This is fashion week in New York, but with the advent of the Internet, the Big Apple isn’t the only American city laying claim to haute couture. Several innovative apparel companies have put down roots in Richmond – among them a store and factory focused on blue jeans.
In the old tobacco warehouse district, the company opened a small, tasteful showroom and, on the other side of a long window, a workshop where customers can watch nine people, using sewing machines and other tools, to make high end jeans, one pair at a time.
“It takes about two and a half hours to make one pair of jeans, compared to industrial production, which is like 12 minutes per jean, according to partner Matt Rho.
“We’re not trying to compete with Levis or mall jeans. Those are made in a very different way – usually made overseas as well,” he explains. “We don’t cut any corners on fabric, hardware or raw materials. We’re not trying to make a cheap pair of jeans. We’re trying to make the best pair of jeans that we can possibly make.”
These pants, which sell for about $200 a pair up come with a surprising guarantee.
“If you wear your jeans regularly, they will have blow outs and tears and rips. That’s part of the beauty of the garment,” Rho says, “But if you don’t want those rips, we’re happy to repair them for you.”
The business was born in 2012, some years after European designer Pierre Lupesco and his wife Brigitte closed their Georgetown shop for the day to take a drive in the country. Soon, they were seeing signs for Richmond, where they discovered the up and coming neighborhood known as Shockoe Slip.
“And it is so beautiful! It’s like Soho,” says Brigitte Lupesco. “There were some stores for rent, and everything was so inexpensive. It’s less than Washington.”
“Richmond was charming,” adds Pierre.
So they opened a store, and in 2012 son Anthony persuaded them to manufacture the new American uniform for America’s working men.
“A lot of our customers work in creative fields or professions where they have a little more leeway to wear jeans, but I feel like even guys who work at Capital One now are wearing jeans to work.”
It’s a product that appeals to people like Will Windsor who came down from Northern Virginia.
“I’m a big supporter of jeans and American-made products, and Shockoe has both. I think it’s worthwhile to buy quality upfront, versus just buying something cheap and having to replace it every year.”
And while these jeans aren’t cheap, Anthony Lupesco insists they’re affordable.
“There was a kid from Staunton, Virginia – a high school student, and every time he got a $5 bill he would put it aside. He saved up for many, many months, came in, got his pair of jeans, paid for it with five dollars bills –a $275 pair of jeans.”
A few hundred more, and you can have your jeans custom made. Shockoe Denim is sold by the venerable department store Saks, and Matt Rho says the company is working to expand its retail reach.
“We get on the road and call on stores. We do a lot of pop-up markets all over the country, and for us it’s really about meeting the customers face to face and letting them touch and feel the product.”
Fabrics come from as far away as Japan, and some jeans are part of a limited edition. For its second anniversary, Shockoe made 50 pairs of jeans from material discovered in an old factory in Petersburg, made by Cone Mills in 1971.
Two more selling points based on the ease of ownership - the company will hem your jeans at no charge, and it advises buyers not to wash them for the first six months of wear.