Hartford Denim Company was co-founded by high school friends Luke Davis, Marshall Deming, and Dave Marcoux in 2010. Since then, the startup has sold hundreds of pairs of jeans all over the world and expanded its line to offer additional products such as aprons, bags, jackets, and hats.
It all began with Davis’ obsession with well-made jeans, explains Marcoux. “Luke was into buying jeans from Japan that are made in a similar vein to the jeans that we make now. After spending what most would consider way too much money on jeans, he decided to figure out if he could make them himself.”
It’s that attitude that initially got the company off the ground. “I think that kind of speaks to the people we are in general, which is why we are here making jeans in Hartford,” notes Marcoux.
“When we get really interested in something—whether it’s clothing, beer, or food—we go right to the source and become more involved with it than just being a consumer,” he adds. “In all of our own rights, I think we are artists in different aspects. It’s nice to be able to have a functional outlet for the art—we’re creating things you can use in in your everyday life.”
CREATING THE STARTUP BUSINESS
The three friends didn’t necessarily intend to start a business. Around 2009 they found themselves all living in the Greater Hartford area. At the time, Deming was really into leatherwork, Marcoux recalls. “He was doing a lot of hand sewing, making bags. He actually sewed himself a leather jacket.”
After spending time watching Deming work, Marcoux admitted he had some product ideas. He made a tool pouch, a belt, and a wallet.
That winter, Davis began experimenting with making his own pants. “He taught me how to make a pair of jeans and then Marshall kind of followed suit,” Marcoux recalls. “In the spring, Luke came up with the idea to try make 100 pairs of jeans in three months. So it sort of started as a goal. He never even came close to meeting that goal. He probably made about 10 pairs in three months.”
However, after Davis had made a few different pairs, friends saw them and said they would pay for them. “We sold a few pairs and thought: Maybe we have something here. With a little more focus we could actually turn this into a business,” says Marcoux.
“When we first started we really had no idea what we were getting into,” he adds. “After the first few months, it was pretty apparent that there was a much bigger picture. Manufacturing in America was kind of gone. As we started trying to source materials such as fabric, rivets, and buttons, we realized most of the things we were finding were made overseas. I kept driving us to do as much as we possibly could with materials made in America.”
FINDING THEIR PLACE IN HARTFORD
By September of 2010, Hartford Denim Company was renting a space across the street from their current location on Bartholomew Avenue, just down the street from reSET. They experimented with working in downtown Hartford, on Pratt Street, which was when the company really became full time, explains Marcoux.
However, with heavy shipments and deliveries, the downtown location was not ideal. Hartford Denim Company ended up moving to Arbor Street in the building next to Real Art Ways where MakeHartford is currently located.
“We really always liked this neighborhood,” says Marcoux. “At Arbor Street we had a great space, it was just more industrial. It was an old factory, so it had the look we were going for, but it got really cold during the winter months. We realized after two years were spending too much on the space and too much to keep it heated. So we found the space here on Bartholomew, which is a much better fit.”
Hartford Denim Company has been at 30 Bartholomew Avenue for almost four years. Marcoux says it was important for them to be located in Hartford. “It’s where we we’re from. Our network is here. There’s also a really rich history of manufacturing here in Hartford that’s been lost and somewhat forgotten.”
GETTING THE WORD OUT
In terms of marketing, Marcoux acknowledges that much of it has been word-of-mouth and press. The company has been featured in the Hartford Courant a few times, as well as Connecticut Magazine and Hartford Magazine.
While Hartford Denim Company was still located at Arbor Street, it participated in several events featuring a pop-up restaurant and 30 or 40 local vendors, including artists, jewelry makers, and vintage dealers. “We saw a really great turnout,” Marcoux recalls. “It really got the word out for us.”
The company does rely on social media, particularly Instagram. Each co-owner has his own account. “We have definitely gotten some good business through Instagram,” says Marcoux, “Mostly individual retail sales.”
He adds that Hartford Denim Company has always been opposed to spending money on marketing. “We would rather meet and greet people than spend money running an ad in the newspaper or radio that may or may not reach potential customers.”
The company annually attends the Brimfield Antique Show. “We started going as avid antique collectors and then eventually started getting a booth. The jeans—while they are a new product—fit into the sort of milieu because they’re made with integrity. They are meant to wear and age,” explains Marcoux.
As word got out, Hartford Denim Company’s clientele expanded. The company now has clients in Sweden, Thailand, and Tokyo. “The deal with our client in Tokyo actually happened because of the Brimfield Antique Show,” he adds. “We met the head buyer who was there purchasing fixtures for the store.”
Hartford Denim Company also provides aprons for local restaurants including First and Last Tavern, which has several locations throughout Connecticut, and the Rooster Co. in Newington.
In addition, the company developed a proprietary apron design for Twelve24, which caters to the bartending industry, and, in the last year, the company has made 700 aprons for the George Dickel Distillery in Tennessee.
While Hartford Denim Company produces 500 to 600 hundred pairs of jean per year, Marcoux notes that they have diversified the product line adding aprons, bags, jackets, and hats.
In the future, Hartford Denim Company plans to grow the staff and client list. “There are things we haven’t made yet that we’d like to, such as overalls and backpacks. We are always trying out new things, particularly when different fabrics become available, then we can reinvent an old product that we used to do using a newer type of fabric,” says Marcoux.
HIGH-QUALITY JEANS, MADE IN HARTFORD
According to Marcoux, the material and the construction techniques make Hartford Denim Company’s jeans different than any others. The company also guarantees all of its products three repairs for life. “If anything ever happens, whether your jeans get a hole in them or a button falls off, it doesn’t matter. You bring them back in and we’ll fix them, free of charge,” he says. “You essentially have these jeans for life.”
Marcoux admits there is often a bit of sticker shock when people find out the price of the product. “They do cost $235. For a lot of people—including myself when we first started this project—that was an astronomically high number.”
Marcoux continues, “At first I was a little wary that we would be able to sell jeans at $150. But we did. And we continue to sell jeans at $235. A lot of that has to do with the fact that people now recognize that there is a high cost of doing business in America, and if you want to support an American economy you have to pay for it.”
He adds that many customers have more than one pair of jeans. “A lot of our customers are local people who probably never spent more than $40 or $50 on a pair of jeans,” he notes. “But they hear the story about us, they hear about the repair policy, and they really appreciate the fact that we are where we are right here in Hartford.”
Hartford Denim Company is located at 30 Bartholomew Avenue, Hartford, CT. Learn more about the company and products at www.hartforddenimcompany.com.