If you played college or high school athletics in the last century, you may have worn a Dehen jacket without even realizing it. For the past ninety-five years, Dehen has made some of the best varsity jackets and cardigans on the market out of their factory in Portland, Oregon. Originally founded by a former rumrunner, Dehen is now the collaborative effort of Mike Dehen, Jim Artaiz, and Gary Hilde.
Known for their preppy, collegiate aesthetic, the brand meticulously researches heritage-inspired designs and then reproduces select runs of heavy-knit fabrics on machines that are older than many of the workers who operate them.
Besides being among the most notable American garment factories responsible for supplying all manner of athletic-inspired fashions—including the Mitchell & Ness and Ebbets Field Flannels jerseys popular in the early 2000s—Dehen is one of few remaining manufacturers to have seen the industry through every possible upheaval.
When the Great Depression hit, many of the company’s customers couldn’t afford to pay their bills, having purchased the garments on credit, which forced the bank to foreclose on the factory.
William Peter Dehen, the company’s intrepid founder, requisitioned the knitting equipment in the dead of night and hid the new operations beneath the floorboards of his house (supposedly, the tops of the oversized knitting machines could be seen protruding through the kitchen floor).
As if that wasn’t enough, the company then had to weather WWII, battling scarcities among their choice materials, most notably wool.
In the 1970s, the business was threatened yet again by a flood of cheap Asian imports, which necessitated the company downsize. Now operated by thirty-odd employees in a building that was a third of the size of original operations, the factory has nevertheless managed to maintain tight quality control standards using some of the same equipment from the 1950s to churn out remarkable product.
In 2011, Dehen stopped producing exclusively to order and launched their own brand, Dehen 1920. Perhaps best known for their letterman varsity jackets—which are made up of Pendelton Woolen Mills 24-ounce melton wool and bison-leather sleeves—the brand’s signature worsted fabric has been used for outfitting successive generations of cheer squads and varsity sports teams with everything from branded school sweaters, to swimsuits, rugby polos, and shawl-collar cardigans.
Today, their designs are carried in the States by stores like Beam & Anchor, Hickoree’s, J.Crew, Lizard Lounge, Portland Dry Goods, Tanner Goods/Woodlands Supply Co. (not to mention Sonny Okamota in Japan). Also worthy of note are Dehen’s collaborations with Best Made Co. in 2012, which resulted in the camp store’s heavy-gauge cardigans, and their modified varsity jacket with Self Edge.
Visit Dehen’s website to learn more about the brand and their available products.