When Bill Curtin started BPD Washhouse in 2009, he was ready to do things differently.
“My whole philosophy is based on the way I’ve been treated throughout my career,” Curtin said. He first became involved with denim washhouses when he was based in California, working with an association of denim mills.
Curtin said that he was interested in being part of the wash process, but at most Los Angeles facilities, you drop off the garments and meet with the assistant, and then they tell you to go shopping while they bring all the garments into the facility. When you come back, you receive your finished samples, and they may or may not be correct, and you may or may not get a transparent or transferable recipe for the process.
When Curtin began BPD Washhouse, he didn’t want anything to be secret or proprietary. Designers are allowed to come into the washhouse and work together with the staff on their designs. Designers can even stop the process in the middle and suggest a different direction.
“Some designers choose not to, but if you want to sit back there and see every step of the way, you can,” Curtin said.
BPD’s open approach has proved popular. The washhouse’s proximity to New York City means that there are always brands looking for help with development, and not just with denim items. BPD also works with knits and wovens, accessories and footwear—it was the first facility to wet process a Chuck Taylor. The brands they work with run the gamut from mass market brands that retail for $29.99 to cutting-edge denim selling for $500.
“Pretty much everyone comes through here if they are based in New York—in a big or small way,” said Curtin.
The washhouse works with brands of all sizes, from someone who is thinking about starting a line and needs a single jean produced, to a large multinational brand with a large distribution that needs help with development. Production only makes up about 15 percent of BPD’s business, and the washhouse also works on development and assisting the product through the supply chain.
Though BPD does not do large-scale production, the washhouse has relationships with international supply chains. Curtin said BPD can connect clients with facilities in Mexico, Vietnam or Los Angeles.
Unlike washhouses involved in producing these large orders, Curtin said BPD does not have an incentive to make the wash expensive, because it is not filling the order. BPD gives brands clearly priced and outlined recipes that will be easy to replicate down the line.
Especially with the recent turmoil abroad, brands have been hesitant about traveling into developing countries, and sourcing budgets are being reduced, Curtin reported. He said BPD can cut down on the time needed abroad by helping brands develop domestically. Generally, it takes five to seven days starting the process from scratch, but if the recipe has already been decided upon, the trip can be much quicker.
The washhouse has experienced some pushback from the international facilities, who can be suspect of this third party coming into their facilities, but once they understand BPD’s role, BPD can work together very closely with them. Curtin said, “We are very used to that kind of side glance when we come in, but people realize, this is going to make us perform better and look better.”
Hand-on education was another aspect of the industry that Curtin was interested in but which did not yet exist in the area. If you wanted to get your hands dirty, you had to go to North Carolina and a lot of those classes required a relationship with the facility, he said.
The washhouse began denim classes in 2012, inviting designers and merchandisers to come see in-person the concepts they discuss and to help them understand what the process and cost would be like if they wanted to change something.
BPD teaches students how to appraise denim and make comments intelligently. Curtin said he likes to teach little tricks and lingo to endear you to the wash person, infamously the coolest guy in the place. The key to winning over the wash person, Curtin said, is that you can’t come on too strong, or you won’t be functioning as a team, and you can’t be too quick to acquiesce, or he may not take the extra effort.
The only thing Curtin asks of visitors is that they leave their “denim attitude” at the door. Denimheads can get caught up in vocab and the intricacies of treatments, but the BPD technicians make the process accessible, and Curtin expects the same relaxed attitude from his clients and students. These details are not arbitrary but a part of Curtin building a new type of wash business based on his experiences.