In a time when so many companies are turning away from brick and mortar stores and relying solely on e-commerce, it’s refreshing to come across a brand that are putting the emphasis of their company on having a storefront. A company that insists on creating an experience for its customers from the moment they walk through the door.
Enter 1denim. I’m here today to meet with Elizabeth Bae, one of the founders (along with sister, Claudia Bae Kye) and the head designer of the company. As we meet in her new store situated perfectly across the street from the Americana in Glendale, California I would compare it to walking into a boutique version of an Apple Store. Everything is very clean, their beautiful and ethically made jeans laid out on counter tops, whilst other styles are laid out on the walls. Down the end of the store is a coffee shop, where 1denim even have a full time barista to serve their very own coffee (and it’s some of the best coffee I’ve ever had!) and chocolate to go with their beverages, all of which are representative of the different types of jeans they sell. Everything has been thought through to make it a seamless and enjoyable customer experience.
On top of that they take pride in being a premium denim company, at a reasonable price point that caters to all body shapes, and with their 1identifier process, if you really can't find a pair to match your shape and they believe they've missed a body type, they'll strive to customize a pair for your shape.
In addition Bae’s family own the company that manufactures the denim, which enables them to keep their premium denim at a great price point for their customers, and finally, they know their denim. They aren’t trend driven, meaning that if a flare is out of fashion and the skinny is in, they will still stock the flare, they’ll just have the skinny jean as well. I had been looking to replace an old favorite pair of flared jeans that I’d worn out and since the skinny came in, and the flare was out, but I couldn’t find them, until I walked into 1denim. I also found the perfect pair of boyfriend jeans that have become my go-to for California easy breezy jeans and the most comfortable of travel jeans.
Thank you for taking the time to chat, Liz. I’d love to start by talking about your parents. You literally grew up around manufacturing as your parents have a factory in LA. Did you always know this was the career you and your sister would go into?
I guess I never really thought about it growing up, it’s just what my parents did. But as I grew up I really grew to love fashion and clothing.
I went to FIDM for fashion design and then Parsons for fashion marketing. Although my parents were in the industry I needed to go through that to learn and follow this career.
How did your parents get into the manufacturing business?
My mom was a tailor; she started working in South America and Bolivia. She then started working with my dad. My dad had a factory. After they got married she really helped him grow it. They really grew the business together. It’s really cute when you think about it. They don’t think it is! But it’s a true partnership.
How has it been growing up in the family business? Did you feel that you learnt a lot from your parents?
I was going through fashion school to really learn, but I think the main thing I learnt from them was the family structure of our business, now what I do has all stemmed from there.
I know your parents have been incredibly supportive of you starting up the company, but how did they feel when you initially decided to launch your own denim brand? Did they give you any advice or forewarn you about pitfalls you might come up against, especially opening up a physical store?
As crazy as this sounds, the apparel industry is super attractive but dangerous and very addictive to go into and leave. There are so many factors to being a designer. When I was younger, I thought it was so glamorous, but there is so much to consider, production, work flow, not mathematical, but a lot of things you have to care for to make a brand work. However because I come from a factory standpoint I did have an advantage in my knowledge in the denim industry.
When I saw my parents getting work from other brands, when I saw them searching for stability, searching for work, searching for more clients, seeing that made me want to launch my own brand to work with them. Had they not been in the industry I would probably have been a dress designer. However growing up with denim, for 26 – 27 years you come to know it very well.
My parents are happy, they believed in me, they loved where it came from, they appreciate the care and thought, but (at the same time) they don’t want me to kill myself over it.
I don’t know if 1denim will be successful or not but I want it to fill up the factory. With the store; they were a little bit iffy about how successful it would be just because people are moving to online shopping, but I felt like it was necessary to make a statement about the brands and have a physical thing to see who we are. If it doesn't works out, we just go online, but we have to see how consumers react. So far it’s been successful. People recognize us, and like the brand. We are taking steps.
I love that you work with your sister and kept it a family business. How is it working together, and how do you divide up your roles?
She’s an attorney so she’s good at things I’m not. Getting more involved in the legal and financial aspect of it, so it’s really great having someone with that knowledge. To know if we are doing the right thing, what our next steps should be.
We feed off of each other, I have expertise, which she doesn’t, and vice versa, but we have a great combination and if I lose my creative side because I’m looking at the business side, she comes in. She’s also very creative and very, very in to fashion.
It’s so wonderful that you are manufacturing in LA. Has it been difficult for you and your family to keep manufacturing in the US given the competitiveness of manufacturing internationally?
I know the whole thing about Trump, saying factories should be penalized outside of the US with taxes and duties, but I almost feel like on the factory side we are getting burned. The factory doesn’t tell the brand companies they should use one abroad because it’s cheaper.
They are making jeans for $10 and selling it for $200, we are making it in LA but selling it for $100. We are making a point, and for us to be destroyed by the government by hitting us one more time? Some how they have to help us not penalize us, which is talking to the brands, not make a statement to factories which are already hit the hardest.
In order to have these price points it’s impossible for me to have a middleman; they would have to mark it up for their piece of the pie. For me to go to retail it’s the only way we can give our customer that price point at our risk.
That’s really admirable. I also love that you have a free hemming service for customers, is that a service you provide on the spot?
After the measurements are done we take it to the factory and it takes a couple of days. We are launching our new website, free hemming on the website too!
With 1denim you are creating denim for everyone, a place for men and women and even kids to come and find their perfect fit. Did you feel that was something that was lacking in the industry?
Yes, denim is really hard. It's not a one size fits all so we wanted to create a brand that we could accommodate to almost everyone, the mass majority and give good prices and made in America quality. For example, someone could want to support the brand but can’t fit into the jeans but we wanted to eliminate those feelings.
Can you tell me more about the 1identifier process you have, that allows customers to customize their own jeans?
That identifier process was created so we could fill in the gaps between the standard body types. For instance, slim, athletic, that doesn’t fit in the ‘standard’ spectrum; we created that so we can introduce body types, other than the main collection. We thrive to become a company that fits all. Slowly but surely, it’s not going to happen over night. It has to be on demand and make sense for us.
The process is they come in to discuss their lifestyle, what type of denim they need in their life, how it matches their lifestyle, then they pick out the fabric, the color of the threads, the type of the wash that they like, we brainstorm that, according to their measurements we create something that matches their size, then a couple more fittings, then it’s produced. We can’t do it for everyone; it’s basically upon demand, if that person truly believes that there are so many people like her, that she could help us promote this line of body. Some people might think they have a really different body type but they don’t, it’s expensive to produce anything, and put it in production (so it has to be filling a gap in the market).
As for the hemming, we are trying to become more personable for our customers, maybe down the line we will do customization, but we’d have to figure that out.
I adore the experience you’ve created with the store with coffee and chocolate available for customers. Was this an idea you had from the outset to create an experience for customers? Also the coffee is also your own brand, not another established coffee brand, how did you come to make your own coffee?
We just contacted a local roaster and worked with him to create a local coffee collection, kind of how you would find a factory to create a brand, why not? That’s what people find us for! We have four different collections within 1denim based on our inspiration within the denim brand and we worked with the roaster that relate to the aspects of our creation, so the women’s is a lot less bitter, a lot lighter body, the men’s is a lot heavier.
I just love coffee, it was awesome to learn about the process of it, I didn’t even know how intense the art of it is, how it’s roasted, how each type is expressed, it was so fun to learn. The creative process was amazing. It’s roasted weekly in small batches, so it’s a lot more expensive to make, but we sell it for the same price as another coffee brand, but I wanted to carry over avoiding the process of the middle man (as we do with our denim), although are margins are smaller.
It’s been good and steady. In the local general area it’s been word of mouth and foot traffic, in the vicinity it’s been social media.
How would you describe a 1denim customer?
Our customers have been super nice, young professionals, from 25-50 which is a wide range, but our styles aren’t outrageous in design, it’s something everyone can relate to.
Where would you like to see 1denim five years from now?
Definitely more retail stores, getting recognition as an honest company with integrity; recognition of the hardship that manufactures go through and that they aren’t people to just use and abuse.
1denim is located at:
127 S Brand Blvd, Glendale, CA 91204
Hours: Monday - Thursday - 10AM - 8PM
Friday - Saturday - 11AM - 9PM
Sunday - 11AM - 7PM
Find 1denim online 1denim.com