Blue jeans are the quintessential item of American clothing. When Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss released their first blue jeans in the late 1800s they couldn’t have imagined the staying power the pants would have. During the Cold War, a healthy black market developed around Levi’s smuggled behind the Iron Curtain to young people who wanted to wear the manifestation of American freedom.
Today, denim is a worldwide industry. Much of Levi’s production has moved overseas. But there are still plenty of smaller companies making great jeans right here in the United States.
Here are seven (one for each day of the week) American denim companies you should know about.
Based in Kansas City, Baldwin is the creation of Matt Baldwin, who was named one of GQ’s menswear designers of the year in 2013. His goal was to make jeans with a modern aesthetic in the U.S. The selvage denim (sourced from the U.S. and Japan) is cut and sewn in America and has grown from runs of 70 into a line that is sold at top boutiques around the country.
Imogene + Willie
Husband and wife duo Matt and Carrie Eddmenson started their own label in an old gas station in Nashville after a long history working with other denim companies. The brand is named for Carrie’s maternal grandparents and all the jean styles get their names from other relatives. The jeans have a simple and timeless design. And the Imogene + Willie stores, both in Nashville and Portland, are as cool as the jeans sold in them.
If the U.S. is the country of jeans, then San Francisco is its city. On a macro level, it’s the home of Levi’s. On a micro level, it’s where Tellason is based. Started by Tony Patella and Pete Searson (Tellason is a mashup of the ends of each’s last names), the company is committed to its city, vowing to make its jeans “here, and only here, forever.” Tellason sources not only its denim, but its thread, buttons, and rivets from American suppliers.
The Stronghold was the first denim brand manufactured in Los Angeles when it started in 1895 and was worn by the likes of Charlie Chaplin. The Stronghold shuttered in 1949 but was resurrected in 2004 by Michael Paradise and Michael Casswell. The company’s denim offerings stay true to those original designs.
Raleigh Denim + Workshop
Founders Victor Lytvinenko and Sarah Yarborough are another husband-wife denim duo, who were recently accepted to the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Their jeans are made in a workshop in Raleigh, North Carolina completely by hand by actual human beings using actual sewing machines.
Bluer has figured out a way to deliver premium American-made denim at a lower price thanks to its online-only model. The jeans are designed in Portland with denim from North Carolina and zippers from Kentucky and start at $95.
Named after the sugar factory that used to stand alongside Williamsburg’s waterfront (and is now being demolished to make room for condos), Brooklyn-based Domino was started by Taylor Spong, who designs, produces, and distributes the jeans by himself. Every pair is made to order using various weights of North Carolina’s Cone Mills denim.