Story Birney Imes | Photographs Luisa Porter
Try this on for size: You’re putting down three C-notes on a pair of custom-made jeans, and the fellow taking your measurements says it could be months before they’re comfortable. Meanwhile, he says, don’t wash them. Wear them as often as you can; turn them inside out and air them in the sunlight; spritz them with vodka-water; put them in the freezer, but no washers and dryers, please.
Welcome to the world of raw denim, the latest thing in blue jean fashion.
Now comes Josh West, a young entrepreneur from Tupelo. He’s looking for a way to tap into the area’s garment-making past and seizes upon jeans, bespoke jeans. He teams up with high school classmate Nick Anderson in 2009. As company lore has it, Anderson and West outlined their business plan on a napkin in McAlister’s Deli in Batesville, and Blue Delta Jean Company was born in Oxford.
Jeans have been with us since the 1870s when Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis started putting copper rivets in men’s work pants in San Francisco and selling them to miners, cowboys and lumberjacks.
“There are two reasons we chose jeans,” West, 32, says. “You’re going to have to make something that has a good price, and people like their jeans.”
People like banker Will Reedy, who is a bit of a blue jean obsessive, according to his wife Renee, a photographer based in Columbus. Renee gave a pair of Blue Deltas to her husband for Christmas.
Renee has since bought a pair and says she loves them. Worn hers about 20 times, she says.
Not washing raw denim during the break-in period achieves two things: the denim stretches to give the wearer a “baseball glove” fit, and the untreated denim fades into a distinct, “personalized” pattern that accentuates the contours of the wearer’s body.
The Reedys hosted a trunk showing at Renee’s Main Street studio in February. Twenty people turned out, and all but a few were measured for the Mississippi-made bespoke jeans.
Customers have a choice of 15 to 20 fabrics at any given time, West says. Choice of thread color and hardware are options. The jeans are made in the company’s facility in Verona by seamstresses, who once sewed Levi’s. The wait is four to six weeks and prices start at $300. Choose a specialty denim and you could shell out $900 to $1,200 for your blues.
Clients can be measured for Blue Delta jeans in the company’s store off the Square in Oxford and at the shops of select tailors around the country and in London.
Celebrities and athletes have discovered Blue Delta. Currently, the company is making jeans for NASCAR driver Danica Patrick and Mississippi State University football coach Dan Mullen. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is a customer; so is the band Moon Taxi.
“It’s going really well,” says West. “We started in 2011 with no experience, and we’re growing as fast as we can.”
What of the ongoing business plan for the company conceived on a napkin? Simple, West says.
“We’re operating on the hedgehog principle,” he says. “We want to do one thing and do it really well. We want to be the best custom pant maker in the U.S.”