Ohio’s serene Amish country isn’t the peak of fashion, but it is the ideal setting for Zace Denim, a Made in the USA clothing line that specializes in handcrafted, durable, selvedge denim.
The fact that Ohio wasn’t versed in denim manufacturing was part of the appeal for founder Zach Myers.
Myers said he was told nobody makes denim in Ohio and that, “You can’t make denim in Ohio and you can’t make jeans. So, I did,” he said.
Zace Denim started in Los Angeles first, but Myers found a change in scenery in the countryside of central Ohio in 2002, which is where the company is now headquartered.
Unlike Los Angeles or New York City, Ohio isn’t known for a booming denim industry. Myers has found that one of his biggest challenges is finding a skilled workforce that understands the manufacturing process. The difficulty extends beyond just finding workers with sewing skills as working with selvedge denim is also laborious work. “It’s hard on your body,” Myers said.
To fix the staffing dilemma, Myers turned to the local Amish community for assistance. Over the past five years, he has trained locals to help him with sewing. This required Myers to convert electric sewing machines to gasoline power, but the extra sets of hands have helped Myers expand his production line.
“I have two to three of those facilities running through different times of the year…and then it comes to me to do the finishing, the quality control,” Myers said.
Though located in a rural environment, the direct-to-consumer online brand has attracted an international audience in addition to its local clientele.
“I design for people who want to be active while wearing the garment,” Myers said, adding that building a comfortable and durable product is always top of mind.
The majority of Zace Denim’s collection serves the men’s market. (Womenswear is made-to-order to accommodate more complex fits.) The brand offers two cuts for jeans, the slim and regular, and a standard fit for overalls. Jeans feature double lined back pockets, discreet right side leg pockets, U.S.-made raw copper buttons and full size coin pockets with a selvedge edge on both sides.
A cigarette or skinny jean, Myers said, wouldn’t resonate with his clientele. “I know that most of the guys that are wearing this jean are not wearing them as a fashion jean per se…They also are wearing them to be functional,” he said. “They want to be able to do whatever it is they’re doing actively with these garments.”
Zace Denim also offers Western-style shirts made from deadstock indigo hemp, a heritage vest made from deadstock Cone Mills blue plaid and a double layered chore jacket made with 13 oz. deadstock railroad pinstripe fabric for a total 26 oz. weight. The brand also has a range of selvedge jackets, including a contemporary hooded selvedge pullover with chambray lining.
The future of Made in USA
Myers takes pride in the fact that his products are sustainable and made in the U.S. “All of the denim that I make, the construct is raw denim, and it hasn’t been laundered in a washing facility. There’s no discharge; there’s no chemicals going back into the water,” he said.
The new selvedge denim that runs throughout the collection is from Cone’s now defunct White Oak mill. The mill’s closure is a snag in Myers’ “Made in USA” mission. Zace Denim has 700 to 800 yards of 15.5 oz. redline selvedge left. Once the brand runs out, Myers said he will have to source denim overseas. He said it’s an “end of an era” for denim and “something that no longer people will be able to say is made in America.”
Jeans retail for $199—a price point Myers said requires education about the product. Social media has been a useful platform for the brand to share the premium aspects and hand craftsmanship of the its products, as well as the day-to-day struggles as a small, independent “Made in USA” business.
Although Myers has to take on a lot of roles to create and sell his denim, he finds that his customer base appreciates the dedication.
“I try to be very transparent and let people understand what we go through and what we’re doing and what they can expect from my garment compared to a discount store,” he said. Zace Denim customers, he said, “believe in wearing something that is sustainably produced, and it is going to out-wear the stuff they buy at the stores.”