their sourcing and techniques.
There were demos for days on everything from natural dyeing, leather care (Otter Wax), and whiskey-making (Workhorse Rye), but they had to compete for attention from complimentary men’s haircuts (Fellow Barber) or sunset motorcycle rides captured by drone cameras on dried-up lake beds in the Bureau of Land Management territory. Desert & Denim isn’t about stocking stores with the hippest “lumbersexual” gear—it’s about connecting consumers to the process, the creators, and why we choose lockstitch construction techniques (Jack/Knife), chain-stitch techniques (Ft. Lonesome), or hand-shaped fur felt hats (Havstad) over mass-produced industrial goods. It’s uncompromisingly American-made, and reminiscent of simpler times, built to withstand even the best shenanigans.
We went to the desert to howl… to be modern anthropologists. We are here to make the best goods possible, while deriving inspiration from nature and experience. Our goods allow the consumer to become part of the process, and unite them with unapologetic, trailblazing makers and creators. We haven’t gathered these visionaries to talk about budgets and sales, push a lifestyle trend, or figure out how to make money being designers. We came to the desert to uphold the creative spirit that emerges in the in-between moments, the negative space, the room to roam. As Camus said, “With rebellion, awareness is born.”