10 Questions With Molly Spittal, Designer & Co-Founder of Vancouver’s Own Decade Studio Denim

Molly Spittal is one of the founders of Vancouver-based denim brand Decade Studio. The local company has spent the past 2 years creating killer jeans, overalls and jackets, sewn ethically and made with 100% low-environmental-impact cotton (no fillers). This upcoming Spring, Decade will also be introducing all-inclusive sizing.

We recently went through the motions of fitting ourselves with a pair of Decade Studio jeans, via a one-on-one Zoom session with Molly from her Ellis Building headquarters. Plenty was covered during the 30-minute time slot (you can book your free virtual fitting here), including what to expect during the break-in period, denim care, and the reason why “stretch” denim doesn’t hold up over time. Since it wasn’t nearly enough time to cover all of our questions, we’ve asked several more…

What’s the story behind the name Decade Studio?

The name came to us in the very first months of development – the four founders were on the hunt for our perfect manufacturing partner in Europe and we were in a taxi brainstorming name ideas. I threw out the name “Decade” because the founders are made up of 2 couples, and at that time each couple had been together for 10 years. And it just stuck! The name also works perfectly with the concept behind the product: longevity and timelessness.

What are the steps that go into creating a pair of Decade Studio jeans, from start to finish?

There is a lot of attention paid to pattern making and fit, so I’m deeply involved in the development from start to finish. As the designer, I conceptualize the shape using initial sketches and then transfer that into what’s called a “tech pack”. A tech pack is a design tool used to communicate with our team in Portugal, using highly detailed digital renderings including every aspect from stitch length and hardware specs to measurements down to the millimetre. The pattern department uses this to create a digital pattern and then everything is triple checked and sent to cutting. After everything is lined up and sewn into a working prototype the jeans are sent to the wash facility to apply the requested process (usually stone-washing) and test the shrinkage of the pattern which is calculated before-hand. Then it’s sent back to me for fit testing! This is always my favourite part because we test several sizes and shapes on different fit models across the size spectrum and the direct feedback is invaluable. From there we correct every detail that needs attention – size, shape, taper, rise, wash, etc. and send back the notes and any alterations (I do the alterations in my studio so I know they’ll be perfect) and then the production team will make a second prototype including all the corrections. After the second fittings we send any notes and give the go-ahead for production!

“One of my favourite things about our facility is that they value the health and well-being of their team over everything else. During COVID they have shut down operations (twice!) in order to keep their employees safe and healthy, and we wouldn’t have it any other way (even if that means late deliveries).”

What makes some denim superior to others, and how did you choose yours, specifically?

We exclusively use natural fibres, which means using denim with zero stretch. We are dedicated to making a product that enjoys a long life cycle in your closet, designed with intention and made in small quantities using ethical practices. The reason we use 100% cotton denim is because of the long lasting, recyclable and repairable properties of the material. We specifically opted for a family-run Italian denim mill that we selected for the high quality cotton yarns which adhere to the BCI (Better Cotton Initiative) and the superb weave. They have been making superior quality denim since 1938. The mill is known worldwide for its sustainability and innovation, and produces a variety of weights and finishes, but we chose our signature 14oz denim based on the feel after breaking them in. They start out very stiff and quite tight and they evolve with wear, eventually becoming a beautiful reflection of your daily routine and comfortable enough to wear every day, all day. This incredible denim is the perfect accompaniment to our timeless silhouettes.

Ok, same question as above, but for your factory in Portugal – what makes it so special?

Sustainability and ethical practices were top of mind when we started the search for our partners. Something that only comes with experience is understanding the importance of clear and constant communication with your manufacturing partners and our factory checks every box. They are a small, family-run outfit who pay their employees fair wages and foster an outstanding work environment. The traditional practice of making high quality jeans is what they specialize in and once we saw their work and sat down for a long initial conversation I was convinced this was it. One of my favourite things about our facility is that they value the health and well-being of their team over everything else. During COVID they have shut down operations (twice!) in order to keep their employees safe and healthy, and we wouldn’t have it any other way (even if that means late deliveries).

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Prior to Decade Studio you worked with leather, primarily making bags (The Stowe). How did your past experience prepare you for working with denim?

I’ve always been drawn to working with heavy materials. I founded my first company The Stowe leather handbags (which sadly closed last year), so my minimal design sensibility and love for long-lasting, sturdy materials are owed directly to my experience making handbags. For the first 4 years of The Stowe, I made all of my bags entirely by hand in my studio and I learned quickly that less is more. Not only for my own sanity as a one-woman production team, but also for the longevity of the product itself. An heirloom piece is not meant to be trendy, but rather timeless. I still design this way – shaving off unnecessary details until the product reveals itself in its simplest form. The biggest challenge with denim is offering a product that is classic but revolutionary in some way. Otherwise, why would I do it? The denim space is so saturated that there would be no reason to exist if we were doing what everyone else is doing. What really sets us apart is the fit of our jeans. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, jeans are ubiquitous for a reason. We just want to make the best version of that one thing you can’t live without.

Stretch denim has been sold to us as a revolutionizing development, but it sounds like it’s actually the opposite: a big step backwards. What other common denim myths would you like to debunk?

The confusion around sizing is something that really enters into my daily life through conversations with customers. There are several influences that make the general public feel insecure about buying jeans – from the introduction of “vanity sizing” to making clothing that is only made for the industry standard fit model. Overconsumption and fast fashion have created an atmosphere where the big players define what options are available – if that makes sense. There is a reason that every pair of jeans you’ve bought in the last 15 years has broken down quickly (queue the crotch blow-out) if you’re lucky enough to find something that fits in the first place. Big corporations want to keep you in the consumption cycle, coming back for more.

“Our project is dedicated to redistribution of wealth to marginalized communities, and diversity is top-of-mind in our hiring practices for contract workers and (one day) in-house staff. We can only hope to lead by example and prove to our community that we care through our actions.”

Denim has been worn by the masses for decades, yet this upcoming spring Decade Studio is making history by venturing into uncharted territory with your new inclusive sizing. Why do you think it’s taken so long to get to this point? And why now?

It’s difficult to overstate how overlooked the plus community is in ethical fashion. As someone who is relatively new to the sizing game (we launched Decade in April 2019) I identified the gap in the denim-space that I wanted to fill immediately. That was the need for shape inclusivity in non-stretch denim aka: real jeans that fit curvy bodies. The size inclusivity was a longer journey for me. I felt defensive when anyone from the plus community asked when we plan on launching extended sizes. My automatic response was to think, “We offer up to size 38 and that’s already ground-breaking. What more do you want from me?” It took a few beats and a few more (very thoughtful) DMs for me to shake this self-centred mentality. I can’t thank these people enough for stepping in and calling me out for not being size inclusive. It means a lot to me, and the work that the plus community puts into calling designers out (or in) needs to be acknowledged. My goal has always been to offer ethically made denim for everybody, so why on earth would that not include plus customers? I literally couldn’t find a reason why I wouldn’t just…do it. So I did it! I truly care about everyone having access to ethical slow fashion. I honestly don’t know why it’s taking so long for (most) other brands to offer this? But I know that every company has a set of values and their decision making reflects those values. I’ll just leave it at that 😉

You strike me as a “problem solver” type. What other materials or problems do you think you might be interested in tackling in the future?

The thing I’m most interested in is dismantling the white supremacy and sexism that is baked into the fashion industry (and basically every other industry). This is obviously a giant issue that I can’t tackle myself, but what I can do is foster a safe environment for all identities across any spectrum in our workplace and continue to keep this conversation going. I understand the power of my white voice and I will use it to promote positive change in an industry that badly needs to redefine their relationship with the word ‘equality’. Our project is dedicated to redistribution of wealth to marginalized communities and diversity is top-of-mind in our hiring practices for contract workers and (one day) in-house staff. We can only hope to lead by example and prove to our community that we care through our actions.

Speaking of the future, so far you’ve got three jeans fits, overalls and a jacket in the Decade Studio collection. What other shapes or clothing items can we look forward to going forward?

My goal is to make jeans for literally everybody, so as we grow I am really looking forward to adding new shapes based on direct feedback and customer requests. So keep those DMs coming if you don’t see what you’re looking for on our site! Our next season (Spring 2021) includes the delivery of our “complete sizing” which is when all styles of jeans will be offered up to size 50 (4X) and we will continue to expand our size range until we have made a truly inclusive size range.

Lastly, what is your all-time best denim story to date?
When my traditional denim manufacturer told me I was “absolutely nuts” for designing curvy denim with no stretch 🙂 That’s when I really knew I had something here.

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