Q&A: The Bluer Denim Project Was Inspired by the $.99 iTunes Song


Bluer denim

Designed in Portland, made with cotton grown in Georgia and denim milled in South Carolina, and cut, sewn, and finished in Los Angeles, Bluer’s jeans wear a bona fide made in the USA label, and they’re eco-friendly and sustainably processed.  The high-end men’s and women’s fits are now the subject of a Kickstarter campaign (completely funded, but get in on it anyway in exchange for jeans, if your interest is piqued) to bring Bluer’s denim to customers via an at-home try-on model.  Think Warby Parker meets jeans (the premium denim is offered at a $95 flat rate).

We talked to the company’s founder, Jeffrey Todd Shafer, about the inspiration for his ethical company and who we’ll see wearing Bluer in the near future.

The High Low:  First and foremost, what inspired you to found Bluer?

Jeffrey Todd Shafer:  Over the past 20 years, I have watched manufacturing jobs leave the U.S., the quality of apparel and denim offered in the marketplace drop, the retail prices of apparel and jeans rise, large companies dominate because of their scale, and small companies fail because of lack of size.  The fashion industry used to offer a constant flow of new designers, brands, and companies — not anymore.  It is almost impossible to start a new company without being independently wealthy.  The current wholesale/retail model was created in the 1800s to enable small, remotely located artisans and craftsmen to get their products to market.  The huge costs and inefficiencies associated with the wholesale/retail model today have forced suppliers to “a race to the bottom” in terms of price and quality, driving jobs to other countries and making disposable products, which I call “junk clothes.”

Today, due to the rise of the Internet as a platform for commerce and social media as a platform for communication,  the old model, which has been failing for a long, long time, is no longer necessary.  With the efficiencies of a web-based commerce platform and social media-based communication platform, massive sales, marketing, and distribution efficiencies are achieved.  Not only can goods be sourced locally, ethically, and transparently,  but they can be retailed at much, much lower prices.  This reality can create renewed boom in local sourcing and new enterprise.  As soon as I realized this scenario I had to start Bluer — not only as a business venture, but also as a role model aspiring other would-be entrepreneurs. I now consider it my responsibility to make Bluer successful and share it in an open and transparent way with the next generation of artisans, craftsmen, and entrepreneurs for them to emulate and copy.

Bluer denim washesTHL:  Which came first then, the made-in-USA priority or the plan to offer the at-home try-on business model?

JTS:  Made in USA came first.  It always comes first.  I have pride in my country and I love my neighbors.  We need more jobs here.  Americans can make great things.

The home try-on model came second.   I know from first hand experience that buying jeans in a retail store environment can be a really tough and inconvenient experience for many people.  I also know that when consumers buy jeans online they often order two or three pairs so they don’t have to worry if they happen to pick the wrong size or wash.  They just keep which ones they like and send back the rest.  This usually makes online retailers upset because of the cost of shipping and handling.  Customers who  do this often do so even if they feel guilty about it.  Home try-on grants customers a way to do this without feeling guilty.  I thought about this after reading how Steve Jobs priced songs on iTunes at 99 cents.  Jobs hypothesized that the 99 cent offering would encourage people to stop illegal song downloading by giving them a viable alternative, and it did.

THL:  To keep the product completely domestic, how did you find the manufacturers with whom you’re working?

>JTS:  Finding manufactures was relatively easy.  There are trade organizations like The California Fashion Association that are fighting to save manufacturing in California by hooking up designers and entrepreneurs with factories.

THL:  Who’s your target market for Bluer denim when it launches?

JTS:  Bluer is focused on providing new and better denim choices to 18-to-24 year old men and women, college students, creatives, made in America activists, fashionistas and denim-heads.

THL:  The brand is entirely focused on Web-based commerce right now, but do you expect to be distributed in stores at any point?

JTS:  That is hard to say.  Brick-and-mortar operations are a very different core competency and require a lot of capital.  In the future, retail will only exist for retailers and brands that offer exploration, entertainment, or convenience.  Any product that a consumer already knows they want will likely be bought on the Web and delivered to their doorstep at the exact day and time they want it.   Hopefully Bluer will fit into that category.