indigo invitational

Interview With Bryan Szabo (Indigo Invitational)

Bryan Szabo

  • Name: Bryan Szabo.
  • Living in (city & country): Budapest, Hungary & Fredrikstad, Norway.
  • Age: 40 years.
  • Instagram ID: @indigoinvitational
  • Number of Instagram followers: ~4k followers.
  • Website
  • Daily work: Editor & Ghostwriter.

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Bryan Szabo. I was born and raised in Canada, but I moved to Europe in 2013. I came here to chase down a girl I met while travelling in 2011. I married her two years ago. We live together in Budapest, but we spend a considerable portion of the year living in Norway.

What got you into the denim scene?

I bought my first pair of raw jeans (Nudie’s) about 10 years ago, and I was immediately hooked. A few months later, I bought my second pair (Naked & Famous) shortly before I went travelling. I left the Nudie’s at home and packed the N&F. I beat the ever-loving hell out of them while tramping across Europe. They smelled godawful by the time I got them back to Canada 9 months later.

When I washed them and saw what 9 months of daily wear had done, that was it. There was no turning back. I’ve worked one pair at a time since then, falling further and further down the rabbit hole with each new pair.

It’s been a 10-year love affair with denim and denim fades, and I love meeting and talking to fellow enthusiasts. The problem is, you don’t encounter many of them in the wild. You’ve got to go online to find them, and I found an incredible global community on the Raw Denim Facebook page. It was conversations in the group that made it clear there was a need for something like the Indigo Invitational.

naked and famous

Bryan’s first pair of Naked & Famous.

What is the Indigo Invitational?

The Indigo Invitational is an international denim fade competition. We welcome all comers, all weight, all brands, all nationalities. It’s entirely free, and (thanks to some absolutely incredible support from denim stockists and makers) we’ve put together a few thousand dollars’ worth of prizes that’ll be split by the top three faders.

The competition runs for one full year. Year one started on June 1st of last year, so we’ll be announcing our top 50 in the first week of June. This will be followed by a round of social media voting to determine our top 10, which will then go to the good folks at Rivet and Hide, who will determine our winners. We should be ready to announce our winners around the end of June. Year two starts in October.

Why did you start the competition?

When I was still relatively new to the enthusiast scene, I noticed a puzzling trend. I was seeing a lot of pictures of brand-new denim. This makes sense. When we get something new, we’re keen to share it. Something was missing, though. Where were the pictures of great fades?

It was clear that everybody wanted great fades, but there was a common complaint: “I’ve got too many pairs to just wear one pair every day.” The issue is one of rotation depth. When you’re rolling through four or five pairs at a time (perhaps more than this, perhaps much more), you’re not really fading any of them. If we want our denim to fade beautifully, we can’t let it rest. We’ve got to keep kicking it while it’s down.

The idea of a competition had been floated in the group a few times, but nobody had taken the initiative. I started a competition page and reached out to a few possible sponsors. Before I knew it, we had more than 100 competitors and ten sponsors.

indigo invitational

Puriwat Nanchaika (Thailand) and his pair of Route Blue (22oz).

Is it just you running the competition?

No, I’ve got help from my co-founder, Dave Dickinson. Dave and I have been great friends since high school, and (after a few pushes from yours truly) he recently took the plunge into the world of raw denim. He could see that things were ramping up quickly, so he offered to help when the competition was only a day or two old.

Dave has a lot of project management experience, so he’s been a huge help when it comes to the admin and the oversight. I get to do all the sexy stuff while he works his fingers to the bone in the background. I really couldn’t do this without him. He’s the voice of caution in my ear, and this thing might’ve gone off the rails more than once in the last few months if it not for his steady guidance.

We’ve also recently formed a media partnership with Thomas (aka Denimhunters). Thomas and I are both communicators by nature and by trade, so it’s been a very productive relationship so far. I’m looking forward to even deeper collaboration between our brands in the coming year.

How has the competition gone so far?

Even better than expected. We started with around 115 competitors. When it became clear (very early on) that this was going to be a test of endurance, we lost a few competitors, and until about month 7, we would shed a few competitors each month. One guy had his denim (all his raw denim actually) stolen out of the trunk of his car. Another guy absolutely shredded his homemade denim on a barbed wire fence. Other folks just fell behind.

The way the competitors have rallied around each other has been incredible. There has been no gamesmanship, no trash talking—not even a single instance of behaviour that crosses the line. Social media can be a hive of negativity and backbiting, but the raw denim community has really shown its stripes in this competition. We treat each other like family. Preserving this spirit of camaraderie is going to be one of our top priorities going forward.

Are you competing?

Yes, when I started the competition, I had just ordered a new pair of Indigofera Clints (Winlock Green Cast Japanese Selvedge – 13oz.). I’ve been wearing them every day since June 1st. I’m not eligible for prizes (for obvious reasons), but I’m not going to miss the chance to go head-to-head with some of the best faders in the world.

Indigofera Clint Winlock – 13oz green cast selvedge.

How have they held up?

I went with a light-weight pair because I work from home, so my jeans don’t get a lot of hard wearing, or so I thought.

Last summer, when I was breaking them in, I spent a month or so cleaning out a barn and a basement in Norway (both of which had been gathering junk and dust for decades). It was filthy and vigorous work, and it really kickstarted my fades. It’s been a steady downhill roll since then.

They’re hanging on, but just barely. I’ve had to repair the cuffs and the crotch, and I’m worried that the knees will go any day now, but they’ll limp across the line in a few weeks. For as long as they last, they’ll be a key pair in my rotation. I can’t think of anything comfier.

Are you proud of what you’ve accomplished so far?

Absolutely, both as a fader and as one of the organizers of this thing, I’m really proud of what I’ve seen in the last year. This started as a passion project, and it’s really taken on a life of its own over the past 11 months. I think we can all be proud of what we’ve done as a community. There are a ton of competitors who have told me that they can’t wait for year two to start. We’re clearly on the right path.

Any brands that have been standouts in the competition?

Brands that we expected to perform well (Iron Heart, Samurai, and Naked and Famous, to name a few) have more than risen to meet the occasion. We’ve got pairs of each of these at the front of the pack, but we’ve got some surprising ones running beside them.

SOSO, one of our first sponsors, was the obvious choice for a lot of competitors who wanted a great pair of selvedge at a good price point, so we had a lot of SOSO pairs in the starting blocks. Quite a few of these have produced really spectacular fades, so we’ll probably see just as many pairs (if not more) when year two starts. Their 33oz breaker of legs (a true monster heavyweight) and the 18oz Japanese selvedge have both turned heads with their off-the-charts fade potential.

The Southeast Asian brands have really impressed a lot of people as well. Leon Denim has two pairs in the running that have broken the Internet. MC Jeans also has two pairs in the competition that have performed really well. It helps that both are being faded by some of Thailand’s most enthusiastic and dedicated faders. Route Blue has also been a big standout for a lot of us.

My personal favourites have been the custom pair of Ruttloffs worn by one of our German competitors. It’s a one-man operation, and his craftsmanship and attention to detail produce stunning pairs. They fade beautifully, getting better and better month after month. I’ll be competing in Ruttloffs next year.

Who are your sponsors and what are the prizes?

We’ve got 10 sponsors and 10 prizes:

  • €300 voucher from Redcast Heritage
  • US$300 voucher from Ironheart International
  • US$300 voucher from SOSO Clothing
  • €150 voucher from Ruttloff Denim
  • $150 gift certificate from Self Edge
  • 1 pair of jeans from Freenote Cloth (winner’s choice)
  • 1 type II jacket from Leon Denim
  • 1 Vegtan Wallet from Pigeon Tree Crafting (winner’s choice)
  • Championship Belt by Timeless Leather Craftmanship
  • 1 belt from The Vault (winner’s choice)

Who are the best faders in the competition?

That’s hard to say. It really depends on what you’re going for. There are about 15 or 20 pairs at the front of the field, and they’re really running neck and neck. I can give you a list of all of them, but I’d much rather ask you to go to the competition page and look at some of the fades. Your favourites might be very different from mine. Leave me comments or send me a message to let me know who your favourites are.

indigo invitational

Muhammad Rizky (Indonesia) and his 25oz Samurai’s (S710XX25oz-GD). 

Where are the best faders from? Is there a good mix of countries represented?

We’ve got a great mix of competitors. We’ve got quite a few North Americans, a good contingent from Europe, a couple of Australians, and a strong group from SE Asia. The hot and humid places definitely produce incredible fades, but it’s not a question of temperature so much as it is one of dedication. Wearing heavy denim when most people are wearing shorts and sandals is hard work, and that hard work pays off.

We’ve seen the same thing in North America, Europe, and Australia. The faders that are willing to suffer for their art (wearing their jeans day in and day out and living fast and loud in them) are the ones who are running at the front of the pack.

Have you noticed any trends (either in denim or in fade culture)?

Just one. There’s a lot of talk in the forums suggesting that high-contrast fades are no longer desirable. “Everybody wants vintage fades now!” they say. There may be a growing interest in vintage fades, but, in terms of traffic and engagement, there’s no question that high-contrast fades are still king. Whether they come out on top in this competition or not is yet to be decided, but the IG crowd is clearly rooting for our high-contrast faders.

What do you see down the road for the Indigo Invitational?

First things first: we’re going to make sure that everything runs smoothly through the final stages of year one. We’ve got to make sure the voting and judging are fair and transparent, so we’ll be focused on that until our winners are announced.

After that, we’ll be looking at setting the table for year two. We might tweak a rule here or there, and we might make some adjustments to submission guidelines etc., but the competition will remain essentially unchanged for year two: open to all and absolutely no charge for either competitors or sponsors.

We’ve been working hard to make a competition tee available. We’re hoping to have something soon, and we’re looking ahead to year two and more chances to collaborate with some of the best names in the denim game.

When we are standing on the starting line on October 1st, our jeans will be dark, but the future for the competition will be very bright.

Follow the Indigo Invitational here on Instagram: @indigoinvitational

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Written by Wouter Munnichs
I'm the founder of Long John. Next to running this daily magazine, I'm working as a freelance denim specialist for the industry. Titled as 'Denim Influencer 2020' by Rivet 50. Celebrated my 10th anniversary with Long John in 2021.