From working at Levi Strauss and Co. to learning the denim craft from other leading brands, to developing her own collection, Mary Bruno, the brains behind Life After Death Denim, has spent 25 years learning and loving the industry.
For her, denim has a life of its own, it can evolve, become worn, take on new traits—and that’s part of what makes it such a beloved product, both by Mary and the masses.
But taking what she found was missing in the market, Mary made Life After Death Denim about sustainability too, using recycled and dead stock components to make the jeans, and a wash process that uses less water.
Carved in Blue spent some time with Mary to understand a little bit more about her perspective on where denim’s been, where it’s come to and where it’s going.
Carved in Blue: After your 25 years in the market what do you still find intriguing about denim?
Mary: For me denim has always been a living breathing thing. I continue to love how it changes over time. It can be manipulated, sculpted and forced into so many things. But on the complete flip side, if you leave it alone it will just change on its own over time. I love that it’s clothing that has a mind of its own.
Carved in Blue: Why did you start your own collection? What did you feel was missing in the market?
Mary: I have been lucky to work on so many amazing denim brands in the last 25 years. I was feeling like I had something to say in denim that wasn’t being said. For years I sat in audiences hearing about the importance of sustainability in denim. How bad denim manufacturing was for the environment. I heard many options about what we as designers could do to create change. Brands were always interested in sustainability but I believed it couldn’t be a secondary brand message for any brand and be important. I knew sustainability had to be baked into the DNA of the brand to make a difference. I wanted sustainability to be the guiding principle of the brand and see where that led me.
Carved in Blue: What does a sustainable jean mean to you?
Mary: To me, a sustainable jean needs to be sustainable in every way possible. From the fibers, to the yarns, to dyeing techniques, weaving techniques, your trims, the method of shipping you used to get your fabric to you, the need for packaging, eliminating the use of chemicals, reducing the amount of water you use in processing. A sustainable jean has to be re-thought in every aspect.
Carved in Blue: Where do you get your fabrics?
Mary: I focus on working with mills that used recycled and sustainable fibers in additional to sustainable manufacturing processes. When I first started building the brand it was more of a challenge to find good fabrics.
Luckily, there are a lot more options now to choose from. I work with Isko, Prosperity and Candiani primarily for denim and use SAS Textiles for knits that are based in LA.
Carved in Blue: And what made you turn to TENCEL™ Lyocell branded fibers?
Mary: I was attracted to TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers initially because of how soft and cool it feels against the skin. But after digging a little deeper I began to understand more about its sustainable properties. The fact that it starts out in nature and the solvent used to make TENCEL™ fibers is recycled by almost 100 percent. I also love that it’s biodegradable. Landfills all over the world are filled with tons of clothing. If we are going to keep making new clothes we need to find a responsible way to deal with the old ones we no longer need or want.
Carved in Blue: Where can we find your line at retail?
Mary: We are selling direct to consumer on our website www.lifeafterdeathdenim.com and there is also a great store near Miami, Tupelo Honey. They are a great group of stores in the Miami area and the owners Ira and Gail are pros at denim. They have owned denim stores for decades.
Carved in Blue: You have lived and worked on both coasts—how has this influenced you?
Mary: I think experiencing both coasts has made me a more thoughtful designer. I think a lot about a lot more about function when I design now. I think more about what a person’s life is like, what they are doing, where they are going, how they move through their day. The fit, the shade of blue, the feel of the fabric, what kind of shoes they wear, all of it is so important when it comes to making great denim.
Carved in Blue: We’d love to learn a little more about you—If you weren’t in the denim business what would you be doing?
Mary: Wow, that’s a tough question. I became a designer because I loved sewing and making clothes. I have never done anything else. I would love to design and build furniture someday.
Carved in Blue: What’s your favorite denim city for inspiration?
Mary: I feel like a traitor to New York saying this, but it has to be Los Angeles. The weather lends itself to denim every day of the year and the vintage inspiration at the Rosebowl is never ending. It’s one of my favorite things to do on a Sunday.
Carved in Blue: What pair of jeans have you owned the longest?
Mary: I have a pair of Levi’s Cap E’s that I washed in a commercial laundry in Texas in 1992 when I was first working at Levi Strauss and falling in love with wash development. I definitely overdid it on the chemicals and the jeans have shredded and fallen apart over time. I have tried my best to patch and repair them with denim and a ready-made patch of a fish that reads, “Kiss my Bass.” They are not an everyday jean but I really do love them.
Carved in Blue: What does Carved in Blue mean to you?
Mary: Carved in Blue means a love and appreciation for all things denim. The evolution of the fabric of denim and the shape of jeans. How they change every season and how we continue with our curiosity.