The legendary designer Yves Saint Laurent once said: "I wish I had invented blue jeans. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity - all I hope for in my clothes." We couldn't have said it any better. There's nothing more versatile than denim - it's the one piece of clothing that seems to take on the character and personality of its wearer. No matter your style, there is a pair of jeans out there that matches both your smooth and rough edges. In this article, we take an in-depth look into American made, artisan-crafted brand, Noble Denim. We spoke with co-founders Chis Sutton and his wife Abby to understand what spurs their love and passion for creating superior jeans. Trust us, this is one feature you definitely want to dive into.
When was Noble denim founded?
Abby Sutton, co-founder: Starting Noble was an unexpected thing for us. Chris taught himself how to sew in 2011 on a whim and when we realized how much he loved it and was oddly good at it, we started to dream about Noble quickly afterwards. We never set out to start a company but fell in love with the process of making something great. He left his desk-job in early 2012 and spent the whole year developing the brand and fit of the jeans-- giving out pairs to friends, grading patterns. When we felt the jean was great enough to share with others, Noble officially launched in November 2012.
Chris Sutton, co-founder: It started with myself as the main sewer with an apprentice named Wendy. Between the two of us, we made all of the jeans for the first year in our little workshop in Cincinnati, OH. We had about 10 industrial sewing machines and together we learned how to do small run production, slowly honing in our fits as we heard feedback from our first customers.
A lot of brands have names that just sound cool – your brand’s name has a real meaning – tell us about your dedication to making American-made, handcrafted, sustainable denim?
Abby: The goal was always to make a great product. Noble started much more out of a passion to make jeans we were really proud of more than to create a “business.” Beginning from a place of dedication and interest in the craft allowed us to play by a different set of rules that felt inspiring to us. So early on we decided that we wanted to make clothes with a certain ethic, in a “noble way.” To hold ourselves to a solid standard, we decided on 4 tenants of what we think it looks like to do business well.
North American Manufacturing with Small Companies:
It is important to us that our clothes be made in either America or Canada. We want to boost the local economy and be close to home (Cincinnati) as we can possibly be. We only work with people we trust from factories. It wasn’t appealing to us to have the manufacturing feel separate from the company, we want a real relationship and connection with the people who make our clothes. They are doing the most important work and we see them as full members of our team.
We care about the environment. We don’t want to feel like a hippy brand, but we do want to do things with intentionality and intelligence to take steps towards less waste and using environmentally conscious materials--- like our organic pocketing and carbon offset shipping. We also believe that the most sustainable thing we can do is create a more durable product so people can buy less things.
Since we started as clothes-makers, we just can’t stop making small runs of things. We love the creative process of making a limited edition item. It gives us the chance to experiment with great new fabrics and it allows our customer to purchase a really unique item.
We value a well-curated, straight-forward wardrobe. We want less stuff, but we want really great basics for guys so they can feel really good about they wear every day. We aren’t going to make anything crazy trendy or an item that could only be worn a few times, our goal is to make the staple items you rely on.
These are the four values that are most important to us, we use them as a filter with every business and creative decision that we make. We trust if we stay dedicated to them, we will make a truly ‘Noble’ product that we can be proud to stand behind.
When you say you make your denim in small batches – what is that process actually about?
Chris: I’ve always been inspired by restaurants where the chef has the creative energy to constantly reimagine the menu, use seasonal ingredients, and have an active and changing product. I think the restaurant industry has the freedom to change it up. The customer expects to go in and discover new things. In a similar vein, we make and hope to make a lot of small runs of unique and limited products, based on small details, new fabrics, etc.
An example of how this will play out is that we are going to have a small batch of about 20 pairs of jeans made from premium Japanese denim, we’re currently running a small batch of our IKE overshirt in Hickory Stripe, natural indigo dyed Japanese fabric. In the Fall, we will have the same shirt in a wide whale German cord. We make a limited number and then we move on to something new---always offering the same reliable fit but in fresh ways. We spent a lot of time getting the fit of our clothes right, from there we like to experiment with the best materials available.
We love the fact that our customers can buy a product from us and know that they may never see that item for sale again. There is a uniqueness and individuality that we feel like is exciting to us as creatives and honors the customer’s desire to buy something unique to them.
For the people that like consistency, we’ll always offer the 13.75 Cone Mills raw jean that we feel like is an amazing, go-to product. We created this for the person who wants to have the same jean every time and can rely on us to have it for them, we think that is important too. Even this jean is made by hand in small batches each week, so the consistency doesn’t downplay the quality and attention to detail that we give it.
What is the Cincinnati – Tennessee connection behind Noble Denim?
Chris: We started everything in Cincinnati as our home base and making all our jeans here in our first year. We never set out to be a ‘one-man’ brand so we had our ear to the ground for other people that could partner with us to help us make our clothes. Completely out of the blue, we got contacted from a guy who lives in rural Tennessee. He told us about a factory in his town that he knew used to make jeans and was heard was thinking of making them again. He saw our website and asked if we’d be interested in getting connected with them. We loved the idea of getting something made as locally as possible and having a factory 6 hours from our house is pretty incredible for this part of the US. So we met them and discovered that we are really on the same page on quality and the desire to make a product in a slow and excellent way. Now, we’re pretty much family. We go down there and stay at the sewing machine mechanic’s house. It’s exciting to be able to start something very personal and see it expand to include people that we trust and love that we never would have met otherwise.
What is it about your fits and quality of denim that make you stand out among other denim brands?
Chris: At the end of the day, what people really want in a jean is for it to fit well. That is what most people seem to care about. Getting into this, people always said that getting men’s fits right would be easy because all men have the same body type. We’ve discovered that just isn’t accurate! We’ve honed in what we feel like are the best 3 fits that are made for 3 distinctly different guys.
The Earnest Slim Straight is a classic slim jean made for a person really who has no hips and skinny legs. Basically, I made this fit for myself. The rise is on the lower side without being a low-rise jean, so you can tuck a shirt in and feel comfortable.
The Truman Regular is the fit we’ve revised the most. This is our most widely accessible fit in that it really does look good on the majority of people that wear it, though it isn’t a catch all. It is intended for a guy who is proportionally the same all over. It has a mid to high rise, room to breathe through the thighs without being relaxed, and a slight taper from the knee down. This is a jean that looks great on a 20 year old guy and my dad both.
The Briggs Athletic fit is our newest addition we’re launching soon and we’re really excited about it. Being around for a year, we’ve seen the biggest need in jean fit is for a guy with bigger thighs and butt but a trimmer waist. A lot of athletes have this issue, especially cyclists. To get a jean that fits around their thighs, they have to size up 2 or 3 sizes. Then, inevitably, the waist has a giant gap. So we made a jean that has plenty of room in the thighs with a higher rise that sits directly on the waist and doesn’t gap. It is really satisfying to hear stories of guys who say they’ve never been able to find jeans that fit and that the Briggs is the first one that really works for them.
As far as the quality of our jeans, there is a lot to say! Right now, every brand talks about quality being important to them. No one is going to say that they don’t care about the quality of their product. That being said, we really do take quality really, really personally. Since we started as clothes-makers first, we look at the product with an extremely anal eye. The biggest difference between our brand and other brands comes down to the time spent producing the jean. We make our jeans very, very slowly and pay our sewers twice what the average Made in the USA company pays their workers simply because they spend more time with each jean. We do a quality check on each step in the jean-making process. Right now, every jean is cut by hand with scissors, nothing is automated, and everything is hand-ironed. This actually makes a big difference in the end result of the jean because it creates a sharper and more honed-in construction. At first glance, most people won’t be able to tell the difference. But it’s there when you look at every stitch inside and out and see the consistency of thread tension, threads being trimmed, and all the seams lining up straight. I believe those tell-tale signs of true quality only come with taking time and the sewer’s taking personal pride in each jean being a representation of their personal work.
Can you also tell us a little bit about your raw denim offerings?
Chris: Right now, we mainly carry our 13.75 Cone Mills White Oak but are in process of coming out with several small batches of Japanese denim that range from 14-18 oz. We’re also experimenting with washes.
How has the response been – and what shops (online and physical) can people find your product?
Chris: The response has been great. We’re so happy that the consistent feedback we get validates that our quality is the best people have found. We love hearing that!
Since we’ve started, we opened with an online store. In Fall 2013 we had our first retail account with Article in Cincinnati. Since that is in our hometown, we have a special relationship with them. Over the last two months, we’ve been starting to form retail relationships for Fall 2014 across the country. A couple stores that are just opening their doors are Wheat & Co in Nashville, Man Ready Mercantile in Houston, and Armitage and McMillian in Denver. We are really impressed with these stores and excited to be a part of their beginning. At the end of April, beginning of May we’re going to update our Stockist list on Noble’s website and include profiles on our new wholesale relationships.
Who exactly is the Noble Denim customer – fashion-leaning gents, hipsters, an older crowd?
Abby: Our typical customer is a guy who appreciates purchasing fewer items, looking for products that are geared towards a great fit and quality. Someone who cares more about the details and curating a simple and great outfit. Our customer tends to be creative and cares about the story behind the jeans as much as having great style. There is no specific age bracket for our customer, we’re proud that our classic fits apply to multiple age groups.
Does your product follow the fashion calendar – with new collections for Spring/Fall etc or do you go according to your own schedule?
Chris: This is a hard decision for us and one that we haven’t entirely decided on yet. We take so much time developing our products that we want to introduce only a few at a time. We want to make sure when we bring out a new item, that it as good as it possibly can be. We focus on Simple Staples for men so we think they should bridge seasons well. We may update a fabric or color for a new season, but our silhouettes and fits will not change often.
If you weren’t a jeans maker, what do you think you’d be doing as a profession?
Chris: Really being able to work with my hands is important to me. Anytime I step away from making an actual product, I find that I don’t feel as inspired. So I think it could look like a lot of different things as long as I’m hands on. I like starting new things and being a part of growing brands. So I think if I had to have a different job, I would see myself doing some kind of creative direction. But I like what I’m doing now!
What new products/happenings can we expect from Noble in the coming months/years?
Chris: Obviously, we’ve already mentioned the small batch jeans. I think that will continue to evolve and take on a lot of shapes. We have a few things that we are keeping close to the chest but we are really excited about for future jean ideas.
We’re going to continue to slowly develop new products in line with our Simple Staples tenants. Our goal is to create great basics for guys, so I can see that involving more shirting options, pants from non-denim fabrics, and outerwear.
What is the most rewarding aspect about starting and running a brand like Noble Denim?
Chris: Being able to create, in itself, is what I find to be totally rewarding. That can be creating a new product or working with friends to come up with a Look Book, I just love starting with an idea and seeing it fully flushed out. It is a really exciting process. Working with people that feel like family and are passionate about doing their ‘trade’ with excellence is incredibly energizing and makes work fun and meaningful. Starting a brand is too much work – if we didn’t love what we do and the people we work with, it just wouldn’t be worth it.
For more information, visit www.nobledenim.com
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