When I heard that there was an American-made pair of jeans that sells for $59, I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. When I read that the material was a stretch denim from a US mill with US sourced cotton, I was downright incredulous.
So I called the founder of Dearborn Denim and Apparel, Rob McMillan, and, after an hour-long conversation, I started to think, ‘wow this guy is onto something.’The business started out as Four Star Denim (people kept questioning Rob why it wasn’t ‘Five Star’), then evolved into Dearborn Denim and Apparel. The inspiration came from Henry Dearborn an influential US Congressman and Secretary of War from the 1800’s.
Dearborn Denim and Apparel is based out of Chicago and employs about 10 people including Robert who is chief, cook, bottle washer and the guy who makes the leather belts by hand.Like many makers we’ve met, Robert had a prior corporate life – he was a bond trader who felt he needed to do something else. While his home brewing hobby could have made for an interesting business, he felt that going after a high-quality, affordable pair of jeans would be something unique.
So after researching and understanding that the supply chain in the apparel industry can cause pricing to skyrocket, he decided to limit his business to online selling. This eliminates the multiple mark-ups that typically occur as your clothing makes its way to the department stores; mark-ups that would have turned his $59 item into something north of $200.The material is a US-made stretch denim loomed in Georgia from Texas cotton. Like many small manufacturers, Rob had trouble meeting the mill’s minimum order requirements, but he is making it work.He stressed to me the importance for him to pay his workers a competitive wage. That includes a strong production manager and sewing professionals who can be hard to find due to the slow death of the apparel industry in America. His pattern-maker used to work for Levi’s and while the first pair of jeans took about 9 hours to build, production efficiency has improved significantly.The result: Women can buy a straight leg or skinny high rise that come in light, medium or dark wash.
Men options include a relaxed fit, slim and tailored in a light, medium and dark wash.
The only non-demin offering on the site today is a beautiful hand made belt. Rob explained how his leather tools were acquired through a salvage company and how he works with while Horween leather. One thing that I really appreciate is the use of a Chicago screw to fasten the belt – it also allows you to switch out your favorite buckle.
What’s coming up next? Keep a look out for tees, more leather goods and black denim in the next few weeks. If you want to keep up with the new goods you can sign up on their mailing list.