Described as a new manufacturing center in the Motor City, Detroit Denim Co. opens its new location today in the city’s east riverfront district near Stroh River Place. Founded in 2011, the new location offers 3,400 square feet of “cut and sew” space along with a 900-square-foot retail store.
As part of the opening, Detroit Denim is launching a series of leather tote bags that will soon also include denim and canvas offerings. Other merchandise includes American sourced hand-sewn denim jeans, shirts, crewnecks, belts, doorman key fobs, belts, leather and brass key chains, and aprons. It also carries Wolverine Boots and a line of men’s grooming products.
“Some people call us a fashion house, but we’re really a manufacturing house,” says Brenna Lane, a partner and director of operations of Detroit Denim. “It takes 10 different machines to make one pair of jeans, and nothing is automated. It requires three-and-a-half hours to make the jeans. We compete on quality, not price.”
Since the 1960s, more than 90 percent of American-produced apparel was domestically produced. With offshoring and other trends, today local apparel production has dropped to less than 2 percent, Lane says. “We’re developing a lean manufacturing system to better handle inventory and add efficiencies,” she says.
Over the last four years, Detroit Denim was located at Pony Ride, a business incubation facility in Detroit’s Corktown district. Eric Yelsma, a national account manager for a large chemical company who left his position, cashed in a 401(k) account, and started the business in his garage and basement, founded the company.
“Obviously there was risk involved, and I quickly learned operating this as a home-based business wasn’t going to work,” says Yelsma, a partner of Detroit Denim with Lane and Steve Wisinski. “At that time, I met Phil Cooley from Pony Ride. We’re the first business to graduate from that space, so to speak.”
Located at 2987 Franklin (at McDougall), Detroit Denim, which has eight employees, is in a two-story brick and glass structure that was built in 1906 and originally housed Dongan Electric Manufacturing Co (since moved to Fraser).
In addition to Detroit Denim, the 22,000-square-foot building, which is owned by a private investment group, is occupied by CAM (Collaborative Advantage Marketing), an importer of specialty foods including Falksalt, a line of natural and flavored sea salt flakes. The company was formerly based in Birmingham.
In turn, residential lofts will be added, along with an art gallery, a boutique restaurant, a flower shop, and a green alley.
“We took our time finding the (new) space, as well as taking the time to figure out how to develop a lean manufacturing system,” Yelsma says. “There wasn’t any pressure that we had to produce so many jeans each month. We’re very vertically integrated. Down the road, we’ll be introducing a women’s apparel line, so stay tuned.”