Catching Up With… Michael Silver, Silver Jeans Co.

by Elise Diamantini
Michael Silver
Michael Silver

Silver Jeans Co. is a division of the Western Glove Works, a Canadian-based workwear company founded in 1921. CEO Michael Silver remembers how he got into the family business. “I was 15 when my father Edwin, who was running the company, passed away. There was this fairly famous family meeting in the basement while we were sitting shiva. My uncle asked me and my three brothers, which of us wanted to run the company. My oldest brother John was running a free community health clinic and suicide prevention center, my brother Bob was a math whiz who was ‘growing sprouts’ on a commune farm in Vernon, British Columbia, and I didn’t even have my license yet. So essentially, Bob closed the farm, came back to Winnipeg with his ponytail down to his butt and his beard almost as long and learned the business from my great uncle who came back from retirement.”

When Silver graduated college with a fine arts degree, he felt lost. He could become a starving artist or he could get into the family denim business. And so he started in the production department. After 17 years, he moved to private label, developing product for stores such as Gap and Nordstrom and then finally decided to create a brand for the company. In 1991, he and designer Allan Kemp launched the first collection for Silver Jeans Co. Here we catch up with him on how the business has changed and where he sees it going.

On how he’s seen the denim market change: There’s been a lot of great changes and some bad ones. The premium craze really propelled the industry. It was really exciting and the LA denim scene was a significant part of the denim evolution. It propelled us all, it made everyone work harder and it brought a lot of people into the industry. Unfortunately, and probably because of premium, we saw a demise of the independent retailer. These stores were really exciting during the premium times; they could bring in a new denim brand every week, half the stores were denim, but then the specialty retailers started to compete with the major department stores. The department stores were aggressive and flooded the market, making it harder for specialty stores.


On denim prices post-premium: For me, I was always much more price sensitive. We aren’t premium and we aren’t moderate, we’re in the middle and no one really understood that. And in North America, people appreciate quality and value. And while value is a dirty word in the premium world, it’s not with most citizens of the world who want to buy jeans.

On which retailers are doing it right: The Buckle is a great retailer because they’re dedicated to educating their staff. They stock so many SKUs and their employees know the product inside and out. They’ve been able to grow their business within a region where consumers really appreciate them. Turnover rates in the retail industry are pretty high but I would guess that at the Buckle they’re probably one of the lowest.



On the brand’s direction for spring 2016: In men’s, it’s all about the acceptance of stretch fabrics. I always joke, be careful what you tell a guy, and I think it’s best you don’t tell him too much but just make the fabrications better and he’ll want to wear it. For spring, about 90 percent of our product has some degree of stretch and resilience. So from a fabric perspective that’s a big trend.

We also have our jogger fabric which is closer to knit than regular denim. The key for us in any of these new fabrications is that they have to have an authentic denim look. A lot of the players in the denim market (both men’s and women’s) have used new innovative fabrics that don’t wash well or don’t look authentic. We work with mills to develop $100 jeans with a degree of stretch and a resilience to wash. And I would say in bottoms that for general America, the bottoms are narrowing and guys are realizing that he doesn’t have to wear a tight, rigid, skinny jean to be cool. They can have much more room up top but the bottoms need to narrow and they’re being trained to look at their feet as footwear becomes more important. Even a Converse looks more appropriate with a narrower bottom.

We’ve also seen nice movement this spring with some lighter washes and bleaches. Spring is the time where guys can wear more blown out destruction. The completely torn up look is a small business, but there is some destruction happening. Stitching is toning down and there is some muddy washes going on right now. And we’ll see that more for 2016, where the wash will become the statement.