Style Profiles: Sam Ku of AG Jeans

As part of our fall 2014 Men’s Shop Catalog, we profiled 4 real men of style and substance. Here, AG Jeans creative director Sam Ku.

In taking the reins at AG as the denim brand’s creative director, Sam Ku not only followed in the footsteps of his dad, who helped build the business from the ground up—he also took on the legacy of famed designer Adriano Goldschmied, AG’s original namesake.

In the years since, Sam has met and exceeded those high expectations, establishing AG as a leader in the technology that drives some of the most comfortable, stylish jeans on the market. Keep reading for his insights on USA manufacturing, keeping it simple, and the step-by-step craftsmanship that occurs at AG’s L.A. factory.


Sam Ku, on the advantages of vertical integration:
“What sets AG apart is that we own our factory. It’s actually one of very few vertically integrated denim factories in the world, and what I mean by that is the cutting, sewing, washing and finishing are all done in one factory. It’s a big advantage because most of our competitors have to work with separate factories for all these different processes—they have to send their purchase order to a cutting house, then to a sewing factory and when it’s done sewing, they’ve gotta send it to a wash house. When that’s done, it gets sent to a finishing house and a warehouse—so the product changes hands multiple, multiple times. And these are all separate companies that are looking out for themselves, whereas at our facilities, everyone has the same objective—which is quality first.”

On AG’s premium fabrics and washes:
“Most of our denim fabrics are made in Japan, and a lot are made in Italy as well. Most of our fabrics are exclusive to AG, so they’re fabrics that we’ve developed with the mill, with a particular function and look in mind. Because we designed it that way, it performs the way we want it to. The wash is very important too, of course, because when you want that vintage look, it’s a process, and it requires a lot of know-how. It’s kind of a blend of art and science to make a good wash.”

On the importance of manufacturing in the USA:
“I think that being made in the USA is very important, especially to AG, because ‘made in the USA’ always stood for something—it always stood for quality, and I think that it’s kind of sad that so much manufacturing has moved outside the US. If you’ve got a pair of AG jeans on, chances are that they’re made in the US, in this factory that we’re standing in today. It’s a point of pride to actually make something and put something together with our own hands. And I think it’s important to keep that alive.”

On the many steps that go into one pair of AG jeans:

1) Cutting. “Once we receive all the raw materials in our facilities, we have these spreading machines that go back and forth and are based on a belt system, which kind of rolls out the denim really nicely. There’s no pulling on the fabric, which would compromise the fabric integrity. Once we lay it out, we let the fabric sit for a day, just to let it get back to kind of a relaxed state, and that ensures more quality consistency. Then the fabric moves to cutting—basically, there’s an electronic knife that goes around, cutting out all the pieces of the denim that comprise one pair of jeans. After cutting, everything gets put on these little metal trolleys and gets taken to the sewing factory.”

2) Sewing. “There are many, many steps of sewing—everything from back-pocket embroideries to back-pocket setting machines that are automatic to single-needle machines, double-needle machines, overlock machines…We also do special things that only AG does. For example, we do a little waistband construction that keeps the front of the fly very nice and clean. Instead of having the seam hit the end, we kind of flip the seam to the inside, and it ensures kind of a flatter front fly and also makes it easier to button.”

3) Dry Processing. “After sewing, we generally take it to what we call the ‘dry processing’ area, where we’ll do laser treatments to create the whisker designs and also some hand-sanding to create a distressed or used-vintage look.”

4) Washing. “Then we’ll take it to the washing facility—what we call ‘wet processing’—where the jeans go into a stonewash, for example, if you want a vintage stonewashed effect. We also have machines that can add any kind of other looks with different types of chemicals, whether we want it tinted, whether we want to bleach it down. Depending on what the look is, we can do all of that on those machines as well.”

5) Finishing. “Finally, we send it to our finishing area, where all the goods are inspected. They’ll trim off any excess threads, add any tags and labels that are necessary, and then they’re ready to be shipped. It’s all done here at our L.A. headquarters.”

On evolving perceptions of premium denim:
“AG has definitely grown and evolved a lot since it was founded in 2001. Back then, the number of customers that were ready for high-quality jeans was a lot smaller than it is today. I feel like when we started, there might have been a lot of customers who were like, ‘Why would I pay $200 for jeans when I can get them for $50?’ Once people give them a try, and they realize what the difference is and how much better they look and feel, I think they’ve definitely started to understand why we make high-quality jeans and the advantages of wearing them. The fabric is super soft and looks great, the fit is great, and the washes are much more sophisticated than what you can buy for half the price. And, they last longer.”

On men with high standards:
“Denim in menswear is evolving a lot, because the male consumer is definitely becoming more and more sophisticated. I feel like ten years ago, there weren’t that many guys who were into fashion and that knowledgeable. But with information as readily available as it is today, those guys who wanna know more definitely make the effort to do their research. We all have friends who nerd out on men’s fashion, or men’s denim, or sneakers, or whatever it may be. I feel like there’s been a big movement to having a knowledgeable consumer base, especially when it comes to menswear.”

On his own daily uniform:
“My personal style is definitely very simple and comfortable. I wear the same jeans all the time. People always assume, ‘Oh gosh, you must have 50 pairs of jeans!’ And actually, I keep just one or two at a time. Sneakers or simple desert boots—just things that are well-made and kind of classic and timeless. Things that you won’t be embarrassed to see yourself wearing in a picture five years from now—like, ‘Oh my god, why did I wear that?’ I prefer to just keep it simple.”

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On the the most stylish men of all time:
“I would say the best-dressed men are guys with classic style. If you look at a picture of Paul Newman, let’s say, there’s not one bad picture of him. He always looks impeccable, whether he’s dressed up or casual, and I think it goes back to that classic, timeless sensibility—and clothes that are proportioned correctly. That kind of stuff will look good no matter what decade you’re in.”

On after-hours pursuits:
“I’m a golfer. I don’t play nearly as much as I wish I could, because most of my time is taken up here at the factory or with my family, but I do try to get out once in a while. I love cars and, in particular, I like air-cooled Porsche 911s—so anything from ’66 to ’98, really. Those are kinda my two passions, golf and vintage 911s. I was born and raised in Southern California, so I’m also a big Lakers fan.”

On the only career advice that never fails:
“Trust what you’re thinking. I’m a believer that your first instinct is most often correct. I think we have a pretty collaborative environment here at AG, and I definitely like to know people’s opinions. We discuss a lot of things, and I’m presented with a lot of information. I wanna know what all those people around me are thinking, but at the end of the day, a lot of those things are my decision. So even if people disagree with what direction I’m thinking, if I feel strongly about it, I have to go with it. And I think that oftentimes, you end up being correct and making the right decision if you go with your gut.”

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Read our previous Q&A with Sam, shop AG Jeans
and read more Style Profiles here.

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