Hartford Blue Jeans, Made By Hand
Will Hartford become the new capital of fashion?
It's not uncommon to see men in suits walking around downtown Hartford - but the city’s role as the Insurance capital has been slowly fading. So what’s next? A group of young men are hoping Hartford might become the new capital of fashion. As part of our small business project, WNPRs Catie Talarski reports how the men are doing their part. One stitch at a time.
Walking into the workshop of the Hartford Denim Company, three things stand out.
Denim, Leather, and Beards.
Marshall Deming laughs, “I was told I would be out of the club if I didn’t grow a beard”
The impressive amount of unruly facial hair is worn by Marshall Deming, Dave Marcoux, and Luke Davis. They certainly don't look like the typical downtown businessmen.
"I always make the joke… if we started the Hartford Chino company we’d be millionares by now. Thats the beauty of it. Here we are in white collar America, producing the most blue collar product" Davis says.
The twenty-somethings became friends at West Hartford's Conard High School - and in the past year have combined their interests to start the Hartford Denim Company. Davis started out by sewing two pairs of jeans - the design roughly based on a pair of 1950s Levis. They sold them for two hundred dollars each - and that money was used to buy the first lot of denim and thread - enough for another fifteen pair.
They started in a friends basement with two sewing machines. Now they work in a cozy studio with a dozen old Singers lining the walls. Machines mostly procured from Craigslist.
"We’ll do a run from 6 to 20 pairs . We are up to 87 pairs since June"
"And because we live right next door so we're always here ot there, running errands, getting supplies. We say we’re Clopin 24 hrs a day. Both closed and open."
Overlooking empty storefronts on Pratt Street. The fifth floor, three room workshop is covered in scraps of denim, along with finished leather jackets, jeans and hats. The men are, of course, head to toe in their own product .
"The denim we use is produced in North Carolina using vintage looms. Its produced by Cone Mills. They were producing denim for Levis until the 1960s"
"All our jeans come in the raw state - they have not been washed, have not been sanded or nsed. This enables the distressing and fading to happen entirely naturally and not forced like you would see in a lot of mall jeans."
The jeans are not only completely made by hand - ten to twenty hours for each one - they have features that make them very Connecticut
"The biggest detail is the Connecticut leather patch on the right back hip. We had buttons made up by the Waterbury button company."
Marcoux says the custom pants start at two hundred twenty five dollars, for the “made in USA model”. The price goes up for denim imported from Japan - which he says is heavier fabric, and a richer quality indigo. Although pricey, Marcoux says the jeans arent a "high end" product. He sees them as "high value". And in this economy, he says, people appreciate locally made, well made products.
"These are actually functional pants."
Bike messenger TJ Gamble saved up for his pair of jeans in October - and he uses them as work pants, riding his bike all over the city, all day long, no matter the weather.
"Since they are guaranteed for life, these guys are gonna know me for a long time. They are gonna get stuck repairing them for a long time."
That’s right. The denim company will patch and repair your jeans for life. Or as long as the boys are in business.
For a place that traditionally cant hold on to its young, these bearded jeansmakers actually seem proud to be from the land of steady habits.
"It’s a bit of a dead city. and its something we're trying to change by being here and working and producing and hopefully other people will see that and see that it is possible to start at a small level and grow from there."
Marcoux says they want to eventually move to a bigger space and employ more people who like to work with their hands. And unlike big businesses that still employ thousands of men in suits, these small businessmen say they're proud to be a part of producing something tangible out of this, the former insurance capital of the world.