These are good days for fans of denim who take their jeans very seriously.
Two new jeans shops have opened up in Ybor City, each one targeting those who consider $100 to $300 as just what's necessary for a fine pair of pants. And the shops are just a few yards down from each other: The Florida Jean Company that sells brands like True Religion and Lucky Brand, and the Black & Denim jeans company that manufacturers its own James Dean-style jeans.
Each shop has had a run of success lately, with Black & Denim opening a micro pop-up shop and signing a deal with Macy's and Disney, and Florida Jean Company with a new shop in Ybor City and a deal for space in the soon-to-open Baywalk retail center in St. Petersburg. That would make the Florida Jean Company the first publicly known shop in that long beleaguered shopping center that's going through a major renovation.
“With jeans, you get what you pay for,” said Tammy Collier, who founded Florida Jean Company in 2006 with her husband, Wayne. “A $20 pair of jeans will not come out of the wash a few times doing very well. True Religion jeans are made in America, and Lucky Brand is coming back to that. These are jeans that hold up year after year and will enjoy forever.”
The pair started the company in their Pinellas Park garage, buying used jeans from vintage stores around Tampa Bay, and selling them online. They soon noticed some brands held up well over the years, and held high resale value. So they cut supply deals with companies like Lucky Brand, and started to sell new jeans. After opening a small store in St. Pete Beach in 2010, they soon picked up True Religion jeans. The pair opened a space in Ybor City in March this year with more accessories and bags for men and women, and more upscale jean brands like the West-coast ethos brand Agave.
The difference between a $20 pair of jeans from Wal-Mart, and a $200 pair of jeans from True Religion or Lucky is immediately apparent, Collier said. Quality jeans have a thicker and more durable fabric. Flip up the cuffs, and you'll see the sewing is expertly done, and often with a stitch that's designed to flex in a way that keeps them from fraying.
Their online business continues to grow, and just last week they had orders from Israel and Russia. They've signed a letter of intent to move into the Baywalk in downtown St. Petersburg. If all goes according to plan, the shop should open with that mall in early 2014.
“This was a real Cinderella story for us,” Tammy Collier said. “And it's been a blessing that's allowed us to retire in a way, and not have to work for other people.”
Meanwhile, just a few yards down 7th Avenue, the Black & Denim start-up company is set to open its first pop-up store on Thursday. Led by Roberto Torres, the company toiled in obscurity for years, and spent time going through a business incubator space in a renovated cigar factory. Its big break came just over a year ago when it joined a bootstrap program sponsored by Macy's to train potential vendors. A subsequent fund-raising campaign on Kickstarter showcased how it designs its jeans in Tampa and has them made in Los Angeles. Black & Denim jeans are of an “Americana” style, made using an especially durable denim that's more akin to the motorcycle culture of the 1950s, and type of denim used by mine workers in the California gold rush that first made denim pants a historical artifact.
The project gained more steam when Disney picked Black & Denim for inclusion in an Epcot combination exhibit/store that focuses on Americana. Black & Denim already has its jeans in a select few retailers, including some Stein Mart locations, and if all goes well, they should start appearing in some Macy's stores — potentially by next summer. Opening a store in Ybor City seemed a natural move, Torres said.
The micro store is the size of some Westchase walk-in closets, and may set a record for the smallest retail location in Tampa. (They have an option on more space in the jazz club behind them if they need it.) But the location is a perfect spot, Torres said, to tap into the Ybor club culture and street scene that's a close match with their brand genre.
“The cigar stores in Ybor have people rolling cigars at the front window for people to watch,” Torres said, “so maybe we'll put someone at a sewing machine in our window making jeans.”