If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you know that I am very passionate about bringing you products that are Made In The USA. Unfortunately, in the current economic and political climate that means I’m spending a lot of time talking about remarkably expensive or extremely specialized stuff. One of my readers called me on the carpet recently regarding this. He suggested that we lay off the $250 resole services and $299 fidget spinners (both of which are, um scheduled for future articles) and focus on products that regular working-class Americans can buy without taking out a second mortgage.
He was, of course, absolutely right.
So today we have a new category: Made In The USA, Affordable. And I’m kicking it off with a new retailer that offers completely American-made jeans for just $59. You can buy Dearborn Denim online, but since I was in Chicago for another reason I decided to visit their retail location in the baddest part of town and see what the company is all about.
Dearborn Denim was founded by a Chicago bond trader a few years ago. Their website is simple and easy to use. They claim that their denim is made in Georgia from Texas Cotton. I don’t know if they used Denim North America, which is about to follow Cone Mills onto the scrapheap of history as a domestic denim producer. I do know that supply at the store was extremely tight when I got there.
On the day I visited, the shop was being run by the quite tall Kaleb Sullivan, Dearborn’s head of retail. He found some dark jeans for me in size 38 and had me try them. My impression is that they are vanity-sized just a tiny bit, but nothing too serious. After I confirmed that the 38s were okay, Kaleb measured my legs for hemming. If you buy online, Dearborn offers lengths from 28 to 38, but retail customers get hemmed to length in-store.
I wanted to get four pairs total — two dark, one khaki, one washed — but Kaleb expained that they are perennially short of the washed jeans. So I settled for three pairs plus a Horween leather belt and a Dearborn-branded measuring tape. The total for all five items was $239.24, a full $22.24 of which was allocated to the no fewer than three separate and distinct sales taxes levied on Chicagoans for the privilege of living in a place where a staggering seventy-one (71) percent of murder cases go unsolved.
Things I did not buy: the “reppin” pins, the patches with the “Chicago flag” available in four different color schemes, any stickers. I’m not a Chicago resident, obviously.
So… what are the jeans like? My first impression upon trying them on is that I’ve been spoiled by years of buying high-end USA-made stuff from Lucky, Betabrand, Flint&Tinder, Gustin, and other outlets. These $59 jeans are not luxury items. They’re much closer to the workaday stuff sold by LC King and Carhartt. Which is fair, because they are priced to compete with those brands. If you go back to, say, 1980, you will see that you could buy USA-made Levis for $25 or so. That’s equivalent to eighty bucks today. So Dearborn is actually undercutting Levi Strauss — with the additional handicap of having to source and sew their denim at a volume that is perhaps one-thousandth of Levi’s 1980 production levels.
Not that there aren’t some nice touches on the jeans — and when mine arrive (I had them shipped because I couldn’t wait the requisite hour or so for hemming) I’ll take some more photos. In the meantime, I think it’s safe to say that Dearborn has managed to create a very sound product at a very low price with no excuses or corners cut in the process.
Right now, if you have an email you haven’t already used to subscribe to the Levi newsletter you can get 20% off the $88 Made In The USA 501 Jeans. That’s seventy-two bucks out the door, which isn’t that far from $59. (Edit after the fact: the 20% is not valid on Made In The USA Levis products.) I’m inclined to keep buying from Dearborn. For Levi, this American-made thing is a sideline that will probably shut down as soon as the supply from Cone Mills dries up. For Dearborn, Made In The USA is the whole point of the brand. So although they aren’t exactly in my political corner (see above), I’m going to continue to support them. I recommend that you give them a chance.