Denim With a Difference

An eco-conscious jeans brand that's reinventing the region's textile heritage

By Fédération Française des Associations de Commerçants

Tex21 Spin Machine ( The 'Rule' 'Jenny' "Slubling Bily"( Wool )LIFE Photo Collection

Three centuries ago in Lorraine

The weaving of textile materials such as wool and linen developed from the middle of the 18th century in the region that is currently known as Lorraine: the first textile factory opened in Épinal in 1756. 

 The cotton industry followed, and the Vosges is the largest cotton-growing department in France. Today, DAO brings an innovative and sustainable vision to this regional heritage.

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A teenage dream

Davy Dao is the founder of DAO, an ethical and responsible clothing brand. For him, working in fashion was a teenager's dream: after finishing high school at the age of 18, he became a sales assistant for various jeans brands. 

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It all started for very practical reasons. Davy grew up with eight siblings: his parents used to buy new clothes to his older brothers, that he would later have to wear – they were often damaged by that time. From this frustration came the desire to create his own quality clothes. 

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Behind the scenes

At the age of 25, Davy decided to travel to Vietnam to understand his family origins: his parents arrived in France in the late 1970s. This one-year trip was also an opportunity to see how clothes are made in South East Asia.

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There, he learnt how to saw and create prototypes, but also discovered the behind the scenes that weren’t so ethical. Going up the chain of the industry made him aware that the working conditions of the seamstress was a real issue.

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From the apartment to the studio

Back in France, Davy started working on his brand, driven by the desire to change things. In his 21m2 apartment, he conceived up to 30 pairs of trousers per month with machines bought from private sellers... Until 2014, when he opened his store in rue Saint Nicolas, in the centre of Nancy. 

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"We are 387 steps away from Place Stanislas, one of the most beautiful squares in Europe according to the Unesco! We wanted to be artisans in the heart of the city to show people how to make beautiful products". Today the company has 16 employees.

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With 300 to 500 pairs of jeans per month, the collections are directly manufactured in an in-house studio. Rather than collections, the brand operates by adding new products every second month.

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Choosing the right materials

In 2018, DAO launched the first eco-jeans grown in France: Denim Lin. It is made from linen grown in the North of France. France is one of the world's leading producers of linen, which does not need irrigation, unlike cotton. He explains that the rainfall in the region is sufficient to grow the plant. 

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This local approach has a direct impact on the nearby environment. All stages of production are carried out in France: flax growing in the North-West, dyeing in the North and weaving in the Vosges. 

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While Davy’s in charge of coordinating the teams as a manager, he’s keen to remain involved in the design and creation tasks. DAO works with subcontractors based in Grand Est, especially for knitting, as weaving and manufacturing requires specific tools: "it sounds a bit silly, but even to make socks you need very special machines! ». 

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Ethical actions

The brand is also committed to ethical and solidarity actions: recently, Davy gathered teams on the banks of the Meurthe river to collect garbage for a few hours. DAO is one of the only businesses in the French Eastern region with this model of manufacturing and events. 

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In response to the Covid crisis, DAO also set up a team of 95 people who took turns to manufacture 850,000 washable masks in two months. 

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The transmission

Davy plans to open his studio for people to learn sewing skills that are not necessarily valued in France. In the meantime, he’s planning new stores opening in Luxembourg and Paris - and will soon get a larger store in Saint-Étienne as it’s getting more popular in the region.  

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