I try to buy local. There’s lots of stuff I just can’t do that with, like my cell phone or paper towels. It’s a small thing that I can do to keep dollars in my local economy, and keep people working here. I find it appalling that the current global business model fosters paying people that make our goods next to nothing, while all the value is sucked out of the supply chain by slick marketing and MBAs. I would feel way better about my $70 Gap jeans if more than a few pennies went to the Bangladeshi child that sewed them. This is hyperbole, but you get my point. This is how I started my denim adventure.
After internet searching, I found that Noble Denim was founded and run here in Cincinnati. The short version of Noble’s founding is that the founder Chris Sutton got interested in making jeans. He started with all American sourced raw materials to make himself the best pair of jeans. He started making jeans for friends and grew to sewing for friends of friends. Now, demand is high enough that he’s got a factory in Tennessee sewing for him.
I was intrigued, but I had reservations. Not only are the jeans pricey, at 250 bucks, but they are made from raw selvage denim. At the time, I didn’t understand what either of those words meant.
To the google machine! Selvage has to do with an old school method of weaving denim. The most obvious sign that jeans have been constructed out of selvage denim is if the out seam on the legs have been sewn off as opposed to cut. The old school looms that produced such denim are thought to produce a denser higher quality fabric than the newer methods of weaving. And raw indicates that the denim hasn’t been treated with additional washes after the initial indigo dye; it is denim is it’s most untreated state.
What does all that stuff mean in terms of wearing the jeans? Two things, first raw and/or selvage jeans are almost always 100% cotton. Second, they require some maintenance if you want to get the longest life out of them. The fact that the jeans are 100% cotton practically means that these jeans are stiff and raw (unwashed) with little to no give. Women, you need to know there is zero spandex or rayon in these pants. No jeaggings here, folks.
About that special maintenance, most denim nuts recommend that you refrain from washing your raw jeans for at least 6 months after purchase. Further, since the denim hasn’t been rinsed since being died, it’s possible the indigo will rub off on anything your jeans come in contact with, such as shirt tails and the ankle area of your shoes. I am a bit of a clean freak. I was most disturbed by the thought of wearing unclean jeans for six months.
I was intrigued, but not enough to invest 250 bucks. I found that Williamsburg Garment company manufactures American-made jeans, and at a lightly lower price. At 125 bucks, I got their Hope Street fit jeans that are made or raw but not selvage denim. For the very first time in my life, I measured my favorite jeans and compared those measurements with Williamsburg size chart. Their 31’s were really close to my measurements, just a little narrower in the leg. As I placed my order, I braced myself to have one of my two experiments fail, my raw denim trial or ordering by sizing fit chart trial.
The jeans arrived. Stiff really doesn’t capture the texture of the jeans. Severe, that’s more appropriate. And tight. So tight. But, considering the fabric had zero give, the fit was spot on. On day one, I was unsure.
As the first week passed and I kept wearing the jeans; I thought of them as my leg armor. I felt like each time I put them on, I was beating them into submission. And submit they did. Across time the denim formed to my body and softened. After a couple of weeks, I was feeling more sure my experiments were successful.
My concerns regarding long term care proved to be unfounded. First, my jeans didn’t rub indigo on anything aside from the inside of one pair of my boots, something that I only see. Further, refraining from washing my jeans was easier than I expected. Airing them out regularly, seems to resolve any odor issues, including camp-fire smell. And there was an unexpected side benefit, that my jeans size stayed consistent. Dryer induced shrink is no longer a thing. My jeans fit exactly the same every time I put them on.
By month six, I was loving my raw denim experience and was ready to put 250 bucks toward supporting local Cincinnati business for an excellent product. I researched the measurement chart for Noble, and selected my fit, Truman, and size, 32. I picked up my jeans at Article in OTR. I went to them mostly because I knew I could walk out the door with my jeans in hand. If I ordered directly from Noble it would have taken a bit more time, because they don’t carry a huge amount of inventory.
I was curios to see if my Noble jeans would be twice as nice as my Williamsburg jeans. They are. The denim is a little more supple, but more dense. I don’t understand how that is possible, but it is so. The Nobles are just better constructed in almost every way. The pockets are lined with soft cotton. The stitching at the seams is precise and clean. The button fly is constructed beautifully. My Noble jeans are a testament to skilled craftsmanship and obsessive attention to detail. On top of all the excellent construction, the jeans fit me great. I am excited to see how they age.
My jeans experiment has ended with great success. I plan on buying a pair of Noble jeans yearly. I will never purchase a pair of Gap jeans again. I would much rather spend extra money on something that is crafted well and pays their craftsmen well. Plus, I get to support manufacturing in the US, and a local Cincinnati business. Hooray, to my dollars staying here and having gorgeous, well-fitting jeans.