The designer behind the brand shows us how to make your vintage denim festival ready in no time flat

By Emily Kirkpatrick
Updated December 09, 2016 02:55 PM
David Karp

What It Is: Unemployed Denim is a denim-customization company started by Sydney Izen out of her college dorm room at Cornell University. Back in May, Izen was planning on going to Coachella and had no idea what to wear. “I always wanted to wear something different,” she says. “I didn’t want to just go to the normal stores and pick something out.” So instead, she headed to her local thrift store, bought a pair of oversized jeans, cut them into shorts, and covered them in patches she bought online. While she didn’t think much of it at the time, at the festival she was consistently approached by girls who loved the look and wanted to take her picture, including a blogger for Nordstrom Thread. The strong reaction she received – as well as the many requests she got from festivalgoers to make her one of their own – got her thinking there could be a business idea there. And though she had anxiety about graduating without a job, Izen’s patch-covered denim empire has picked up steam; she now DIYs about 15 jackets a week and is beginning to work with bloggers and influencers on pop-up events, podcasts and more.

Who Tried It: Emily Kirkpatrick, Associate Style News Editor

David Karp

Why We Tried It: I’ve always loved the festival-ready look of a heavily patched piece of denim; however, I am not particularly gifted in the sewing department myself, and despite all appearances, I’m also a low-key minimalist at heart whose inner control freak is ever so slightly panicked by the idea of piling on one technicolor accessory after the next. Thankfully, Izen’s brand and curatorial eye takes all of the guesswork out of the process, and with her expertise guiding me, I knew there was no chance I could go wrong.

Level of Difficulty: Super easy, although I see how this project could be a trigger for all the type-A personalities out there.Thankfully, even for those who start to feel anxious about all the options, Izen is happy to email back and forth and collaborate with you every step of the way, no matter how many times to change your mind or wake up in a cold sweat after realizing the placement of that sequin cactus was all wrong. And if worse comes to worst, she can also take the denim’s design into her own hands with minimal input from you, coming back with a product that speaks to you.

David Karp

The Process: In terms of how custom you can get with your jacket, Izen makes it clear the possibilities are practically endless. Right now, in addition to the wide array of patches, UD (that’s Unemployed Denim for the uninitiated) also offers black and white lettering, custom stripes across the sleeve in the color of your choosing and detachable fur collars. She’ll even do custom distressing, making holes in the denim by request. Izen also works on pants, shorts, overalls, and has just expanded into hats, though she adds it can really be anything vintage that she’s drawn to, like the *Nsync and Rascal Flatts tees that can currently be found in her online shop. While she says “people get very creative,” the process itself is simple enough, even for those intimidated by the whole DIY scene.

David Karp

To start, customers can go to her website, where they can look through the pages upon pages of patches and begin to cull their favorites. From there they can submit a form under the “personalize” tab, including their name, email, and what they have in mind for the custom creation. Typically within 24 hours, Izen will get back to them, sending a document portraying all of the jackets she has in stock shot on-model, to give an idea of fit. This is an important step she says as, “every jacket is 100 percent different and it’s hard to just say with vintage that it’s a men’s medium — like, what does that mean? So I have the height of the person, the size they usually wear and then a photo of them wearing the jacket.” From there she begins the construction process, mocking up the jacket and sending the customer a photo for their approval, taking feedback and repeating the proces. She adds, “It’s very co-designed by us and the person, which they love because then they get exactly what they want and there’s no surprises.”

In my case, we did it all right there on the table in the brand’s offices. Although I started out very confidently, quickly selecting the patches that resonated most with me, just as rapidly I became very insecure when it came down to their actual placement. As I said before, I’m a sartorial minimalist on the DL, so the process of lumping together a bunch of random, oddly shaped images is one of my personal nightmares.

Thankfully, Izen was right there with a helping hand, overseeing everything and using her expert eye to guide my bunchings of assorted patches, making helpful suggestions where she thought some might be too repetitive or looked odd side-by-side. Overall the entire process took maybe five minutes, but without her there, I could have hemmed and hawed over my choices and their precise location for hours. But, of course, I should have known, you can never go wrong when choosing patches that portray your own name, a banana, and a sparkly cactus saying “cool.”

Emily Kirkpatrick

Once it’s approved by the customer, the denim piece then gets manufactured in house. Typically within the same week the final product is shipped to the customer. “It’s pretty easy and I totally work with them,” Izen says. “Some people have a million questions, and for some people it’s perfect and it’s done in five seconds. It’s really however they want to take the process. Some people really like it and get into it and go through a ton of patches and just really like to play with it, and others don’t.”

David Karp

Some customers even love the process so much they keep in touch, sending UD photos, tagging them on Instagram and becoming campus reps to spread the good word to all their friends. And for those who are too panicked by the whole notion and content with something prefabricated, she even has you covered there, offering an array of pre-made pieces in the website’s shop that will still totally convince your friends you made it at home.

David Karp

As for why the patch trend is hotter than ever right now, Izen speculates, “I think it’s just a way to completely express themselves and their personality. It’s very catered towards personalization. And who doesn’t love a jean jacket?” Who, indeed.

What do you think of Unemployed Denim’s patch covered looks? Would you get one made? Sound off below!