The rise of raw denim mirrors a trend in vintage denim (often bought at secondhand stores), which Cotton credits to a desire for individualization.
“I think (it’s) that idea of the wear marks and really creating something that is individual to the person, that it’s maybe not such a mass-market (item),” she said.
Myers’ garments resemble the rugged Levi’s jeans designed for farmers in the 1800s, and his manufacturing process doesn’t stray far from early denim-making, either.
In his workspace, patterns hang neatly on hooks; Myers uses a Sharpie to trace each piece before cutting.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, he trimmed pieces for his heavy-duty tradesman overalls, size 32. Each pair of men’s jeans measures 38 inches long; women’s, 36. Following traditional methodology, the jeans are meant to be rolled to the proper length.
Myers then drives the parcels of fabric to one of three small workshops on farms near his home, where Amish neighbors sew them together on machines retrofitted to run on a gas line. (Myers lives in an Old Order Amish community, where members do not use electricity.)
From there, the garments are returned to his workshop, where Myers reinforces pockets, makes belt loops and writes a handwritten note to each customer. Which, when making between 1,000 and 1,500 articles of clothing a year, amounts to a textbook’s worth of appreciative messages.
Myers has loved fashion since his teenage years in Phoenix, Arizona, when his mom taught him to sew gloves — a skill he used for his first business effort, a snowboard-apparel company. At 23, he launched a lingerie company in Los Angeles and spent a year at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising before dropping out to venture into denim.
Calling himself “kind of a perfectionist,” Myers acknowledges that he could outsource more of the labor but says he enjoys having his hands in every aspect of the process.
To underscore the point, he named the older of his two sons Denim.
Through the years, Myers has added to his inventory; he now sells 38 distinct products, which include designs for both tradespeople and laypeople.
Josh Scheutzow, the 30-year-old owner of the South Side woodworking shop A Carpenter’s Son, said he used to trash a pair of jeans within months.
Discovering Zace (pronounced Zack-ee) on Instagram two years ago, he ordered himself a pair of overalls — and, before long, he was outfitting his employees in Zace products and had bought a pair of shorts overalls for his wife.
“The pair of Zace overalls I wore today for work, I’ve been abusing them for two years and they’re not even close to being done yet,” Scheutzow said.
The denim Myers uses comes from Greensboro, North Carolina’s Cone Denim Co., specifically the White Oak division. The fabric is woven on vintage shuttle looms, and its finished edge (called “selvedge”) is red, white and blue. Thick and soft, White Oak denim is the last selvedge fabric produced in the United States.
“It doesn’t get more American than that,” he said.
Except that the White Oak factory closed on Dec. 31, leaving American-made, raw-denim companies searching for alternatives.
The Sunroom, a boutique in Clintonville, sells raw-denim jeans from Austin, Texas-based designer Esby, which also sources from White Oak.
Both Myer and Stephanie Beard, Esby’s owner and head designer, snatched up the remaining yards from White Oak to make 2018 orders. After it runs out, though, the clothiers said they’ll be forced to buy denim from outside the country.
The situation isn’t ideal, both clothiers said, but they’re committed to the raw-denim trade.
“We cross our fingers that those remaining selvedge looms will run again at some point,” Beard said.
Suzanne Riska, 32, who co-owns the Sunroom with Chloe Crites, appreciates the longevity of Beard’s creations, which, like Zace Denim, are meant to withstand years of wear.
But raw-denim jeans don’t run cheap. Myers’ pants and overalls cost $199 a pair, and the Sunroom charges $275 for Esby’s Finch jean in indigo selvedge.
To keep them in top condition, many raw-denim enthusiasts recommend minimal washing.
Riska said she rarely cleans hers, and Myers uses the sniff test.
“It depends on your level of puritanism,” he said. “Those people who never wash their jeans are probably not working in them, not that there’s anything wrong with that. For me, I wash them when they stink.”
Raw denim might still be something of a niche fashion trend, but its adherents believe in maintaining its thread through American history.
Said Myers, “I continue to keep it alive one leg at a time.”
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