Today we’re talking with Robert Torres, one of the founders of Black & Denim, an American Made denim and apparel company out of Los Angeles, California and Tampa, Florida.
Can you give 50 BUILT readers some background on yourselves and the events that led up to starting Black & Denim?
Roberto Torres is an auditor by trade. Christopher Findeisen is a fashion designer to the biggest apparel manufacturer in the world (VF Licensing Group). Luis Montanez has an IT background and does all things social media. We started Black & Denim back in 2008 because we wanted to create a company we were proud off. A lot of people start companies because they see a “void in the market” or “the products currently being offered does not satisfy their standards. We wanted to make sure that this project was 100% American Made. We are obsessed with American craftsmanship. We saw how other brands were proud of their heritage, so we wanted to get in the action. This has been an incredible adventure. From looking at trends to finding suppliers, nothing in the process was easy. But this is one of the many things that has made Black & Denim rewarding. We have been able to take an idea (Americana, Music & Lifestyle) and translate that to the modern and contemporary world.
Black & Denim is a team of 3 founders. Roberto, Luis & Chris. We have a Media Director (Laura Frieden), Assistant Designer (Joe Miles) and 4 great interns (Sara, Julia, Rebecca and Katie). We do not have formal titles. We all work on the same level, but we understand that when people look from the outside in, they want to know which specific roles each person have.
All our garments are cut, sewn and needled in Los Angeles, California. We have a 10,000 square foot warehouse in Tampa, Florida where all the garments are tagged, bagged and shipped.
What has the road been like sourcing American made components for your line?
The road has been tough and narrow. Like a winding road with a cliff right next to it, we did not know if the car was going to make it sometimes, but we kept going. Sourcing “dead” industries is extremely hard. What made it somewhat easier was the recession. A lot more people are willing to take a chance or bet on something, even if it is not a sure thing, because they have nothing to lose. These manufacturers were hungry for the work, so they get behind the idea. It does not happen all the time, but when asked why they took a chance on us, they say they saw a vision and leadership. Those are qualities that Small Business Owners (Entrepreneurs) need to have. I put “Small Business Owners” first because this is what enterprises were 50 years ago. The stock exchange was left to a few companies that employed thousands of workers. Nowadays, everybody wants to be an entrepreneur. It is sexy and sleek. People only see the “success stories” and want a big payout. Small Business Owners breathe and eat their business. They do not see themselves doing or working on anything else. These folks move our country forward. We want to be remembered for that.
In regards to items that were more difficult to make in the USA than others, the toughest items to source were knits. The industry is either really cheap or really expensive. There is not an in-between.
The denim industry is full of history and iconic brands. It is quintessentially American, but few take on the challenge of actually being made in the USA. How is Black & Denim carving out a spot in that industry, and how has the reception been to this point?
The only way that we can carve a niche market and customers is by being authentic. People smell fake brands from a mile away. Consumers make the final decision as to whether a brand is good or bad, beautiful or ugly, practical or non-functional, etc. This is where brands set themselves apart. When people ask us “what sets your brand aside from other brands” the question is really a moot point. Every brand is different, every single one of them. They have different names, different people and different core values. Yet, when you start looking at brand after brand and all of them “play it safe”: they follow the same trends. They take the same colors. They seem like copycats of each other. You can replace 1 garment from X brand and put in the rack of Z brand and you could not tell the difference. That is where we are different. We are like a Cadillac. They have the same lines. The same uncompromising quality standards. You can see a Cadillac from the distance and recognize the iconic thin tail lights. We take every piece of garment that we manufacture and make sure it doesn’t change to follow a “trend” or a “fad”. Calling fashion “classic” is not the answer. Fashion is always evolving, always improving. If we make changes, they are for the better. The reception has been nothing but amazing. To not go out of business is a success. We listen to our customers. We are always looking for ways to make our fit better. It comes down to better offerings and better details, Trying to alter that formula is what keeps us in business.
Black & Denim works with the legendary Cone Mills’ White Oak plant. What does a respected denim mill like Cone bring to the American Made message?
Working with Cone Mills is nothing short of amazing. To see that a company can listen to the market and give it what it wants (or needs) is the reason why they are the industry leader. They bring heritage. A history. They can compete with Japanese and Italian Selvage because the technology was created here.
Why is it so important for Black & Denim to market the fact that they are ‘American Made?’
American Made IS Black & Denim. I am from the Republic of Panama. I became a US citizen 2 years ago. When I was growing up in Panama, everything we bought was American Made. The reason: we knew that it would last. Period. American-Made brands had the tendency to last longer and they had warranties. That made it enticing for us. Offer not only a “defect free” warranty, but also a lifetime warranty that you will love it no matter what, even after 5 years. We understood that not only does the American consumer wants to purchase American Made, but the whole world also craves this.
The biggest way we promote is telling our customer about how many jobs we are saving and how many we are trying to create. We utilize different tactics for this: We put it in our tag, neck tag, hand tags and packaging. We want to make sure that the consumer understands why American Manufacturing is important.
If you could tell our readers one factor that is the greatest threat or advantage to keeping things made in America, and allowing companies like Black & Denim to succeed, what would it be?
One key factor we address all the time is how important is our enterprise to the economy. Showing pride in what we do and how important is to keep this industry alive. Having only 3% of our clothing manufactured in the US is not good. Not only is it imperative that we reverse that trend, but we also want to take American design and put it in its rightful place in Fashion.
Thank you all so much for your time, best of luck on your Kickstarter campaign!
Check out Black & Denim’s Kickstarter campaign. It’s still open to contribute and recieve American Made goods for a great price!