Edmonton lost a part of its fashion history when Levi Strauss closed all of its factories Canada-wide in the early 2000s, including our city’s long-standing denim clothing manufacturer. Since 1911, the Great Western Garment Company (GWG) had been producing denim clothing, and even reinvigorated the industry with the stone washing method (eliminating denim’s inherent rigidness), before its gradual purchase by Levi Strauss in the 1960s-70s and closing its doors in 2004.
But an Edmonton duo are beginning a new fashionable, form-fitting chapter that will likely turn a few heads. Clothing designer Janna Stewart of the local women’s garment brand Cinder + Smoke, along with her husband, James, are bringing denim jeans back to Edmonton with the creation of their own brand, Arturo Denim Co., along with a retail space located on 124th Street.
“We talked about how we could reference that history somehow,” says Janna, “and, eventually, we decided that just a really classic style, to start with, would reference that – because that’s what they used to make here: Classic-cut jeans.”
The idea for the denim brand didn’t derive solely from the city’s history, but from James’s unending hunt for the perfect-fitting jeans. One of the inspirations he came across was a store he visited while on tour with his band, Slates, while in Melbourne, Australia. “You go in and it’s packed, wall to wall, with jeans,” says James. “And they’re actually making the jeans there in the store. And they would alter them or hem them to make them fit you – it seemed like such a great idea. And people are so fussy about finding a fit of jeans, myself included, that they really like.”
And when inspiration hit, the duo set out to translate the idea for a Canadian market – which, as it turns out, isn’t so easy. It was only after attending a denim trade show in Spain that they were able to make the contacts necessary to find the ideal denim mills. “I think I have over 150 different samples of different denims that we tried over the last year and a half,” says Janna. She and her partner eventually decided on a Japanese denim mill.
After nearly two years of product development, an investment in 13 different industrial sewing machines (each of which performs an integral task in developing a pair of jeans), and locating a manufacturer in Quebec, the duo designed, sewed and finalized their first Canadian-manufactured product line of jeans; the “Canadian-made” aspect was the most important thing to the duo.
“You see and hear about working conditions overseas and, as an industry, fashion needs to be more responsible and that starts with people like us doing this – doing things above board, ethically and transparently,” says James.
Currently, the duo design their jeans in-house and send them to the Quebec manufacturer for mass production. The jeans are sold at a $150 price-point with alterations included in the cost. With their soft launch closing this month, the store is hoping to open with more fanfare with the launch of three different fits for both men and women.
And down the line? “An ideal goal would be to do all of our manufacturing here in Edmonton – but we are a ways off from that right now,” says Janna. “But we like to think that, by fall, we can do about a quarter of our production here in the store.”