A Whole New D: Detroit Denim Co.
“Build something in Detroit and people will want it.”
Detroit makes things. It always has.
“There's a lot of effort with tech stuff and do tech things, but I think the heart and soul of Detroit is making stuff. That's what we did, we made things,” says Eric Yelsma, founder of Detroit Denim Company.
No article of clothing is more blue collar, more ready for a hard day's work than a pair of denim jeans.
“Everything here is just about doing things really well, working really hard and ending up with a really nice result,” said Yelsma.
About 15 years ago, Yelsma wanted to make a pair of jeans himself. People told him it was a bad idea but he did it.
When he was sick of his corporate job a decade later, he wanted to make jeans for a living. People told him it was a bad idea but he did it.
“What we're doing is not typical. People think it's a little wild and crazy but it stuck and it works.”
Thus the beginning of Detroit Denim. Another example of a native son coming home to be part of rebuilding Detroit.
“I couldn't have done it anywhere else, I couldn't have set up shop in any other city or any other place. The benefit of being here is you are in a pretty exciting environment,” Yelsma said.
James Martinez of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce adds, “The comeback of Detroit has been underway for several years now but we have definitely seen it ratchet up in the last few years now.”
Yelsma and his five other employees work around the clock to keep up with orders. In a short time they have built a reputation for their craftsmanship and product.
“We're quite busy, my number one issue is making enough and it's a pretty serious jean and we only sell men's jeans but I could definitely sell more than we're able to make.”
The only thing slowing him down is finding people who know how to sew. He's working with skills that have been lost over time. And the jeans themselves come with a high price tag due to the labor put in by his small staff.
“There's a number of things that make them different or unique or what we feel, worth it. A pair of jeans retails for $250 so it's a serious price but with that you get a lot of the elements within the jean that you wouldn't get with a mass produced jean. The materials are the obvious, but the nice thing is its the best denim you can have,” says Yelsma.
Yelsma has realized that people are willing to spend nearly 10 times as much for one pair of jeans if it's hand made well and made in Detroit. These aren't jeans that are stamped in a factory halfway across the world these are done by one person, taking about 4 hours at eight different machines during the day.
“All of our jeans are hand cut. The 20 some odd pieces it takes to make the jeans and then you start sewing and it takes 8 different machines to sew a pair so a lot of people think you sit down at a sewing machine and a little while later you stand up with a finished pair and you're not.”
Every raw material used by Detroit Denim is made in the United States. Every item they sell is built in Corktown.
“There's a lot of companies that are just t-shirt brands. They go buy a cheap t-shirt and then they throw Made In Detroit or something on it. Yeah, nice try but the fact that it actually is something that is made here increases the interest and appreciation here.”
The appreciation for the Detroit name was built through decades of decline and certainly will grow with the decades of success in the future.
For the industries working together to pick up the city, the Made in Detroit label is not a myth or a made up history for marketing purposes. It's a badge of honor. It's a fact.
“I don't see it as a rip off story, I mean we are as legit as you can be and that's the beauty of it, the authenticity.”
To see the entire four part series on the people and companies reinventing Detroit, you can find the links attached on the left.