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Juxtapoz’s Evan Pricco caught up with San Francisco-based denim brand Tellason Denim on behalf of The Citrus Report to talk shop in regards to various topics surrounding the current trend in American-made products and of course denim. Some highlights of the interview from Tellason owner’s Tony Patella and Pete Searson can be seen below.
TCR: So how does the Tellason story start?
Tony: We met over 20 years ago, when Pete was just starting his career working for Mossimo, when it was a fashion brand and not in Target. My dad had a sporting goods store and I sort of grew up in that. Pete came in with his rolling rack of Mossimo stuff and that is how we met. It turns out we went to the same school, at the same time, but we didn’t know each other. We became friends and eventually we both worked at Paul Frank together.
I had a denim line from 1993-2001 based here in San Francisco called Sutter’s, and it was focused more on the junior’s division, and we sold to Nordstrom, Zumiez, Mr Rags, Pac Sun. Villains carried the line, too, and others. My partner in that brand, whom I learned a lot from, had a denim line called Sticky Fingers in 1970s. He was one of the first non-Levi’s, Wrangler, or Lee denim labels that considered himself premium denim.
TCR: We are in a middle of an explosion right now of high-end denim, especially American and Japanese-made, people really taking care of fit, quality, and design. I’m interested in both of your perspectives, Tony on the product side, Pete on distribution, of what is the quintessential design or brand that launched this high-quality denim craft. Tony I guess I ask you for the design and quality part, and Pete, I ask you about what brand then was the best distributed that spread across the globe?
Tony: For me, this whole notion of premium denim is bullshit. Most brands that call themselves premium are not making premium anything. They are selling average crap and a premium price. You look at the fabric and go, “How does this cost $300?” The quality is poor, some bullshit embroidery is slapped on, and it’s not premium. We are not going after that guy. We are going after the guy who wants a quality, American-made product. We are going after a very small sliver of denim consumers, and that is fine. That is where we want to be.
What is interesting right now, and this is pretty much exclusive to the men’s market, is this resurgence and idea of Americana. We have always liked that notion, the workwear concept, the durability of it, the idea in fashion that you can wear something for 6 years and not 6 months. That is unique to men’s market.
I think the reason why men are shopping at Unionmade and Smith + Butler is because when guys buy something they want it to last a long time. From our perspective, we want to build a classic American product that uses all of the best methods, whether it be the fabric, the sewing, the trims and the fit. There is nothing revolutionary about what we are doing, it’s just high-quality. Every component of Tellason is like that. We get our leather labels done by Tanner Goods in Portland, and our labels are the best, nobody does it better. I don’t care if it cost 3x as much, its worth it for that to be a part of what we do. As it turns out, 99.5% of a Tellason jean is made in the US. The only thing not is the woven label in the inside back. And we tried, but it’s impossible to find that the US.
Our production is cut and sewn in San Francisco, and to us that is a big deal. I just read a stat recently that in the 1950s, 90% of the clothing American’s wore was made in US. Now it is less than 0.5%. We’re committed to US production and fortunately, in the men’s shops we sell to, the consumers are focusing on the same thing. That is why you see resurgence with brands like Red Wing, or Alden, and it speaks to exclusivity and quality. And with Tellason, we consider them artisan jeans, we’re making only 240 pair in each run of production.
TCR: I try to wear as much American made goods as I can, as I can afford, and to me, I feel like its “Put your fucking money where your mouth is.” If you are going to complain about job-loss, or the environment, if you are going to complain that nothing is getting made in the US, then don’t buy good made elsewhere. And obviously the people who complain a lot don’t do that. If you are going to have certain stances in life, be it political or environmental, back it up, support local American artisans and clothiers.
Tony: Americans simultaneously want American-made at low prices, and its impossible. But I would rather spend 4x as much to get it right the first time. The other day the factory called me with problem, and I was there in 20 minutes to work it out. We want to build this right. We want Tellason to be the last thing we do.