Denim Dudes Covid Impact series was passion project created in collaboration with Film Maker and Photographer Lauren Steury.  In May 2020, Denim Dudes started speaking with fellow denim industry creatives based here in LA, about how the pandemic impacted their business and livelihoods.

The following stories chronicles the collective and individual struggles, reflections and revelations we’ve all faced this past year and truly exemplify the strength and perseverance in each of these creatives: Loren Cronk, Ashley Countee, Saku and Jemma Swatek.

At the beginning of 2020 Loren Cronk had a Greenpoint store, a denim brand called BLKSMTH and was renovating a new home in the Topanga hills. He also had plans to open an LA outpost or pop-up and expanding his business on the West Coast. The universe had other plans.

Loren Cronk and Amy Leverton in Topanga Canyon.
Loren's repair service.

"[Covid] gave me time to reflect on these ideas that I kind of already had, deep down inside... the fact is I don't want to do a five pocket jean. But in reality the five pocket jean sells 3 or 4 times more than my other jeans, I don't want to do a five pocket jean, but I know I kind of have to."

— Loren Cronk

Last June, just before stores tentatively opened their doors to the public once again, we sat down with Ashley Countee, women’s collection buyer at the infamous and much loved American Rag in LA. We discussed her thoughts on the future of retail, the trust and relationship between consumer and store, how American Rag was fairing and what they had had to do to pivot during this time of extreme uncertainty and flux.

Ashley Countee outside of American Rag during the interview.
American Rag Cie on La Brea, 2020.

"In fashion there are so many seasons, almost too many in my opinion... I think with stores not being able to buy into as much (product) as they were before, its going to force brands to really design and craft what they are doing. The industry needed that step back because everything was so 'season after season after season' and 'go, go ,go, go, go" and everyone needed to take a step back and just breathe for a second."

— Ashley Countee

We love Saku’s energy and we were so excited to learn he was our new neighbour last year; his amazing vintage space Niche Garment Co was a block away from DDHQ in DTLA. Saku has a positive, humble and considerate outlook on life. He is sensitive to people’s energies and struggles and we spoke in great depth about how hard 2020 was for so many people. He grew his business during a time when others were in crises and thats testament to his tenacity. We know that whatever Saku choses to do in the future it’ll be awesome.

Saku of Niche Garment Co.
Saku in front of his collections at Niche Garment Co.

"At first I was just selling on the street corner so acquiring the space (during covid) was to have a place to be active on social media. And by doing so, by building relationships via social media and instagram is now mainly what I'm running my business through. Prior to having the space I was just selling clothes to make a living and once I had the space I was able to curate the type of pieces that I want to have and showcase it not only as a small business but as art, as my art."

— Saku

At the beginning of 2020 Jemma Swatek, founder of Lykke Wullf, had big plans for a successful year of growth. When Covid hit she had to relocate out of her building, set up work from home, halt production on garments that were no longer relevant, re-design and make a collection that WAS relevant, all whilst trying to keep herself, her small staff and her local supply chain in business and financially protected. Stressful is an understatement! It takes tenacity and strength of character to push through when 80% of your friends are lounging in their gardens or binge watching Tiger King….

Lykke Wullf founded and owned by Jemma Swatek.
Jemma, wearing Lykke Wullf, and her pup at Elysian Park.

"I was doing wholesale, going to trade shows, you know I was doing all of the things I thought I was suppose to be doing, and I realized these things weren't working for me, and its exhausting to try to fit into these parts of the fashion industry as a small brand."

- Jemma Swatek

After these insightful and vulnerable videos, director Lauren Steury and I would have many conversations, drawing parallels between the stories we heard: the similarities, the lessons and the tangible feeling of struggle shared. Lauren turned to me and said ‘I think we should film one with you’

In the below conclusion video I tackle some of the takeaways from our four participants and share some hopeful thoughts for the future.

Amy and Loren in Topanga Canyon.
Amy and Ashley in American Rag.

"The common factors that came out of this, the hope I guess... was people's passion. I think everyone who works in denim and the creative industries, what drives them, what's comes from within, gets taken over by this crazy fashion structure we've created and logistics that have got nothing to do with why they started a brand. Every single person talks about going back to what started this whole ball rolling and having this moment of peace and quiet to be able to think and breathe and consider what's next. And every single one said 'I just want to do what I want to do.'"

— Amy Leverton

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Trend forecaster, denim designer, industry journalist and author of Denim Dudes.