This time last year, Jeff Kauffman’s Deep Ellum apartment was covered with stacks of jeans. He and his business partner, Bennie Reed, had been ordering pairs from around the world for months with one mission in mind: find the best denim brands out there and bring them to Dallas.
It’s an ambitious aim, but the friends, who decided to go into business together over beers two years ago, dove headfirst into the challenge. “We did so much research. We bought all the books covering the denim industry,” Reed says. “We just nerded out.” A few companies they tracked down include Canadian-based Naked & Famous, San Francisco’s Tellason, and cult Japanese brand Momotaro, which they visited in April, traveling more than 6,500 miles to Kojima. Every company they work with creates raw selvedge denim the old-fashioned way—on a shuttle loom, a machine rarely used since big brands such as Levi’s switched manufacturing techniques in the ’70s and ’80s.
Last July, after Kauffman and Reed had zeroed in on their favorite small-batch brands, Deep Ellum Denim debuted in a studio in the business’s namesake neighborhood with more than 250 pairs of jeans and 24 different fits for men. And because raw denim isn’t the easiest thing to buy online, the duo decided to open their doors every Saturday. “We’re not in a location where you would get walk-by traffic, so we were curious to see what would happen that first weekend,” Kauffman says. “Within five minutes of being open, a guy comes in and we sell our first pair of jeans.” Kauffman credits Deep Ellum Denim’s Instagram, which was created ahead of the launch to gauge interest. The account accumulated 3,000 followers in under one month.
Word-of-mouth (and some effusive Yelp reviews) over the last year has attracted even more customers who are ready to drop about $200 per pair to feed their raw selvedge denim addiction. “They start off tough and rough, but as you break a pair in, they become super soft and will literally mold to your body,” Kauffman says. “Once guys get into raw denim, it’s really hard to go back.”
The brand’s next phase is to open a true storefront with expanded hours in the neighborhood. “There was no other place. We hang out here, we eat here, we get really drunk here,” Reed says. “We’re committed to Deep Ellum.” Current location: 2803 Taylor St., Ste. 150. New location, expected to open in September: 3107 Commerce St. deepellumdenim.com.