How I #MadeIt: Erin Fridja

Shopping for jeans can be a torturous experience. Considering denim is something many of us wear most of the time, finding the perfect pair shouldn't be as painful as it is. Harsh changing room lighting + ill-fitting waistlines + uncomfortable cuts + unflattering washes = nothing short of a fashion nightmare. But Bad Denim is good news. In fact, the store is a retail haven for any jeans enthusiast, which, let's face it, we all are.

Bad Denim opened two years ago in London, set up by denim specialist Erin Fridja, who had a decade's experience in the industry. The boutique offers a tight edit of brands including Paige, Current Elliott, Levis and M.i.h Jeans. You won't find any actual bad denim there as – in the words of Fridja herself – it's "all killer, no filler".

So how did the jean guru go about setting up her own store and building the Bad Denim brand in the heart of Clapton? We paid Erin a visit to discuss her career path and hunting down the best jeans in the business.
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Photographed by Lottie Bea Spencer.
You worked for M.i.h. Jeans and Victoria Beckham denim previously. What was it like setting up shop yourself and what inspired you to make the jump?
My background is in jean production, development and design, I’m a product person. I think I came at the idea for the shop from a different angle than most retailers – I wanted to create a space where women could visit and shop for jeans and jeans alone. It was about creating a space to talk about denim fit, fabric and washes. I thought there was a gap in the market for a product-led specialty shop for women. Often I found when shopping for jeans I would walk in and be asked – what brand are you after? At Bad Denim we don’t start with the brand, it’s all about the fit and the fabric.

Can you tell us more about your denim consultancy?
In addition to running the shop I take on freelance projects in denim design. It varies depending on what the brand needs; sometimes it’s building some clean classic washes or fine-tuning core fits or working on an entirely new range. It goes hand in hand with keeping the shop current as I like to stay on top of new fabric technology and see what the mills are doing, so I go to all the fairs twice a year and keep a current fabric library. I’m constantly sourcing incredible vintage pieces and visiting shops around the world for inspiration, so it all ties together.

Why do you think denim is having such a trend moment? Does it have a lot to do with brands like Vetements, Marques' Almeida, Faustine Steinmetz, Kéji and Aries?
Those brands make my heart sing – what a great selection. We’ve just started working with Kéji for this upcoming season and will be with Aries for next. I do think what’s happening at the premium end is very exciting and is evolving the market. It’s pushing shapes forward into something much more conceptual and structured.
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Photographed by Lottie Bea Spencer.
Photographed by Lottie Bea Spencer.
Why did you choose Clapton for your store?
I was looking to open a shop in a neighbourhood, somewhere off the beaten track for retail. The idea came when walking around Brooklyn and happening upon some fantastic shops where there really shouldn’t be a retail shop. I wanted somewhere East because I live East and know the area, and Clapton was the perfect on-the-rise destination where rents aren’t yet too crazy so an independent retailer like myself can get started.

What have been the biggest challenges you've faced and biggest lessons you've learned opening Bad Denim?
Never put in a white floor, you’ll spend half your time mopping it, big mistake. Merchandising the shop in an exciting way when it’s exclusively denim has proved challenging.

How do you decide which brands to buy?
I spend a lot of time discovering new brands by word of mouth, reading loads of blogs and magazines and spending too much time on Instagram. As the shop is small, I have to be brutal about what I stock; every jean has to do a very particular job at that price point without crossover. I see a lot of collections and then look at everything as a whole and try to build the dream wardrobe for the shop while ticking all the boxes. I get massively excited at buys when I see that they have really nailed a shape with the perfect fabric. I try everything on myself so I’m 100% behind the jeans and can wholeheartedly recommend them to clients. I am definitely not a natural salesperson, so it’s all about the product.
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Photographed by Lottie Bea Spencer.

Has Brexit affected your business?
I stock brands from America and Japan so I buy in USD and yen – with the nosedive of the pound they all cost more now. Also a lot of British suppliers are increasing their prices as they use European fabric and manufacturing so, on the whole, costs will be higher to the consumer, which I don’t imagine those who voted to leave anticipated.

What does your typical day look like?
Oh gosh, honestly it is massively varied. Usually I wake up and get on the emails. Then there’s some project cooking in the PR department so I’ll have a chat with Susan and do whatever needs to be done for that. If I’m in the shop it’s laptop work with budgets, range planning, accounting, sell through, image research, chatting to customers, more emailing, trying to get a good shot for social media. If I’m out and about I might be visiting brands to see new collections or doing shop visits or digging through a massive pile of vintage. All the time with a healthy dose of coffee and staying on top of constant notifications on my phone.
Photographed by Lottie Bea Spencer.
Photographed by Lottie Bea Spencer.
Who makes the most flattering jeans in your opinion and which jeans should every woman own?
That’s a hard question. I stock the brands I do in the shop, because I believe they are cutting the best jeans in the industry. I can tell you for my body – I wear a lot of Rachel Comey, M.i.h Jeans and vintage Levis.

The shapes I am really excited about at the moment are the High-A, like M.i.h’s Caron Pant, Rachel Comey’s Legion Jean and the LVC 701 Pintuck. There should also be a solid denim slim leg or skinny in your wardrobe – the Levis Wedgie, 505C or new 501 Skinny nails this as a move-on from the super stretch of a few years ago. Then I would go with a wide leg like Agolde’s Alana Jean or KOI’s Rhona – I like to wear mine a bit cropped, swingin' above the shoe.

What would your advice be to young entrepreneurs with ideas to start their own brand or open a shop?
Just do it! We’re all slowly dying, no time like the present. You have to start with that attitude because there will be loads of hurdles and people telling you not to do it along the way. You need almost a sickeningly warped sense of self-success and confidence to continue to climb the mountain but I can tell you that unwavering positivity and duck-and-weave gets you a long way. On the practical side, save up as much cash as you can, keep costs low, do as much as you can yourself and do your research to build an accurate cash flow projection for your first few years.

Follow Bad Denim on Instagram @baddenim