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Whiskey Shots: How Marc Nelson Denim Got Up and Running

Marc Hall was practically born in denim. As a Knoxville, Tenn., native, many of his friends and family members worked at the Levi’s factory in town. Hall planned on working at the plant after graduating from high school, but it shut down during his senior year.

After high school Hall laid his denim dreams to rest and worked as a barber for 13 years before becoming a contractor. He carried on in his new ventures, but couldn’t shake off destiny. Five years ago Hall revisited his original plan, and did it one better by launching his own line, Marc Nelson Denim.

Even when he wasn’t working in the field, fashion has always been important to Hall. “When [my brothers] were outside playing football, I would be indoors with my mom sewing,” he said. ”I always wanted to do fashion. It’s always been a huge influence in my life.”

Family life has played an important role, too. Hall chose to pay homage to his family in his company’s name. Hall’s full name is George Marcus Hall. His mother calls him Marc. His great grandfather’s last name is Nelson.

To get Marc Nelson up and running, Hall spent time in Los Angeles learning the ins and outs of the denim business. His start wasn’t without a few snags. When he began going to trade shows, people would ask what made his company stand out. He always came up short until he literally dreamt of his signature creation: whiskey-stained denim. Another act of fate brought him the barrels he needed. He was at a bar when he happened to talk to someone, now a dear friend, who made Smooth Ambler whiskey.

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Just like an aged whiskey, the denim is placed in a barrel for 30 days before being transferred to another barrel and then rinsed and washed. The end result is a vibrant tan colored jean.

“My TLC goes into every piece that we sell,” he said. “From sourcing of the fabric all the way from the buttons to rivets—I have my hands in the whole process. Everything is treated like we’re doing each piece for the individual.”

When Hall launched his small-batch craft denim business, there was never any doubt he’d start it in Knoxville. He opened his flagship store on Depot Avenue. “Knoxville is a city I grew up and is near and dear to my heart, and I wanted to see something amazing come out of here,” he explained.

Hall continues to take design cues from his surroundings. In particular, he is influenced by the modern Southern gentlemen. Seeing no need for full suits to be a mainstay in wardrobes, Hall aims to have his high-quality jeans take the place of traditional suit bottoms.

As his company grows, Hall has plans to open up brick-and-mortar locations in Nashville and Birmingham, Ala. He intends to start selling home goods like denim quilts and throw pillows and wants to launch a curvy woman’s jeans line—complete with his signature whiskey-stained denim.

“There’s very few of us. That is the truth,” he said when asked about being a minority working in fashion. “I would hope to one of the few successful ones. I’m going to keep fighting it. How about that?”