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Marc Nelson Denim Founder Taps Whiskey-Infused Denim for Brand Rebound

There’s little that’s more Tennessee than whiskey and a pair of jeans, and Tennessee-based men’s wear brand Marc Nelson Denim is embracing its mountain heritage with whiskey-infused denim.

Marcus “Marc” Hall, the creator and designer of the self-named brand and a proud native of East Knoxville, found the biggest struggle in getting the brand off the ground at first, was finding the right identity—which he ultimately found in a bar.

After a chance encounter with a man at a watering hole turned to talk of whiskey, Hall found his inspiration. “He sent me whiskey barrels about two weeks later, and I started messing around with a Cone Mill natural denim,” Hall said. Through a series of experimentations, Hall was able to create whiskey-washed denim with a subtle amber hue. The brand also soaks denim in whiskey for 30 days, which stains the jean into a warm golden color.

Hall sells his clothing in his brick-and-mortar store in Knoxville and through e-commerce at the company’s website. Beyond the whiskey-washed denim, customers can find jeans in an array of other washes and fabrics. Trend-conscious buyers can purchase The Andy, a raw denim with a slim straight leg or a lightweight selvedge chambray jean. For those wanting a more classic look, Marc Nelson offers slim straight styles in black denim or a vintage wash. The brand also sells bottoms in chino, flannel and canvas fabrics.

Hall is also releasing two new pieces that infuse innovation with style, too. One new arrival is a five pocket men’s active wear jean, and the other is a motorcycle pant with a denim and kevlar weave woven in Japan. “It takes 24 hours to make a yard, that’s really extreme, but it’s an amazing jean,” Hall said.

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This heightened focus on the consumer’s experience is new for the brand. Hall recently returned from a 14-month prison sentence for running an illegal gambling ring. Before serving his time at a federal prison, the brand sold denim nationwide, and a deal with Saks Fifth Avenue was in development. The brand was able to survive Hall’s absence and the time away inspired Hall to adjust its direction. “We’re totally focused strictly on the consumer now,” he said.

Hall’s small batch denim is cut and sewn in Knoxville and washed in Los Angeles, though niche product wasn’t necessarily his aim in limited the production.

“The reason we started off with small batch because, when I started this line, we couldn’t afford to go directly to the mill,” Hall said. Now, however, that small selection is a part of the brand’s charm, which is complemented by a modest but experienced team. Two new employees who previously worked at a now-defunct Levi’s plant in Knoxville, which was where Hall got his start in denim, will soon join the team.

“I took tailoring in high school so that I could work in the Levi’s plant and started off as a sewing machine operator, which paid more,” he said. The plant closed down during Hall’s senior year in high school, which lead him to work at cut and sew facilities in Los Angeles. With this experience, Hall created his line in 2011 and returned to Knoxville.

Another by chance hit for Hall started with an apron.

“We wore it to trade shows, to actual markets around the country and then it just become a huge demand for it,” Hall said about the brand’s denim aprons, which are made from production scraps and come in multiple washes. The interest in these aprons speaks to a greater trend occurring both in Tennessee and the U.S. “There’s a maker’s movement. And basically, it’s a work apron that we use here for cutting and sewing in the shop. We’ve got bartenders, mixologists, other people wearing aprons now,” he said.

Embracing the brand’s Tennessee heritage is also important to Hall, which he reflects in his collection. He said he takes inspiration from cities in Tennessee and what that city is primarily known for, and naming pieces in the collection accordingly. The Memphis jean channels the Blues, while the Nashville is cut to fit a country music star. “Knoxville is more of a…conservative city. We kept the wash really simple and added some stretch to it,” he said.

The traditional stylings of Knoxville also shape the typical Hall customer. The brand’s clientele favors comfortable fits, but not super-stretch. “[The Marc Nelson customer] is a man who is a young professional up to a gentleman…Our product is a product that can be worn to work, but also is comfortable enough to then go outdoors.”