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It’s About Time – The Renaissance of Made in America Denim

If you’re into raw denim, there’s a good chance that you’re also into heritage products; those that harken to an earlier time in history and emulate the strong craftsmanship of days gone by. In fact, many of us have a tendency to idealize the past and compare contemporary products with those made in the nebulous bygone era — leaving contemporary products to often fall short of the standards set.

The average denim enthusiast is well-versed in the birth of denim. The rise of Levi Strauss and his denim overalls in San Francisco led to the proliferation of jeans from workman’s pantaloons to a staple in first the counterculture, then into the mainstream where denim resides today. There’s no denying that jeans were born in the United States with Levi’s and their imitators one hundred and forty years ago, but an industry-wide trend of outsourcing labor to cut costs began around the turn of the millennium. Even Levi’s, the originator, closed its last U.S. manufacturing plant a decade ago in 2003.

Around 2003 it would have been easy to find denim made in Latin America and Asia, but one would be hard-pressed a few years ago to lay hands on a pairs of denim both sourced and crafted in the United States. Those days are over. We are in the midst of a renaissance of made-in-the-US artisan goods which, luckily for us, includes raw denim as a production staple.

Tellason, 3sixteen, Raleigh, and Baldwin, just to name a few, are leading the charge in the effort to offer quality goods held to superior standards. The old pioneer, Levi’s, is also back in the mix, producing some of their wares back at home in the good old U.S.A.

Just two notable U.S.-based denim companies

3sixteen and Tellason – Just two notable U.S.-based denim companies

However, what makes these brands special and why should anyone care if his or her denim is made in the United States? There are a few good reasons, two of which boil down to the meaty topics of production and quality.

Transparency of Production

When it comes to companies that mass produce in China, Bangladesh, or Mexico, it’s damn near impossible to know where and how exactly your denim has been sourced. This is not to say that these countries lack capable workers who can sew together some mean denim. Under what conditions though are these workers producing these jeans? Working standards are not as closely monitored elsewhere as they are in the United States, and employees are willing to work for much less than what would be considered an adequate living wage here.

Furthermore, when a company is designing their products in one country and manufacturing them in another, it’s more difficult to control quality. Many of the “Made in America” brands we feature produce their goods close to headquarters and can thus oversee the production of their denim from beginning to end to ensure that the product is up to snuff.
Hell, the one-man brands are the producers, so you know exactly what went into the construction of your jeans. These brands express a passion for the goods they produce, and they are serious about ensuring that each part of the process is going according to their visions.

Sure, you can find cheaper jeans that were made elsewhere, but you have to ask yourself why they’re cheaper. You can rest assured knowing that when you buy a pair of premium made-in-the-US denim, you’re supporting ethical production practices and receiving quality-controlled goods.

Quality of Goods

One of the most exciting aspects of denim being produced in the United States is that many of the companies who produce their goods in the U.S. are establishing partnerships to create jeans. They feature top quality details that not only look great, but also stand up to the test of time and heavy wear.

cone mills denim

First things first, let’s start with the denim itself. America can lay claim to housing one of the companies who form the foundation of high-quality denim production in the world, let alone America, having been in business now for 122 years.

That’s right, we’re talking about Cone Mills. If you’re wearing premium denim made in the U.S. there’s a good chance it came from Cone Mills. They supplied Levi’s with denim way back, and many of the brands today are recognizing what Levi’s did a century ago: Cone Mills is serious about their commitment to producing world class denim.

Aside from having the history to back up their business, they’re continuing to innovate and strive to produce novel fabrics. There are plenty of denim heads around the world who will swear by denim made at Cone.

This is not to say that all premium American denim brands utilize Cone Mills, but they are certainly discerning in their choice of denim. Take, for example, 3sixteen. They utilize denim from Kuroki Mills, made specifically for their company to ensure a unique pair of jeans. Kaihara Kuroki has been using vintage shuttle looms in full production for a couple decades now, and anyone who has been lucky enough to own a pair can attest to their quality.

Another detail that denim enthusiasts love is the leather patch on the back proclaiming the brand name or icon. The beauty of a leather patch – of leather in general in fact – is that it will age with the denim, adding another unique aspect to the jeans. One of the companies at the forefront of creating beautiful patches is Tanner Goods from Portland, Oregon. 3sixteen was the first to utilize their leather before many other brands, such as Tellason, followed suit.

Tanner Goods Coasters

The Bottom Line

It’s exciting to see American brands stepping up to the plate and taking a crack at producing jeans that rival anything made worldwide. Any accusations of xenophobia are misdirected; this isn’t about a fear of foreign companies taking over what the U.S. began so many years ago. Of course, the debate between supporters of U.S. denim and supporters of Japanese denim won’t be settled here. But that’s not the point either.

Rather, it’s about taking a moment to recognize that, at long last, we are seeing a reemergence of the United States as a major player in the design and production of high-quality denim. We’re no longer left looking longingly toward the past for products we can be proud of. They are all around us, right here and right now.