Jeans—the quintessential symbol of American style, and yet with thousands of iterations around the world and over the past 139 years, it all comes down to two factors: the fit and the wash. California-based brand AG Jeans is widely regarded as a master of both.
Melding design expertise with technical ingenuity, the brand was founded in 2000 when Adriano Goldschmied, a legend among European denim brands like Diesel, teamed up with denim manufacturing veteran Yul Ku. The elder Ku’s son, Sam, joined the company in 2001 straight out of college. After getting his start in the research and development lab, Sam worked his way up through the ranks, eventually being awarded the title of Creative Director in 2008. (Goldschmied, who previously held that role, left the company in ’04.)
Now the visionary behind this classic-slash-cutting-edge denim empire, the younger Ku (who still works alongside his dad) was kind enough to answer a few of our questions. Read the interview below, and be sure to shop the latest from AG Jeans.
1. Your dad, Yul Ku, has played a key role in the denim industry for a long time now—do you have memories of this from growing up?
“My father has been in the apparel business for over 35 years, so I remember him working a lot, and I also remember him bringing home jeans for the family. Going to visit him at work as a child was interesting, because seeing the process is really overwhelming, especially as a kid.”
2. What are your feelings on being part of the ‘family business’? Did you have any reservations about following in those footsteps?
“Being part of a family business is great. A big part of running a business is being able to trust your colleagues around you, and it’s great to be working alongside family members that you trust. I didn’t resist falling into the family business. I thought it’d be a great opportunity for me, and I loved the apparel business immediately.”
3. Although AG caters to a wide range of customers, including a more classic guy, the company is known for pioneering new materials and techniques. What are some experimental methods that have become standard practice?
“AG is known throughout the industry as a brand that is cutting-edge in terms of our innovative ways of making jeans. One of our newest innovations is implementing laser-burning onto our jeans, which is used to create abrasions and burn indigo off the surface. Using art files, we can burn everything from whiskers, holes, and even patterns onto the product. We also use an ozone-generating machine that is used to wash down the color, and to reduce back-staining [leftover indigo residue that could alter the finish]. Our biggest innovation is the process we use to make our ‘AG-ed Vintage’ jeans, which is a closely guarded secret that I can’t share with you now!”
4. What are 3 of your current favorites from AG Jeans?
AG Jeans ‘Matchbox’ Slim Straight Leg Jeans in 3 Year Coated. “This is a very interesting fabric. It’s a denim from Italy with a blue pigment coating on top. The result is a blue denim that is a very saturated blue, and it almost looks like a non-denim. It has a little bit of stretch, so that the wearer will have the added benefit of comfort. We’ve done the ‘AG-ed’ finish on the jeans here, with a slight amount of wear, as if it’s just starting to break in.” (shop this style)
AG Jeans ‘Matchbox’ in Coated Black. “These jeans are our popular Matchbox cut, which is a great slim, straight leg shape. These are your perfect pair of black jeans. They are over-dyed black, and then coated on top, which gives the jeans that rich, super-black color. Every guy should have this black jean in his closet.” (shop this style)
AG Jeans ‘Matchbox’ in Tweed Grey. A great denim alternative. They can be worn to the office or worn going out. A very versatile pair of jeans done in a grey tweed yarn-dye fabrication.” (shop this style)
5. We hear a lot from our Men’s team here at Nordstrom about the AG Protégé being one of our most popular fits. Why do you think so many guys enjoy it?
“The Protégé is popular because it is a very easy cut to wear. It fits almost everybody, and can be worn everywhere. It’s not too slim, and not too loose. The Protégé is a solid straight-leg, which every guy needs.” (shop this style)
6. What’s an average ‘day at the office’ like for you?
“Things move so quickly here that there is no average day in the office—but generally, my day involves lots of meetings. I’ll have meetings with our design team to go over new developments, a meeting to go over e-commerce strategies, then maybe some meetings that involve marketing, PR, and advertising. My role at AG encompasses pretty much everything AG, and every day is very different.”
7. Could you touch on AG Jeans’ vertical manufacturing model, and your feelings about the importance of ‘Made in the USA’?
“One of our biggest advantages at AG is that we’re backed by a fully vertical jeans manufacturing company, Koos Manufacturing, Inc., based in South Gate, California, where we produce jeans from start to finish, all under one roof. Our competitors are at a disadvantage because they have to work with separate cutting factories, then send the product to a different sewing facility, then transport the product to a different wash house. The product changes hands from vendor to vendor, and you lose a large amount of quality and control. For us, everything from cutting to sewing to laundry and finishing is done here. We are able to keep a close eye on our production, and our designers are able to work with our technicians very closely to design and create the amazing product that we love.”
8. What are some of the job titles of your denim artisans, and what exactly do their jobs entail?
“Due to AG’s success these days, there are lots of companies and headhunters looking to poach employees from our team. The only thing I’ll say is that we have a great team that is creating great design!”
9. What inspires you? Who are some of your denim style icons throughout history and today?
“The idea of creating new product that people will love is the biggest inspiration for me. Some of my favorite style icons: Jane Birkin, Françoise Hardy, Paul Newman, Serge Gainsbourg, Steve McQueen.”
SHOP: AG JEANS | ALL MEN’S DENIM
[Sam Ku portrait by Anne Cusack, courtesy of LA Times. Detail photos by Justin Abbott, shot at our flagship store in Downtown Seattle. Individuals featured do not endorse Nordstrom.]