Bill mitchell / billiam jeans
How long have you been in business?
I started tailoring clothes in 2009 and officially launched the business in 2010. So, 8 years and counting.
What was your journey/path to get where you are in the jean business today?
After a year and a half of making jeans in my parents basement, I had amassed a waiting list of 400 people. I spent as much time as I could on Craigslist searching for old machines and would soon move into the tiny back room of a rock climbing gym where I would spend two hard years learning to pattern and make. Eventually we opened our first retail store in our local arts district and spent a few years doing everything we could to keep learning and growing. When the landlord came to us asking for three times the rent, we moved to the other side of town and have never been happier. With every year and increase in business, we have had to learn who we are as a company and the story just keeps growing. We haven’t paid for advertising, used a credit card or taken out any investment, and have produced everything from the beginning in house to date.
How did you learn your craft?
My informal education is YouTube and trial and error. When you start taking peoples money and telling them you will make them a custom pair of jeans (without knowing how to make jeans), you learn pretty quick. Luckily those first years were full of gracious people who didn’t mind coming back a few times until I got it right. I don’t know if I would recommend this path to someone starting off but it certainly worked for me. Also, I learned valuable lessons on fixing and repairing the mechanics of old sewing machines one those years which has proved to be very valuable when we have mechanical needs now.
You moved a lot your first few years in business to keep up with increased production. How many employees did you start with and how many employees do you have now?
For many years it was just me and a few friends who wanted to lend a helping hand. As the demand began to grow, I started hiring interns and short term contracted help. Eventually I had to learn to hire real employees and pay them a living wage. As hard as that was to become a “real company”, it has allowed us to begin building a team of the hardest workers and brightest minds. We are now a team of 6 and everyone is giving it their best to create one of the best stories SC has ever seen.
Do you know how many jean companies still design, cut, sew and finish their jeans in-house like you do?
There are just a few jean companies around the country who are keeping their entire process under one roof. I would define jean companies as a company who is employing multiple people and trying to grow and scale. There are many small makers and “one man bands” out there doing a fantastic job at making pro level garments for individuals. Like many things we do, I don’t know if I’d recommend that as the “best” path for everyone, but we really enjoy the hands on approach and hope to encourage others of what it is possible.
How long does it take from consultation to delivering a finished pair of jeans? What is that process?
At our current pace we work within a two week turnaround. We fit the customer, allow them to select their material, and begin the process of producing the pattern and ultimately finished product. Our goal every year is to have every order shipped by Christmas so there is something under the tree.
What is your most popular style of jeans?
Our most popular style of jean is our Tailored Slim cut in a dark indigo denim with 1% stretch. This denim is a selvedge denim and is woven on vintage 1940s Draper X3 looms at the late White Oak mill of Cone denim in Greensboro, NC. People love the feel of a little room in the seat and thigh while still tapering from the knee down. We’d consider it one of the best cuts in the market today.
Do you offer other products other than jeans?
We sell many belts, jackets, t shirts, and sweatshirts all designed, patterned, cut and sewn in house. Our new t shirts made out of NC supima cotton are going to be really exciting to create for our wonderful customers.
What do you do to keep up with the industry?
For years and years we have been trying to craft the experience of buying custom jeans to the point where the only marketing we need is word of mouth. Our biggest push forward will be making this process internet friendly to give people near and far the same level of experience. Most of this will require video story telling and education about the process. We are also striving to incorporate the latest in sewing technology and work with those companies to educate other brands on why these new machines help create superior products.
What do you see in the future for Billiam Jeans?
Our goal as a company is to show the industry what a small brand is capable of. We want to incorporate as much technology to our fitting, manufacturing, and ordering processes while at the same time telling an authentic story. Hopefully this means smarter fabrics and tailored products people haven’t seen from a locally based company like ours.
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