Admit it - we all own fast fashion denim from H&M, American Eagle Outfitters and Zara. But that cheap stuff isn't really the great deal you think you're getting: It's crappily made, might have harmful chemicals on it and could be the product of sweatshops or child labor. Yikes.
That's why husband-and-wife team Victor and Sarah Lytvinenko created the Raleigh Denim Workshop - a place where they could become the best in the game by crafting 100-percent American-made jeans.
"We felt like for a long time, clothing manufacturing was being pushed toward faster and cheaper and lower quality, and we wanted to do the exact opposite," Victor says.
Victor and Sarah didn't know anything about making jeans when they first started with a few sewing machines in their living room - learning from experts like Chris Ellsberg, an 81-year-old former pattern maker for Levi's, and the mechanics who used to fix the old sewing machines there (Levi's underwent massive layoffs in the late '90s when it was forced to ship most of its manufacturing overseas due to financial reasons).
Now, Victor and Sarah have a workshop and a cool curated shop set up in the artsy-cool Warehouse District in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. There, employees work a regular 40-hour work week (a far cry from sweatshop conditions) and really seem to love their jobs.
Each worker completes his/her own task at a station - cutting fabric, sewing on back pockets, attaching the fly or stitching up an inseam - and it's all done by a real person outfitted with a old-school sewing machine. (Victor finds they are better quality than the newer ones.)
"We want our jeans to make you feel bad ass when you put them on," Victor says, calling out little details like red stitching worked into the buttonholes and an interior pocket signed by hand to show the thoughtfulness worked into every pair.
And it's not just a better work environment and higher quality that ranks their jeans a cut above: Victor and Sarah use top-quality cotton from nearby Cone Denim Mills in Greensboro, North Carolina.
"That's our proposition: Know where the jeans come from, know that it's the nicest highest quality thing in the world, and buy one instead of two," Victor says of the price tags, which run from $198 to $265 online - pretty competitive in today's premium denim market.
And while Victor might have the production thing down, there's still one thing he hasn't figured out: America's undying love for denim.
"I can't figure it out," he says. "Everyone falls in love with denim and then they get over it, then they come back around. Wide-leg, skinnier leg, higher rise or lower rise, it all keeps coming in circles...It's a forever relationship, I don't know why it is but it is."
Since jeans are one bae we think we'll keep around, we think it's worth investing in an awesome pair.