It all started with a pair of old jeans.
At least that’s how the story begins for Kauai native Chantel Hammond, who created her first pair of custom jeans nearly two years ago, when she cut and slashed up one of father’s jeans one day.
“I started making my own denim shorts because I couldn’t find the right pair of denim shorts,” Hammond said. “All of the stores have stretchy pairs and it just doesn’t look good on girls.”
The shorts, she said, soon caught the attention of her friends, who asked Hammond to make them a pair.
“I started making them shorts and then they started wearing it, and then their friends wanted shorts,” Hammond said. “From there, it just got into this huge thing.”
And that was how Hammond’s denim line and brand, Wild and Free Kauai, began.
Since then, Hammond said she regularly visits thrift stores across the island, and on Oahu, to shop for men’s and women’s jeans that can be cut and fashioned into denim shorts.
“It’s kind of like a process,” Hammond said. “I get a whole bunch and then I cut them, dye them, slash them, everything, stud them, sew fabric on them, and I do it all myself, too.”
Her initial line of jeans shorts, Hammond said, were largely made up of random, yet deliberate slashes and cuts.
But her shorts, which cost between $35 to $65 a pair, became more elaborate over time.
“I just taught myself how to do it,” Hammond said with a laugh. “There was a lot of trial and error.”
Many of her designs are available in a wide variety of washes and include metal studs or patches of fabric stitched onto the pockets or to certain sections of the jeans. But what makes her jeans unique is that no pair is like any other.
“I won’t do the same thing to one pair that I did to another pair,” Hammond said. “That’s another thing about Kauai — everyone has the same clothes on. So when girls do get a pair, they know that no one else is going to get this style.”
As a part of the process, Hammond said she’ll cut each pair of jeans, fray it, wash it, apply bleach to it, and wash it again. Anything done afterward to them, including cutting, sewing fabric, and applying metal studs, is fair game.
There’s no set plan for each piece of denim before she cuts it up, Hammond said.
“I’ll cut it up, I’ll throw it in the washer, and when it comes out of the dryer, I’ll kind of look at it and think, ‘What am I going to do to you today,’” Hammond said. “That’s pretty much how I figure it out. I’ll just look at it and be like, ‘You’d look so good with some studs on,’ or something like that. I just have to look at it and decide what it’s going to be today.”
During any given month, Hammond estimates she and a friend make anywhere from 20 to 40 pairs of denim shorts depending on how many orders come in from the seven stores that sell her shorts in Kauai, Oahu and California. Locally, Hammonds designs can be found at Hanakai Kauai in Koloa and Work It Out in Kapaa.
“Sometimes I’m just cramming it all in where I have to get this order filled and then I have to get that order done,” Hammond said.
TGI: What made you decide to start your own brand?
Hammond: I don’t even know. It just started as a hobby for friends. First, I did a couple of trunk shows and the owners of a couple of stores asked me if they could carry my stuff. My first store was Hanakai Kauai in Koloa, so I sold my stuff to her first, and then Jeni (Kaohelaulii) from Work It Out found me. This lady from Fashionita’s Market in Honolulu later found me on Instagram and also asked if she could carry my stuff. Soon, I started getting more and more orders, and now, I sell my stuff to seven stores.
TGI: From the time you first started doing this, did you ever believe that your idea would grow to be this big?
Hammond: It happened kind of at the perfect time when all of this denim came in, so that’s pretty much what made it so big. But I never thought it would get to this point — I just thought I would make a couple of shorts for my friends.
TGI: How did you come up with the name for your brand, Wild and Free?
Hammond: I just love the quote by Henry David Thoreau, “All good things are wild and free.” My whole clothing line that I initially started with was going to include wild prints, free-flowing dresses and pants, so that’s where the name came from. When I started selling my shorts, I just took the name Wild and Free and used that.
TGI: Has your style changed over time or has it remained the same?
Hammond: I’ve always been into fashion and my style is more bohemian rocker, as I like to call it — sometimes I’ll do more bohemian, sometimes I’ll do more rocker and sometimes I’ll just blend the two together. I also love the style coming out of Australia — they’re just blowing it up. I’m just shocked by the styles being created by the people I follow down there, which slowly comes to the United States and trickles down to Hawaii. It’s kind of like a bohemian-gypsy style, so it’s a little more free — they have a little more flowing skirts, rocker Ts, and muscle Ts. The thing I like about them the most is that they really know how to infuse it all together, so they kind of have their own style. I think it’s all about having your own style — you shouldn’t just see something and copy it, because it not who you are. I’ll see little things that I like out there and incorporate it into my style.
TGI: When you are shopping at thrift stores for denim to work with, what kind of jeans do you typically look for?
Hammond: I like the older denim, because they don’t have the stretch in them, so it actually fits better and the wear and tear looks better. It’s so hard to get the perfect pair, because every pair of jeans is different — the rise is different, some of the rises have higher waists, others have lower ones, and some are bigger around the hips. Once you find the perfect pair, you wear them almost every day. I’ve had girls come up to me and say, ‘This is my fifth pair of Wild and Free,’ and I’m like, ‘Wow! That’s a lot!’ They’ll tell me, ‘As soon as I put them on, I knew I found my perfect pair.’ It’s amazing to see them so in love with the shorts, because it’s so hard to find that perfect pair of denim shorts.
TGI: Do you still raid your dad’s closet?
Hammond: Every time I go over, my dad says, ‘Here, I have some old jeans,’ and I’ll be like, ‘Thanks, dad!’ He still remembers. When I first cut up his pair, I cut it, slashed it up, and bleached it and he said, ‘You look like a hobo.’ I just said, ‘Dad, no, this is the style now,’ and he still remembers that. When I come over, he’ll say, ‘Remember that time when I said you look like a hobo, but now it’s a really big thing?’ We still laugh about that.
TGI: What has been the most difficult part of this whole adventure?
Hammond: I think finding time to do everything is the most difficult part — finding time to prepare for the next trunk show and also go out and buy the denim. Usually on Kauai, we just have a few stores and they don’t have a lot of denim, so if I fly to Oahu, it’ll take me two days to find about 20 to 30 good pairs. If I were to search here, it would take me about a month to get like 20 or 30 pairs, so sometimes it’s worth it for me to fly to Oahu and hit all of the thrift stores to get denim.
TGI: Would you eventually want to transition into an entire clothing line rather than just focusing on denim shorts?
Hammond: I really, really want to do a clothing line, but it’s all about getting the whole process together — it’s super time consuming plus I have a 5-year-old daughter and I have a job. When I have time, I kind of look into it, but there’s so much to do and things that you need to know like where you’re going to manufacture your products and what kind find of fabrics are you going to have.
TGI: What are your long-term plans for your company?
Hammond: I haven’t even really thought a lot about it, but I really, really want to concentrate on a clothing line. I’ve been trying to cut back on stores, because a lot of them will ask for some of my shorts but I had to turn down about four or five of them. I hand make everything and I can’t supply everyone who asks, but in the future, I really want to start my own clothing line — that’s pretty much my goal.