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Delicious bourbon and damn-good football are two things that have become synonymous with The South. But every Southerner knows that without a good pair of boots and a great pair of jeans, whiskey and sports can’t be properly enjoyed. From the salty coast of Louisiana to the blue-tinged plains of Kentucky to the rolling crags of North Carolina, leatherwear and denim are two industries that have a long and rich history in the South. Today, we spotlight three distinct denim brands that originated in the South and are manufactured regionally: Grady Mac Denim, Imogene + Willie and Raleigh Denim. With a reputation for using top-notch materials (sourced from Cone Denim) and vintage techniques, this trio of denim companies proves that handcrafted clothing is not a forgotten art.

Cone Denim
A spread of freshly died vintage denim at Cone Denim Company | Image credit: Facebook

Grady Mac Denim

With more than 50 years of experience producing uniforms for the U.S. military, Grady Mac Denim is a company that values the integrity of American-made materials. Relished for their relaxed fit and military-grade construction, Grady Mac takes pride in the workmanship of its manufacturers. And these values are reflected in every pair of jeans they produce. The denim is delivered from North Carolina to their workshop in Tullahoma, TN, where it’s hand-dyed with the precision and artistry that seem to have been lost to generations past. Endowed with impeccable quality and a rich, Southern character, these jeans are not only well-made, but also well-polished.

At Grady Mac, it’s all about the details — hand-finished seams, dark rinses and balanced profiles that seem to hug you in all the right places. They have styles for both men and women, but they keep the selection small and curated. For women, options include the 401 Skinny (dark and fitted), the 1350 Boyfriend (faded and loose), the 1901 Boot (subtle wash with flare) and the 206 Easy (classic with stretch). Grady Mac has an equally tasteful assortment of trousers for men — the 1811 relaxed, the 206 straight and the 1901 Boot — that are all made to handle the wear and tear of the daily grind. It’s like Grady Mac has designed the perfect catchall collection of jeans that suits any mood or occasion, whether that be a night spent at a hip bar or a cozy morning on your screened porch. And the best part is, every pair grows more delicious with age. 

Grady Mac Collage
Left: Grady Mac’s 1350 Boyfriend Jean for women; Right: Grady Mac’s 206 Straight Jean for Men | Image credit: Grady Mac

Imogene + Willie

Tucked beneath the iconic orange sign of a renovated gas station in the 12 South neighborhood of Nashville, TN, Imogene + Willie is a denim company that came to fruition only several years ago, but has gained rapid popularity since. That’s really no surprise given the quality of their products and the irresistible charm of their brand. Husband and wife owners Matt and Carrie Eddmenson, who exude the laid-back cool of Nashville’s notable creatives, had the idea to establish a denim company that offers a superior fit and unmatched comfort. An ode to their four sets of grandparents, Imogene + Willie is a name that reflects a uniquely Southern heritage.

Imogene + Willie Collage
Style is made easy by owners Carrie and Matt at Imogene + Willie on 12th Avenue South. Image credit: Imogene + Willie

If denim can run in someone’s blood, then that is true for Carrie, whose family had a 20-year history of manufacturing jeans through their company, Sights Denim Systems in Henderson, KY, which closed in 2008. Matt and Carrie had both worked at the company for years, thus the labor of producing clothing was something to which they both were already accustomed. They took that love of manufacturing and started to dream of a new denim company, and Imogene + Willie began to take shape, coming to fruition in 2009. With the desire to keep the company intimate, Matt and Carrie opened the shop on 12th Avenue South, which initially served as both the storefront and the production site. Shop merchandise now includes gorgeous leather accessories, fragrances and even designer eyeglasses.In 2014, Imogene + Willie grew to a second storefront in Portland, OR.

As the brand and inventory have grown, the jeans are no longer produced in the shop. However, the highly esteemed seamsters who christened the business still remain a vital part of production. That is evident in the immaculate design of their jeans, which feel as though they were made specifically for your behind. Imogene + Willie offers a wide range of styles for women, like the Elizabeth, a svelte, high-waisted silhouette that makes your legs appear six inches longer than they actually are, and the Catherine, an ultra-forgiving, relaxed trouser that transitions from your work desk to your sofa with ease. Men’s styles include the Willie, a classic jean with back pockets and straight legs to accommodate boots, and the Barton, the counterpart to the Willie with a lower waist and slimmer leg. No matter what cut or rinse you choose, Imogene + Willie jeans are the kind of wardrobe staple that lasts through decades of trends.

Imogene_product collage
Keep it loose in the Catherine (right) or keep it tight in the Elizabeth (left) from Imogene + Willie. Image credit: Imogene + Willie

Raleigh Denim

Creative counterparts Victor Lytvinenko and Sarah Yarborough gave birth to Raleigh Denim in 2007 in their hometown of Raleigh, NC. After spending numerous apprenticeships with some of the best pattern makers, mechanics and factory workers throughout the state, this innovative husband and wife duo decided to bring a quality denim line to their own city. With an affinity for clean lines and modern aesthetics, Victor and Sarah longed to create a jean that was easy to wear, but decidedly chic. They opened an intimate shop in downtown Raleigh where they make jeans that reflect old-school techniques and processes (they still rely on a small team of jean-smiths for the bulk of their labor). With a loyalty to American-made materials, Raleigh Denim is a company that continually delivers expertly crafted jeans with a great feel and shape.

Raleigh Denim Workshop
Fine artisanal goods abound at Raleigh Denim’s flagship store, the CURATORY, in downtown Raleigh, NC. Image credit: Facebook

Since opening in 2007, Raleigh Denim has expanded to another location in New York City, though their flagship store remains their North Carolina workshop, which is called the CURATORY. The original store carries more than just denim now. Inside this rustic warehouse storefront, shoppers are spoiled with an eclectic mix of accessories, jewelry, home goods and gifts from boutique labels. But what continues to drive both locals and tourists back to the store is the superior denim selection. With an encompassing inventory of men’s and women’s trousers, Raleigh Denim offers several fits and washes that seem to flatter just about every figure. Known for its perfect balance of structure and stretch, Raleigh Denim jeans are testament to the importance of process and materials.

Raleigh denim
Nailing the perfect cuff is just part of the routine at Raleigh Denim Workshop. Image credit: Facebook

As you can see, staying Southern in your denim is the way to go!

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About the Author
Anna Marchetti