Denim Design Lab Strikes Vintage Retail Concept

Miner49er stores opens in San Clemente.

Denim Design Lab opened Miner49er in San Clemente’s historic Spanish-style village.

LOS ANGELES — Denim Design Lab’s need to open an office in Southern California led to a vintage-inspired retail concept the jeans label hopes to replicate in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

This story first appeared in the January 8, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Denim Design Lab unveiled Miner49er in November in San Clemente, a picturesque beachside community where the five-year-old denim label is based. The 900-square-foot shop will be home to DDL’s selvage jeans priced from $180 to $285. In addition, Miner49er carries organic cotton T-shirts, overalls, skirts, hand-sewn jeans and jackets from Bzen, a Hong Kong-based brand that values the craftsmanship of vintage denim as much as DDL does.

“All of the product in here can’t be characterized as fast fashion,” said DDL founder and designer Brian Robbins. “Denim Design Lab is an American vintage concept.”

Charles Lam, Bzen’s principal, signed on as Robbins’ partner in the label in June. Enthusiastic about the early response to Miner49er, Lam, based in Hong Kong and Montreal, and Robbins plan to convert the store that Lam owns in Hong Kong, called Indigo Bar, into a second Miner49er store. They also intend to open another Miner49er in Shanghai this year, and Robbins said he is eyeing a second U.S. unit in Los Angeles.

The San Clemente store will play multiple roles. The design, sales and marketing office occupy the building’s first floor. The second-floor retail space can be closed and restocked as a showroom for potential wholesale customers to check out new merchandise. The store will also serve as a test site for pricier pieces such as Bzen’s $500 hand-sewn jeans.

“You’d be crazy to open a store out of the blue,” Robbins said. “The first priority wasn’t to open a store. So we’re not relying on revenue from a store. If we break even, it’s just going to pay for the office space.”

Robbins, who has written a book that includes a history of denim and a how-to guide on how consumers can re-create vintage looks with household tools, has made sure Miner49er is also part museum. Under the historic Spanish-style building’s red-tiled roof, Robbins hung shadowboxes filled with puffs of cotton plants, swatches of selvage fabric provided by North Carolina’s Cone Denim and other denim-related accoutrements on the white stucco walls. Handheld scales, picks, lamps and other tools used by miners during the Gold Rush are also on display.

Despite the one-hour-plus drive from Los Angeles, Robbins is optimistic that Miner49er will attract fans.

“You’re going to get selvage denim fanatics from all over the place,” he said. “It’s going to be a destination store because of how cool the concept turned out.”