Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

David Getzen battles industry norms by manufacturing blue jeans in America.

They are known in America as denims, dungarees, chaps, and even overalls. They initially were worn by American cowboys, but today they adorn everyone from farmers to presidents of the United States.

They are blue jeans, the iconic, quintessential denim pants that are part of the American fabric as much as apple pie, baseball, Coca-Cola, and the Grand Canyon.

More than 125 years ago, Levi Strauss, a Bavarian immigrant, came to San Francisco to outfit goldminers. Ever since, the blue jeans have become an innovation of the American west and eventually the entire nation.

But while blue jeans have the distinct connotation of American ruggedness, most brands are no longer manufactured in the United States. The majority of the remaining and resurging brands of American-made jeans are of the expensive, designer type. Today there are only three major denim textile mills remaining in the United States.

From the Ground Up

Starting an American-made blue jean manufacturing plant today provides many obstacles, most importantly the sourcing of the denim. The majority of blue jean brands that are produced in the United States get their denim fabric from China and Japan. And the distinguishing buttons and rivets are sourced from India, which has nearly cornered those markets.

These are just a few of the difficulties upstart GetZen Jeans founder David Getzen is facing while trying to begin manufacturing of a new style of vented blue jeans.

Photo courtesy of Getzen Jeans

Getzen, and his wife, Eve, have designed blue jeans with zippers on both the outside and inside of the jeans running from just below the kneecap to the bottom of the fabric.  It includes a football type of mesh to let air flow in when you need to wear jeans on hot, summer days.

“I was working as an apprentice for Local 180 Sheet Metal Workers out of Detroit and how it all started is when I kneeled down and ripped a hole in the knee of my jeans,” said Getzen. “I thought, wow, this feels great. So eventually I started taking jeans that I had and started slicing the seams with a razor knife.

“One of the problems I ran into when I was cutting or welding is that I would get sparks in there and the safety coordinator would have a conniption fit. I ended up getting a job in New Mexico and thought about making jeans that would let some air in when it was hot.”

It may sound crazy, but it wasn’t that long ago that American consumers were paying top dollar for jeans that were not only pre-washed but pre-ripped with holes in the knees and thighs for style, comfort and, yes, just being cool.

“I met a lady in New Mexico that was a seamstress and I asked her if she could make me a pair of jeans with zippers and a kind of meshing system,” said Getzen. “She made me my first prototype.

“I ended up meeting another friend who, oddly enough, was a patent attorney and I showed him the pair of jeans and he said ‘let’s patent that.’”

Seed Money

After a year’s long process of contacting blue jean manufacturers, Getzen found Jeff Roth in Los Angeles. Roth is the owner and manufacturer of American-made Lazy J Jean Company.

“I finally found a guy in Los Angeles, Jeff, who made a pair for me and halfway through the process his sewer freaked out and said ‘I can’t do these.’ He called me and said ‘I don’t know what we are going to do. My sewer just quit on me,” said Getzen. “I said ‘Jeff, that really sucks because Chinese manufacturers are willing to do it but I really don’t want to go there.’

“So the next day he calls and says ‘I got a guy that will do it.’ So I sent him the final designs and he got them all done up and sewn and sent them back to me and they were absolutely perfect. Jeff makes jeans, all kinds of jeans, but he makes jeans that go to Italy and France in boutiques. His jeans cost $900. But he sells them all day long. The people that can afford them want American-made jeans.

Photo courtesy of Tellason

“So we used his pattern off his $900 jeans and designed my jeans on that so the vent on the different jeans is so incredibly comfortable,” said Getzen. “They are stylish, comfortable and practical, with the main feature being the unique venting system.”

Getzen, 39, is currently living in Sneads Ferry, North Carolina, working part-time for a home-improvement company while trying to launch his GetZen Jeans brand. He and Eve currently have a Kickstarter online investment page as they try to raise enough money to launch Getzen’s first full manufacturing run. You can order a pair of Getzen Jeans on the Kickstarter site, but if the financial goal is not met, it may take a bit longer to get your vented jeans as the Getzens search for alternative funding.

The billionaires on ABC Television’s Shark Tank might say, “You have an idea, but it’s not a business yet.”

But don’t tell that to the Getzens.

“When the Kickstarter campaign ends, we collect all of the funds and turn them over to the manufacturer,” said Eve Getzen. “We are not giving up. Kickstarter is just the first in line of many ideas we have. We are deeply invested in this and getting the jeans made in America.”

The first pair of jeans to roll out of the manufacturing plant in Los Angeles will be the Limited Edition Burgundy Label, a special edition of the straight-cut men’s vented jeans.

We are deeply invested in this and getting the jeans made in America – Eve Getzen

“The adjustable vents are hidden in the inner and outer seams, so that when they are zipped up, no one will know what you have hidden in your jeans,” said Getzen. “When both sides are unzipped, the vents are lined with strong football jersey mesh for breathability and protection, creating a cross ventilation which provides the cooling feeling of wearing shorts.”

GetZen jeans will initially come in at a price of $98 per pair, which is about double the price of your average work and casual wear jeans. But that price point is still much lower than the cost of many of the upscale American-made jeans on the market today.

“I am trying to keep the price point low,” said Getzen. “But being American made, it’s hard to keep that price point low.

“The zippers are American made. And the mesh in the legs are U.S. meshing. The pocket fabric and the stitching is all U.S. made. There are people that buy their $30 or $40 jeans that would never think about buying a $98 jean, but when people wear them they say ‘man, these are nice.”

Big Brands Chase Cheap Labor

Most Americans, of course, are familiar with that low price from buying Levi’s, the most well-known brand. But Levi’s jeans, for the most part, are no longer made in America. Levi’s has a few high-dollar designer type jeans manufactured in the U.S. but the former San Francisco giant produces most of its products in Indonesia.

Levi’s has even been part of the migration of jean manufacturers to Africa, where workers earn about $21 per month. Africa is considered the final frontier in the global rag trade – the last untapped continent with cheap labor. The cost of doing business in China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Colombia has become too expensive for the company, as well as other once American-made companies like Wrangler, Lee, and Timberland.

Several other jeans giants are now sourcing from Africa, too. Your designer-label Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger jeans, as well as bargain-priced denims from J.C. Penney and Walmart, may have been made in Africa.

But don’t get those blue jean blues just yet.

There are many All-American made jeans on this complicated market. The majority are on the higher end of the price scale, but companies such as Texas Jeans Company, All-American Clothing Company, and Duluth Trading Company offer 100 percent American-made and -sourced jeans at a reasonable price. They’re even manufactured with American-made buttons and rivets.

Photo courtesy of Tellason

And, of course, Jeff Roth’s Lazy J Jeans brand, is manufactured in the Los Angeles garment district. His own materials are U.S.-sourced, and Roth will manufacture for other brands as in the case of the GetZen Vented Jean.

Los Angeles is the number one manufacturing city in the United States today, primarily because of its thriving garment industry. New York is also making a comeback for U.S. manufacturing in its garment district, as well as in Brooklyn.

If you are looking for a variety of different jeans that are Made in the USA, check out these smaller companies: Left Field and Jean Shop in New York City; Tellason from San Francisco; The Stronghold, in Los Angeles; Raleigh, in North Carolina; 3sixteen, manufactured in Los Angeles; Ruell and Ray, made in Blacksburg, Virginia; and Imogene + Willie, in Nashville.