Brands like Zace, Tellason, Dearborn, Revtown, Bluer and Imogene + Willie are still proudly flying the indigo stars and stripes with no plans of stopping or merging into dreaded athleisure, thank you. They take their business and heritage seriously, working as hard as the workwear they produce. But that doesn’t mean they’re not slightly concerned about the future. “We are indeed faced with a challenge of where to go from here,” says Zachary Myers, founder of Zace Denim, who even named his firstborn son Denim in homage. “From a technical perspective, denim can easily be made in the USA with imported fabric and American buttons and snaps. It’s all about how transparent we choose to be with our labeling. Seventy five percent of the premium market covets Japanese denim. We could have always used Japanese denim but we believed in being fully American and, at Zace, ‘Made in Ohio.’”
Myers says he was fortunate enough to secure 1,500 yards of 15.5 oz Cone selvedge denim and, as he runs through that, Zace is still entirely American made. He also has a dealer in Los Angeles who has some stock and Myers is more than willing to start working with 14, 14.5 and even 13 oz Cone back stock when the time comes. But honest American workwear can only avoid the inevitable for so long and Myers knows it. “I have rolls of denim with Made in the USA labels and each time I peel one off it’s like a knife in the heart,” he admits. “It’s an emotional thing, the fiber our country was built on.” Myers speaks of touring the very last American knitting mill in Ohio and watching an 80-year-old mechanic going through the factory, preparing for sale and closure. “And no one knew it was happening. Consumers didn’t realize what was going on. In time, Cone closing will be a memory that fades, too. As my own sons grow up, it’ll no longer be relevant. It’s hard but it’s not really talked about. People move on, like the fashion industry always does.”
But Myers and his compatriots don’t really have time to be sentimental. The task at hand is to redefine Made in the USA and they’re hard at work doing just that. “The fabric is the main component,” Myers continues. “But it’s also really the hands that touch it, cut it, package it, the other components. The core ingredient might not be domestic but we can manufacture the garment in the US.” Myers’ small label is still able to be put together solely in Ohio with Amish craftsmen but, he admits, if he needed to sell 10,000 pairs of jeans, he’d have to adjust both his manufacturing and his transparency regarding it.
This brings up the sticky issue of manufacturing in general. “People might romanticize the way I still produce denim,” Myers says, “But, in reality, most Americans do not want to sit behind a sewing machine for 10 hours a day.” So if Made in the USA is taken literally and we’re just speaking about the actual stitching of the product, there is another issue on the already crowded table. Americans don’t want to do it and aren’t necessarily set up and capable.
Still, Zace and fellow American-made stalwarts Tellason Denim remain true. “Our jeans are made in San Francisco and we have zero plans to move production to save a few bucks,” says Pete Searson, co-founder of Tellason. “It never gets old to say our jeans are made in this city. We wish more denim companies brought their business here. It would only help build the whole story of Made in the USA.” Searson feels that pure workwear will always have a resonance as an undeniable American story and shame on denim companies who seek only the mighty dollar. “Cone closed because not enough denim companies placed orders with them,” he continues. “Years ago, things were humming. Then the accounting departments of different denim companies started taking the reins and led the designers down the path of saving money by buying fabric from China and such. It is that simple. I would like to think that these designers put up a bit of a fight about it. After all, they are supposedly denim designers and should be as interested in US made fabric as we are.”
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