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How Dearborn Denim Makes Jeans in the Heart of Chicago

The birthplace of deep dish pizza, “the Bean” and Wrigley Field is also the home turf of the latest “Made in USA” denim brand, Dearborn Denim & Apparel.

Founded by Robert McMillan, Dearborn manufactures men’s and women’s jeans in a former industrial laundromat in Chicago’s Garfield Park. The direct-to-consumer brand launched online in 2016 and recently opened its first brick-and-mortar store in the city’s trendy Hyde Park nabe.

While Chicagoans have been privy to Dearborn’s threads for several months—thanks in part to its popular factory tours and praise from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel—the brand is garnering interest across the U.S. for its sweet price points (jeans average $60, retail) and commitment to fair wages. Without wage pressure from big box retailers, McMillan says the brand can pay its employees more rather than less.

With mill partners like Denim North America and Mount Vernon, McMillan said the company is more focused on quality than fashion. “If you look at Levi’s stretch denim jean, I would venture to say that ours is superior, and we’re beating them on price,” he said. “One of the goals is to have it American-made, made the right way so you don’t have to worry about the supply chain.”

Dearborn denim

The brand is in the business of creating high-quality staples, offering men’s denim in tailored, relaxed and slim fits in dark, medium and light washes. The women’s collection includes skinny high rise and straight leg cuts. Jean jackets are due in the fall. While men’s online sales outpace women’s, McMillan reported that store sales are split fifty-fifty.

As a relatively new company, McMillan, a former bonds trader, makes most of the calls, and even wears the design hat every now and then. “At the end of the day we’re not deciding the trends,” he said. “We’re making very nice staples.”

Dearborn’s current labor force is an intimate 14 to 15 people factory-wide. While McMillan says the business could grow “tenfold” without too much additional equipment, he wishes to scale in moderation and maintain quality, adding, “We want to make sure that we’re delivering a great product and great experience as we grow.”