The mechanical mastery behind LA-based denim brand Trave

Trave S/S 2019
(Image credit: press)

Craftsmanship may be a term loosely thrown around when it comes to denim, but for the newly launched Los Angeles-based label Trave, design and construction is something that its founder IJ Kim takes very seriously. A medical device engineer by training, and an ardent vintage denim collector, Kim has taken the same meticulous and methodical approach to creating each of Trave's designs.

Born and raised in South Korea, Kim's first encounter with denim occurred when he moved to the United States to further his education. ‘When I got here, the most obvious change in my life was in fashion. I came from a culture where all students wear uniforms all day. When I moved here, you could wear what you like to suit your daily life. There was no dress code,' he recalls. ‘That was when I bought my first pair of jeans. I was turning 14 that year and I bought Levi's engineered jeans with the twisted seam. I wore them everyday. They became a uniform for me and symbol of American freedom.'

These dual qualities of utilitarianism and liberty are what underscores Trave. After completing his masters at Maryland's Johns Hopkins University in 2015, Kim moved to Los Angeles and began knocking on doors of reputable denim factories to turn his hobby into a profession. After two years of self-study, Trave was born.

‘I didn't really have a plan,' he laughs. ‘I didn't have any deep understanding about manufacturing. What surprised me the most about the industry was wash. I didn't know anything about the wash process. That changed the game – knowing that the pattern has to adjust to the new shrinkage and every roll has a different shrinkage and characteristics. I was lucky that I had an engineering background. So much was about predicting how the garment is going to shrink and then applying that to a pattern as we sew.'

Each of Trave's styles are a specially chosen combination of cut and wash that is further amplified by clever, subtle details. Devoid of obvious branding, Trave's minimalist silhouettes are designed to buck fashion trends.

For example, its cropped flare Audrey style, is constructed without the traditional side seam that usually creates support in the garment. Made from a medium weight denim that is structured yet moves with the body, the style is a result of intense re-engineering and retooling of existing denim-making methods. Another style, the Harper, is a versatile, everyday jean with a 12 inch rise and slightly tapered leg made in a mechanical stretch denim that displays the look of a vintage wash. Simple, clean and wearable, Kim's intention is to create good jeans that will last a lifetime.

For Spring 2019, Kim paired workwear silhouettes with a palette inspired by Korean gardens. Natural tones of moss, chalk and terracotta are posed as new neturals that elevate pieces like work jackets and denim blazers alike. ‘Trave is for people who really understand denim garments. If they know about denim, then they can appreciate the craftsmanship and detail that I'm putting in, and value the garment.' 

white costume

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model wears beautiful outfit

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denim outfit

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model wears white pant and white full sleeve t shirt

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For more information, visit the Trave Denim website

Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.