By Michele Richinick / Photos by Victoria Stillwell
Years ago, denim was secondary when putting together an outfit. But now, many people buy their jeans first and plan the rest of their wardrobe accordingly. Jeans have become a staple article of clothing because they are both acceptable and casual attire.
“The beauty about denim is that it’s a casual kind of garment which is comfortable, wears in, and becomes better as time goes on,” said Loren Cronk, designer of Loren and Blksmth jeans. “It would be hard for it to disappear.”
During the 1800s, San Francisco businessman Levi Strauss established a wholesale dry goods business importing clothing and fabric to sell in the small stores opening in Western states. Those stores supplied the rapidly expanding communities of gold miners and settlers.
In 1873, Strauss and Jacob Davis, a tailor from Reno, Nevada, received a patent to create work pants reinforced with metal rivets, which marked the birth of blue jeans. The original jeans, known as “waist overalls,” were the top-selling men’s work pant in the United States by the 1920s. The craze grew as decades passed, and now both men and women, young and old, from around the world wear different shades and styles of the original blue jeans.
“It has its ups and downs, like everything in fashion,” said Frank Pizzurro, owner of Brooklyn Denim Co. “The thing about denim is that it adapts to fashion.”
Remember fashions like flared, baggy, boot cut, tie-dye, vintage, and colored? They change and go in and out of style. Cronk compared denim to the leather jacket that breaks in over the years and becomes personal to the owner.
After Pizzurro moved to Williamsburg in spring of 2009, he noticed most people walking around the area wearing jeans, but there weren’t places in the neighborhood solely focused on selling denim. There were several Army and Navy stores and vintage shops, including Pop’s Popular Clothing on Franklin Street in Greenpoint, but no true denim stores… until three local designers were inspired by the neighborhood to develop their own specialties.
Brooklyn Denim Co
85 N. Third St.
The Brooklyn Denim Co. is a “timeless brand” that matches Williamsburg’s past as a rugged, working-class neighborhood, said owner Pizzurro. The company’s first
jean was designed in 2012 in the shop’s space on North Third Street. Pizzurro wanted the store to have its own brand, and mixing the company’s brand with other designers’ jeans helps business.
“Brooklyn has a lot to offer, and there is a lot of creativity here and New York in general. I think that gives us a different way of looking at it from the West Coast brands,” said Pizzurro, who added that most East Coast designers focus on clean and sophisticated denim rather than on casual, washed jeans sold in West Coast stores. The majority of the jeans sold are deep blue, also known as raw or not washed, and are inspired by customers. There are currently five different men’s fits and four women’s for the fall line that debuts in July. The brand is only sold on North Third Street, but Pizzurro hopes to expand the brand for sale in stores around the city. Later this year, retailers in Japan will carry Brooklyn Denim Co.
“It doesn’t matter what name you have. It has to be good quality. It has to fit,” he said. Custom-made jeans are evolving, and are a trend most popular with people who have difficulty finding a good fit for their body type. Others choose custom-made denim because they enjoy the freedom of designing their own jeans by choosing the fabric, threads, and buttons.
Pizzurro and a partner opened Brooklyn Denim Co. in March 2010 as a small room for retail. They have since added a stock space and designing area. He has been in the business since 1979, when he worked as a part-time employee at a men’s clothing store in Michigan. He progressed in the business by managing clothing stores in both Los Angeles and New York, and by directing retail at stores, including Diesel, before opening his own store.
In Williamsburg, the company designs clothing, makes samples, and tests washes. Sewing is completed locally in Manhattan and New Jersey. Pizzurro hopes to open his own factory at the store location someday. He also looks forward to expanding the line with denim jackets and vests, as well as jewelry and handbags. Fall 2014 is Pizzurro’s target date for full men’s and women’s collections.
“There are only a few things that are personal in clothing, and denim is one of them,” he said. “People wear denim to represent what they want to be…they see it as a reflection of themselves.”
Men’s jeans start at $198
Women’s jeans start at $185
Williamsburg Garment Company
240 Kent St.
Since November 2011, Williamsburg Garment Company’s designer Maurice Malone has used local street names to inspire his men’s and women’s denim collections. He visualizes the style of his neighbors who walk around the area wearing jeans.
“I look at what’s around and what’s out and try to stay away from it,” he said. “I go in a direction that other people aren’t going.” He prides himself on maintaining a small business that competes with bigger companies by having personal service and selling better quality at a lower price to keep consumers and retailers content.
“With a new brand you have to know what retailers and consumers want, and you have to have something to offer,” said Malone, who added that he always finds himself “swimming against the current.” The first piece of denim he designed—before he learned how to make a zipper—was overalls.
He has maintained a philosophy of avoiding oversaturation of the market and offers retailers a brand of their own by opening one account per city. He said he pays attention to every detail of a pair of jeans, including the stitch color.
“Everybody copies jeans and they fall into the same problem. Few people try to fix and perfect [jeans],” said Malone, who disclosed that he is a picky jean consumer. “With every fit, I’ve thought about how to perfect every little thing.”
The men’s collection contains four different fits that range from skinny stretch to relaxed. His newest fit for men, Hope Street, is made in America. “It reminds me of Obama when he was talking about bringing more business back to America,” he said.
The women’s collection includes seven fits that range from super skinny and skinny boyfriend to high-waist and classic skinny, and are sold in different washes. The brand is sold at Brooklyn Denim Co., and the men’s denim is also sold on Nordstrom.com.
Malone has been in the clothing business for almost 30 years and has worked in Michigan, California, and New York. He said he hopes to open a manufacturing area in Brooklyn and expand with new items each season, while simultaneously keeping the brand simple. He wants to avoid expanding “too big, too fast.”
“We make a really good-looking jean but without the $200 price tag,” he said. “We keep everything basic while at the same time adding a little twist to it.”
Men’s jeans start at $102
Women’s jeans start at $112
80 Nassau Ave.
Loren Cronk believes in supporting locally-made items and manufacturing products with the help of employees from the neighborhood. He designs, creates, and sells the Loren Cronk brand from his workspace and retail area on Nassau Avenue, which has been open for almost three years.
“I’ve worked for a few major brands, and in my experience most designers these days don’t know how to make a pair of jeans themselves,” said Cronk, who has been designing denim for about 13 years. “So, adding to Made In New York/Brooklyn, I’m involved in making each pair, which is unique within itself.” The jeans aren’t mass-produced; his store makes eight to 20 pairs of one fit at a time. If a pair is sold, the size is recut and placed in the store within the next two weeks.
His most expensive Loren jean sells for $350, a price he said he feels “ridiculous charging” because he grew up shopping at thrift stores. “The most I would spend on clothes was 20 bucks for a pair of vintage pants,” he said. “It was really important to me to offer a range.” But the cost is unavoidable, he said, because he has to outsource the fabric due to a limited selection in the United States.
The Loren brand also includes denim shirts, jackets, and accessories made in Manhattan. He hopes to expand the collection with more quality and premium products such as windbreakers and Sherpa-lined jackets. Women’s 100% cotton jeans will be available in the fall.
Cronk said he tries to offer “more interesting” items than the typical jeans sold by big companies. The brand is mostly focused on raw denim, but he also offers a rinsed pair that softens the fabric.
In addition, Cronk designs the men’s Blksmth brand, which is domestically sourced and manufactured. The brand contains both raw and washed jeans and is sold to a few wholesale stores around the country and in Japan.
He also carries items from Judi Rosen New York and Soldier and Brave in his store, an openly divided retail space and working area located between Lorimer Street and Manhattan Avenue. The shop is closed each Tuesday and Wednesday for sewing.
Cronk offers repair and tailoring services for people who don’t want to part with their beloved jeans, with the store completing 30 to 50 repairs each week. He hopes eventually to expand the business to offer custom-fit jeans. “You put the time in with your jeans and it just becomes so personalized,” said Cronk, who lives a block from his store. “When you go to buy it again, it fits different because you have the years’ worth of wear.”
Men’s and women’s jeans start at $89
Men’s and women’s handmade jeans start at $285