Luke Davis, Marshall Deming and Dave Marcoux, co-founders and owners of the Hartford Denim Co., had always been the type of people interested in creating things that were not only useful, but unique and long-lasting.
When the three friends began handcrafting jeans a few years back, it was really just a hobby, the continuation of that desire to create.
But, after a few of their friends started to show a tremendous interest in their work, they realized they were onto something much more.
Since 2010, Hartford Denim has been making jeans from raw denim woven in either North Carolina or Japan at its workshop on Arbor Street in Hartford's West End. The jeans, all guaranteed for life, come in several different cuts varying from slim and skinny to relaxed and stove pipe.
In addition to doing contract runs for small boutiques worldwide, including Thailand and Japan, the company also sells direct to consumers via its new factory outlet store at 30 Bartholomew Ave. in Hartford.
The outlet store, which freed up much-needed workshop space and allowed the owners to sell to a broader audience, is stocked with many sizes and styles of jeans ranging in cost from $100 up to around $300, as well handmade boots, belts, shirts, jackets and select products from other manufacturers.
For Davis, Deming and Marcoux, setting up shop anyplace but Hartford wasn't even a consideration.
"Growing up in West Hartford, we felt a strong draw and connection to the incredibly industrious history of Hartford," Marcoux says. "It serves as constant inspiration."
Saying no one could be more passionate about their products than the jeansmakers themselves, the trio places a huge emphasis on spending time out of the workshop.
"By getting out there and meeting the customers, it gives them the opportunity to form a bond with the people crafting the clothes they wear the goods they use," Davis says. "It creates a deeper appreciation for the product when you have met the person who made it."
Every so often, the group takes trips to Westfarms mall in West Hartford to scope out who's buying jeans and from where and they always have some place to check out on trips into New York City.
"In a market where the product is essentially the same design company to company, it is important to see who is out there and how they are doing it," Davis says. "But, it is also important not to get too caught up in what the others are doing. We have found that if we focus on creating what we want, the consumers respond well."
Until just recently, sourcing quality American made components for the jeans was one of the biggest challenges facing Hartford Denim as there is only one mill left in the United States that produces selvedge denim (a type of denim that forms a clean natural edge that doesn't unravel) on vintage shuttle looms.
Without enough buying power to purchase directly from the mill, the company was forced to buy in smaller quantities from other middlemen, resulting in product inconsistency and an inability to guarantee the same fabric for every order.
Now, business is solid and Hartford Denim is looking to increase its reach and production by adding more wholesale clients. Currently, about 80 percent of the company's customers are from Connecticut.
"We are looking to every major city in the U.S. and other major cities abroad, including Hong Kong, Tokyo and Bangkok as potential markets," Marcoux says. "By increasing these sales, we will increase our output and efficiency."
Deming says one misunderstanding people often have about startups is that they are not always technology or Internet-based.
"You hear about startups nowadays and people almost always think about Internet, computer, or smartphone-based businesses being created for the sole purpose of taking on investors and selling the company within the first five years," Deming says. "We are a startup only because we are still starting up. In five years, we will no longer be a startup but well on our way to being the well-established, respected brand that we are working hard to create."
Ultimately, for everyone at Hartford Denim, it all comes down to the customers.
"We would not be here if it were not for our customers," Marcoux says. "From the beginning, we have been supported by our customers. Earning repeat customers is very important to the business. We truly feel that once someone has worn our jeans it will hard for them to wear anything else."