Maternity jeans—or the lack of them, really—led Kattya Torres, a daughter of a master tailor, to establish Denim Surgeon, the New York City-based denim repair and tailoring atelier designed to deliver more options for fit.
“They really don’t make good jeans for maternity, especially for a small frame person,” Torres said. “I figured if I had that problem, other people did too.”
What she found was that people had even more issues with their jeans than just finding good maternity fits, and since launching Denim Surgeon in 2008, the business has never questioned where to find its next customer.
Between local denim heads who pop in for a fitting, and a steady stream of mail-in requests, Denim Surgeon has outgrown its sole location, and has plans to open a second in Red Bank, New Jersey this month. “We’ve grown through word of mouth and recommendations,” Torres said. “Many of our customers have been with us since the beginning.”
Business is split between repair and tailoring, both of which have been equally busy, according to Torres. “People are constantly getting denim repaired and restored,” she said. “Denim really is for life if you take care of it.”
With the popularity of vintage Levi’s and brands like Re/Done and Vetements inspiring consumers to take a second look at their old blue jeans, more customers are requesting one-of-a-kind designs.
At Denim Surgeon, consumers can have straight fits transformed into flares, add contrasting panels and play with patchwork, rip and repair and hardware. “We’re doing the same thing as Re/Done but without the $300 price tag,” Torres said.
The work is a mashup of tailoring and customization. In the past four years, Torres said she’s seen a surge of women bringing in vintage jeans (sometimes pairs that belonged to their father) to be retooled for their body. While vintage denim has the authentic, lived-in look that brands are chasing to recreate, Torres said the rigid constructions don’t offer the same second-skin fit and comfort customers have become used to with stretch denim.
In fact, Torres said she’s often reworking Re/Done jeans to fit better. She’s found that women buy them for the look, and then are surprised by how they fit. “Sometimes the waists are too big, or legs needs to be tighter. We just added 3-inches to the waist for one woman,” she said. “This is what we do.”
Crotch blowouts—of varying degrees of disaster—are the most frequent repair requests for new denim. But Denim Surgeon also repairs knees, pockets and pocket bags, belt loops, zippers and buttons. Jeans with a button fly can be turned into jeans with a zipper or the reverse, depending on the customer’s preference.
Hemming is the most common tailoring request. “Most people need to have their jeans shortened. That’s the number one thing on the list,” Torres said. “Everything else follows because some people don’t know you can tailor everything about a jean—from taking waists in or letting them out, tapering or making a rise higher or lower.”
With each tweak, Torres pays close attention to keeping the original look and appeal of the jean intact. That attention to detail is especially important for selvedge denim tailoring. “You have to treat selvedge like it is its own sector,” she said. For tapering raw and selvedge denim, Torres tapers the denim from the inside seam to preserve the beloved selvedge side.
One of the most satisfying experiences, Torres said, is when she can give a customers with a narrow waist and larger bottom jeans that fit like a glove. “It’s the gap problem. They have to purchase a size up to fit their thighs or butt and then they have a giant gap at the waist. And a belt cinching the fabric just looks ridiculous,” she explained. “Those are the customers that tell me I’m their tailor for life.”