Fashion designers dish on the golden age of American jeans.
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In case you haven’t noticed, the country’s in the midst of a manufacturing golden age.
Given all of the items that the next generation is producing right here in the U.S., and given that denim is as beloved as apple pie by Americans, now is the perfect time to purchase a versatile, long-lasting pair of jeans made right here at home. Not only does buying American mean a great investment in quality, fit, and fabric, but it also helps boost the economy and create more domestic jobs -- a vital step in the current political economy.
In this installment of How to Buy American, we’re exploring how jeans -- a wardrobe staple dating all the way back to1853 -- has been brought back to its American roots. German immigrant Levi Strauss brought denim to America -- specifically to San Francisco, where the Gold Rush had people camping outdoors in rough climates. Denim made the perfect clothing staple to endure all facets of a miner's life. It's no different today -- we expect our denim to last from the first date all the way through PTA meetings.
No doubt denim has come a long way from utilitarian-wear, with dozens of companies choosing to manufacture high-quality, stylish jeans domestically. American denim company owners explain that, while there are many reasons to make their products here, perhaps the most important one is a shift in consumer thinking. More and more, shoppers are priding themselves on making socially-conscious decisions on the clothes they buy. As Taylor Stitch designer Nick Kemp told us: “Customers are willing to pay more for locally-made products instead of garments mass-manufactured offshore."
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Location: Raleigh, NC
This artisanal, small-batch denim company is run by husband-and-wife team, Victor Lytvinenko and Sarah Yarborough, in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Lytvinenko told us that labels like theirs are flourishing because “people are craving authenticity, and they want to buy things that have a story and reason.” Lytvinenko noted that this trend began with many other industries -- like food, coffee, and beer -- before it crossed over into apparel, where consumers are becoming more educated and interested in ethically-sourced materials.
According to Lytvinenko, while domestic production always presents a challenge, the company designs and manufactures every piece inside their Raleigh factory. Even with just 24 employees, things like cost remain a challenge, but there's a big benefit to making denim right in his home city. “We can control quality and tell an authentic story to the people choosing to wear the brand.”
Photography: Civilianaire3 of 13
Location: San Francisco, CA
From the founders of Lucky Brand Jeans, Gene Montesano and Barry Perlman, this brand began as a way for the duo to return to their small-batch roots and manufacture jeans in Vernon, California after 24 years. With a consumer motto of “Buy Less and Choose Well,” the Civilianaire team hopes to bring American-made to all by choosing to have all pieces sewn locally.
According to their mission, the Civilianaire co-founders “are enjoying the satisfaction that comes from the high quality they achieve and control, by doing smaller, specialized, local clothing production for men and women.” Their labor of love is already seeing success with a wide online availability and nationwide stockage -- Civilianaire denim is currently on shelves at Fred Segal in Los Angeles and Brooklyn Denim Co. in New York City.
Photography: Bluer Denim4 of 13
Location: Portland, OR
Price: $95 and up
It's American made all the way for this Portland-based company. Designed in Oregon; crafted from cotton grown in Georgia; denim-milled at the Cone Mills White Oak facility in North Carolina; and finished with YKK buttons, rivets and zippers forged in Kentucky, the jeans may be the ultimate symbol of domestic craftsmanship. All Bluer jeans are also cut, sewn, washed, and hand-finished in Los Angeles because the company believes in ethical practices, such as “eco-friendly ozone laundry processes,” to ensure the process is environmentally-safe.
The label’s mission has always been to “bring great quality and the most authentic materials available” to consumers at an affordable price, with jeans starting at just $95. There's also a philanthropic mission behind Bluer -- for every purchase, they'll help donate an old pair to a local non-profit.
Photography: Rag & Bone5 of 13
Location: New York City
This beloved New York-based label started back in 2002, and over the years, the company has come to define a “downtown cool” aesthetic with British sensibility.
According to the company, Rag & Bone’s blockbuster success has been credited to using “skilled, local manufacturers at some of the oldest factories in the country," which is why they choose to continue making denim right here in America. These days, you can find Rag & Bone jeans at virtually any high-end department store throughout the country, as well as in the brand’s namesake boutiques.
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Photography: Baldwin6 of 13
Location: Kansas City, MO
Started by Kansas City-based husband and wife team Matt and Emily Baldwin, this label has amassed a large celebrity following, as well as critical acclaim by multiple fashion magazines.
Co-founder Matt Baldwin told us that it's been “incredibly rewarding to contribute to keeping the art, craft and trade of American denim alive and growing in the US since 2003.” As for manufacturing domestically versus overseas, he noted that there are many benefits, such as less lead time on sample development.
“I believe it's better quality control on production and our office in downtown Los Angeles is central to all of our manufacturing partners,” Baldwin explained. “The best quality denim brands in the world produce in the U.S. The washing production, sewing craft, and trade here is strong and the customer gets the value of a great pair of denim that lives with them.”
As for running a socially-conscious company with a greater good mission, Baldwin says that “Creating jobs for Americans will always be important to me and this keeps the historical craft and trade of US denim alive and thriving as customer demand for quality increases and fast-fashion decreases.”
Photography: FRAME via Instagram7 of 13
Location: Los Angeles, CA
With headquarters in Los Angeles and London, the European-inspired designer was founded in 2012 and quickly became a favorite of off-duty models and celebrities. With a wide array of designs for men and women, FRAME’s denim line incorporates current trends with classic clean lines, for those seeking more design elements from their denim.
The brand’s Swedish co-founders Jens Grede and Erik Torstensson chose to bring their minimalist aesthetic to denim-hub Los Angeles, where they still do their designing and manufacturing. “Other brands were bleaching, colouring, and ripping up their jeans,” they told The Telegraph. And so they started making flattering dark blue skinny jeans with a mid-rise cut that have amassed a cult following, not only among the famous, but with worldwide denim wearers looking for chic, simple American-crafted jeans.
Photography: PAIGE via Instagram8 of 13
Location: Los Angeles, CA
The popular brand has reached mass appeal, with wide availability across multiple high-end department stores and specialty shops. Founded by Paige Adams-Geller in Los Angeles more than a decade ago, the clothesmaker has evolved into one of the most beloved American denim labels around. As for their manufacturing policy, PAIGE claims to “only partner with the best wash-houses in the country, which happen to be in our hometown of Los Angeles. Every style we create is wear-tested, and tested again.”
"There will be a day in any given week when something [in the production process] doesn't connect just right," Michael Geller, president and CEO or Paige Denim, told the LA Times. "And that's when you can get in your car and drive over to the wash house or wherever and make it right. You can't do that if you're making them anywhere else."
He also noted that the city’s hub of denim laundries and workshop skills are also the reason "Los Angeles is responsible for at least 80% of the premium denim in the U.S. at a minimum," he said. "Maybe as much as 90% to 95%."
Photography: Good American via Instagram9 of 13
Location: Los Angeles, CA
The idea of Good American originated from a discussion between Khloe Kardashian and Emma Grede about ill-fitting jeans.
“We believe every body deserves to be shown off. Fashion should be made to fit women, not the other way around. Body ideals really have shifted in the last few years,” Grede said, according to the company.
And so, the denim-focused fashion brand is “designed for a curvier, sexier, and stronger shape.” And of course, where better to base this much-needed label than the home of denim manufacturing (and the co-founders’ homebase) Los Angeles?
Photography: NYDJ via Instagram10 of 13
Location: Los Angeles, CA
“The original slimming jeans” are made by women, for women to make you look and feel a whole size smaller.
According to NYDJ (Not Your Daughter’s Jeans), their jeans are crafted in a way that "flattens you in the front while lifting and shaping in the back,"a company promise that has gotten their foods into retailers like Nordstrom, Dillard’s, Macy’s, and Bloomingdale’s, along with specialty stores and websites.
As for choosing to make their jeans in Los Angeles, NYDJ founder George Rudes told The New York Times last year that they choose to manufacture here because even inexpensive jeans that “sell for under $30 a pair at mass retailers” can take up to 90 to 120 days to deliver from overseas. Business-savvy NYDJ finds it more efficient to manufacture here because “stores want up-to-the-minute fashion and quick changes" and they can quickly respond to those needs.
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Photography: Taylor Stitch11 of 13
Location: San Francisco, CA
Taylor Stitch designer Nick Kemp told us that the journey to manufacturing denim right here in the United States is tougher than it looks.
“Finding somebody to cut and sew denim jeans is not that difficult, but finding the right partner to make jeans in the USA up to our standards has not been easy,” Kemp explained. He and his team need to be very hands-on -- for example, they often meet directly with factory owners and walk the production floor to get a firsthand look at their step-by-step quality.
"The reason we are seeing a boom in American-made jeans and the appeal to invest in well-made, more expensive clothing is really due to the trend pendulum,” Kemp said. This is a welcome change, considering that for the past two decades, almost all U.S. manufacturing was pushed off-shore and consumers became very price-conscious.
Kemp explained that the new trend isn’t just people craving to know where their garments are being made, but they are also interested in where fabrics are coming from, something he says Taylor Stitch strives to provide.
Photography: AG Jeans12 of 13
Location: Los Angeles
A department store favorite, AG Jeans boasts a large following with young jeans consumers. In fact, with fashion “it girl” Alexa Chung as the current face of the brand, AG has cemented its status as a denim mainstay among a sea of other denim brands. Designed in Los Angeles (of course!) AG’s transparent corporate practices are stated in its mission: “To provide quality product while exercising corporate social responsibility on all levels.”
The company is so dedicated to sharing how your favorite pair of premium jeans are made, that AG provides a supply chain section on its site to break down factors like eco-friendliness, waste reduction, and energy efficiency.
Photography: Left Field NYC13 of 13
Founded back in 1998, yhis Brooklyn-based label is known for their “not your average dad jeans." Founder Christian McCann told us that today, Left Field denim is still manufactured in San Francisco, but the market is “getting tricky.”
“Too many players in the game right now are getting denim saturated, and people have so many pairs that they don't have enough time to wear them all,” McCann explained. This challenge has the founder constantly looking for unique denims that people need to have, or offering less expensive entry-level denim, which has recently opened up a new market for the brand.
McCann also noted that making such a basic piece a clothing requires lots of branding. For Left Field, he drew inspiration from turn-of-the-century coal miners, since he considers denim a type of workwear.
“Coal miners were some of the toughest, grittiest workers in the history of America,” he explained. “Growing up in Philadelphia, I was two hours away from coal country.” This personal history lead to Left Field jeans to incorporate a pick-and-shovel stamp and green-painted tack button as a nod to the Irish coal miners who worked in Pennsylvania’s coal country at the turn of the century.
As a veteran of today’s denim industry, McCann agreed that people have returned to “choosing less, but better quality clothing and goods.” Some with political motives, of course. “Many decided to spend more for ‘Made in America’ to support manufacturing and American jobs. I think there is a push for lower prices in this current environment,” he said, noting that with the current political climate, nobody knows what's going to happen next.
“American-made denim is the key to authentic blue jeans,” McCann assured. “It’s a huge part of American culture and has been identified with tough, rugged American icons both in historically and in film and television throughout the world.”
McCann concludes that for a pair of jeans to be “truly authentic,” it must be made in the USA.