Homemade: Norman Porter, American Made Jeans

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There are secret worlds of garment making. The bra industry is one of them, and it heavily guards its patterns, fabric, and notions, making it extremely difficult for any seamstress to become skilled in the trade (believe me, I know!). Another one is cordwaining, and the ability to receive training in this field is few and far between. Denim is another cloak-and-dagger industry. Just like lace, denim is its own breed of fabric, and it requires special treatment, care, and skill. It’s hard to find artisans specializing in making jeans, but luckily, one lives close to me. Norman Porter is based in Northern Liberties (north Philadelphia), and was started by brothers Mike and David Stampler, who grew up in rural Pennsylvania. There are moments when you meet someone and you think, “he’s got it going on.” I had that moment with Mike when I asked him to show me how his buttonhole maker worked (video below!), he said, “It’s broken, but I haven’t had time to fix it.” Yes, he fixes his own machines.

This is the first of many posts in my new series, Homemade, which will highlight burgeoning, domestic businesses and companies. Just how Portrait of a Seamstress was meant to show how far the definition of seamstress can be stretched, Homemade is meant to show as well as inspire sewers that a hobby can be turned into career. They did it, and so can you.

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your story21 Homemade: Norman Porter, American Made Jeans David and I started Norman Porter as a response to our trouble finding consistent clothing that fit well and looked good. Because I am so tall, I’ve always had a hard time finding jeans for my height. I taught myself how to sew years ago when I wanted to make a pair of jeans for myself. That idea snow balled, and we began making jeans for other people.

process11 Homemade: Norman Porter, American Made Jeans The process of making a pair of our jeans is fairly complicated and tedious. It starts with pattern making, and we often go through several samples to get the fit spot on. We also wear test our jeans to make sure they are comfortable and fair well throughout the course of a day. Once the fit is perfected, we then cut the fabric and sew the pieces together, which is all done in-house. We also iron and stem a lot to shape the fabric throughout the construction process. And we don’t use a fancy, gravity steam iron; just a standard one that anyone can buy at Target or Walmart. We bought ours several years ago and it has been a champ. Once the sewing is complete, we attach the hand cut and oiled leather patch and hand hammer our copper rivets.obstacle 1 Homemade: Norman Porter, American Made Jeans

Leg twist is a common problem for first time makers, which has to do with patterns and sewing ability and can be cured relatively easily. The fly is not such an easy remedy; it takes time to perfect.

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fabric1 Homemade: Norman Porter, American Made JeansWe use a type of denim called selvedge denim. It is 100% cotton untreated denim. We use only American Cone Mill denim or select Japanese denim.unique1 Homemade: Norman Porter, American Made Jeans

Norman Porter jeans are unique from the ground up. We not only design our jeans, but we construct them from start to finish in-house. Throughout the process, we put a great deal of attention into each pair. Our hand hammered rivets take time and are one of these details that demonstrate our meticulous process.
competitor 11 Homemade: Norman Porter, American Made JeansOur biggest competitor is Levi’s. They are not very similar, but most people don’t make the jump. We use their samples are starting points for many of out fits.favorite brand 1 Homemade: Norman Porter, American Made Jeans
Our favorite brand of denim other than our own would be by a company called Tellason. They make a solid product and have great ownership.
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home seamstress1 Homemade: Norman Porter, American Made Jeans The fabrics we buy are only available wholesale, however denims can be sourced by anyone. While the fabric we use is specific to us, the home seamstress can use a variety of denims to make their jeans. It all depends on what they want out of their pair.
tips12 Homemade: Norman Porter, American Made Jeans Use a medium stitch width, study a pair you already have, and understand the seams. Realize that stretch denim will not work the same if you don’t have the proper gear and thread.
theory 1 Homemade: Norman Porter, American Made Jeans We think that people should wear their jeans however they want. It’s the point of denim. We like to wear ours as hard as we can, but we do wash them every now and then. The idea of never washing them or soaking them in a bathtub has some truth behind it. It does help with color breaking in at a more extreme contrast. There are no set rules with denim, and it really comes down to personal preference.

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stretch denim or1 Homemade: Norman Porter, American Made JeansWe only use 100% cotton, but it all goes back to what the individual sewer wants out of their pair.

So many have fallen prey to the siren song of lycra or spandex in denim that we can’t remember what REAL denim feels like! It comes down to the fit. If the fit is off for an individual, then it will not be comfortable. Raw 100% cotton denim can be very comfortable if you buy the pair according to your needs.

whats next1 Homemade: Norman Porter, American Made Jeans We are going to continue to make our products with the utmost attention to detail. This year, we plan on launching several products in addition to the jeans


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tags: Interview Comments: 28

28 Comments
  1. Nicole Velazquez

    This is a great post and the photography is great! their studio is fantastic and so unique.

    Unfortunately I have fallen prey to cotton spandex blends and my favorite pairs are such blends. However, having tried levi’s and having no such luck, a 100% cotton denim seems never to fit my body. Being a lucky brand employee, store associate, I do find it interesting that they have morphed their outlet denim into stretch blended denim, while their american made retail styles are mainly 100% cotton. I suppose its a cost issue for the “lower” prices. However, many customers seem happy with our outlets blend change while other hard core fans seem disappointed. Like mentioned though, I’m sure most people are just not privilaged to have come across many american made 100% denim brands that fit into their lifestyles; I’m sure taking price into account, as blended stretch denim is prevelant and much cheaper.

    All in all, I do wish that I could own and enjoy a great fitting 100% American made pair of jeans, and buying from NP or maybe one day even creating a unique pair for myself. But its so amazing to read about norman porter and their journey. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Maddie Flanigan

      That’s really interesting how Lucky Brand sells a different, lesser grade product in their outlet stores. It’s not surprising though.

      Reply
      • Natasha Estrada

        They all do. Outlet malls aren’t really a bargain anymore because the goods are made to be sold at that price. They only ones I go to are the smaller ones like NYDJ where it is excess stock. Outlets also tend to stock bigger sizes that you see in stores

        Reply
      • emily marie

        Yes, this is the standard practice. Some of the time they will use up to standard quality fabric for outlet styles that was leftover from run(s) of a style. As Natasha said, they’re usually manufactured at lower cost, to be sold at lower cost… and it shows!

        Reply
        • Natasha Estrada

          Yup they know we want to buy something and they will find something to sell us. I miss the outlet days where you could pick up a pair of Pradas for $99

          Reply
  2. Meg

    I am so excited for this series! Seeing real garments made by hand in America is a fascinating ‘insider’ look, and these guys already have me inspired to make my next pair of pants.

    Reply
  3. carmencitab

    Can I go work there? Thank you for this.

    Reply
  4. Heather Lou

    Great idea for a series, beautiful photos and um, he ain’t hard on the eyes either.

    Reply
    • sallieforrer

      Ha! I was thinking the EXACT same thing!!

      Reply
  5. sallieforrer

    Great post Maddie!! What a dreamy way to spend your days!

    Reply
  6. Natasha Estrada

    I just wanted to share my denim resource for premium denims like Cone and imported Japanese. There prices are really reasonable about $6 a yard for USA denim from Cone. However since its a wholesale place there is a $25 cutting charge for any orders under 100 yards but that still makes it a lot cheaper than most places.

    http://pacificbluedenims.com/

    Reply
  7. Pauline alice

    Great series Maddie! The pictures are so pretty and the denims look amazing! The fading is just incredible. I don’t like lycra in my fabrics (both for handmade or store-bought) so these jeans would be perfect, if I were to wear jeans ;)

    Reply
  8. Daughter Fish

    Beautiful post, Maddie! Looking forward to reading more of these!

    Reply
  9. Stephanie Lanzetti

    Love, love this post. Threads recently had an article on denim and jeans and now I am fascinated by it. I had no idea as to how large the manufacturing sector is! From memory they did an interview with your guys.

    They also had a great list of places where to get it from. Can’t wait to see what you showcase next.

    Reply
    • Maddie Flanigan

      I haven’t seen the Threads article, but I’ll check it out!

      Reply
  10. emily marie

    So awesome. These are the kinds of machines I’d love to have in my collection someday! I am such a big denim fan I really need to start making my own pieces on a regular basis. Great interview, did you happen to interview that Katie at madebyhank by any chance? Her bag business is such an inspiration as well!

    Reply
    • Maddie Flanigan

      Thanks! I’m not familiar with Katie at madebyhank. Did you suggest her to me? If so, I’d love to reach out to her!

      Reply
      • emily marie

        Oh, sorry… I recognized her from your photos in this post! Just a fan, haha. :) She makes really great bags; that’s awesome she’s a denim aficionado too!

        Reply
  11. Teri

    Awesome post. Thank you!

    Reply
  12. Sky Turtle

    Wow, that studio is to die for! great post!

    Reply
  13. Marisa Noelle

    I have yet to find a pair of jeans that I am in love with. I actually though I had some luck with Levis…so perhaps these would work for me. That studio is a dream – I can’t believe they are in Philly!

    Reply
  14. Crab&Bee

    I’m really excited about this series! I read every word of this post – so interesting, especially given my recent attempt at jeans. Beautiful photos, too. :)

    Reply
  15. Amy

    Definitely a great series… They’ve built themselves such an inspirational studio. (I love the helicopter trainer!) I want to try all those machines… the buttonholer… and the bartack machine. But I have to admit, I’m on the side of spandex!

    Reply
  16. Angela

    Wow, could denim get any cooler? What an amazing space! Love their business model, hope they make women’s jeans also!

    Reply
  17. Andrea B

    Just now seeing this post but I love it. I get giddy about Philly-based apparel businesses, and this studio is amazing. I don’t buy jeans but I’ll definitely recommend this brand to my boyfriend and guy friends who prefer to support USA-based manufacturers. Thanks for a great post!

    Reply

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