Raleigh Denim is a jeans brand worth rallying around

Raleigh Denim
Married couple Victor and Sarah Lytvineko single-handedly restored garment manufacturing to their hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina when they launched their premium denim brand Raleigh Denim nearly a decade ago. Total fashion novices, they envisioned making the most ideal pair jeans and self-taught themselves by picking the brains of local experts who had lost their jobs due to the transfer of manufacturing overseas.

They soon learned from and hired those people and opened their own local factory where the old-school Made in the USA principles of quality, handcrafted manufacturing are first and foremost. All of that it is still very much apparent in their great, wearable-worthy garments, which effortlessly tread the line between classic and fashionable.

On the occasion of the launch of the label’s first collectible brand book, Victor recently caught up with me to share an update about this terrific and still inexplicably somewhat under-the-radar brand…

 Raw-2

What’s the story behind Raleigh Denim?

Sarah and I started the company in 2007 in our apartment in Raleigh, North Carolina with a complete focus on quality and craft. The intention was to make the best pair of jeans that we possibly could – the best pair of jeans out there. And to do that we pulled from a few different places. One was the old-school fashion houses of Europe back in the day when they had the best craftspeople. They had the best designers but they also had the best craftspeople. I really liked that idea.

In the earlier part of the 2000s, I was making wine and I was really into wine making and I loved it. The elements of wine making like what the winemaker was doing in his or her winery was the differentiator of seasonal manufacturing based on a natural product with a focus on quality over quantity. Their neighbor could be making wine from the same grapes grown next door and the wines tasted very different because of the special ways that they were handling it or aging it or producing it.


Sarah-Victor

The other bit, looking back now, that had a pretty profound effect was the musical hip-hop group Outkast. At the time it all was East Coast rap and all West Coast rap and everyone at the time was like if you want to be in rap you gotta be in New York or LA. And they were like: No, no, no. We’re going to do our own thing, we’re going to build our own studio, we’ve got our own sound and we’re going to do it just as well if not better than anybody in the game.

That’s kind of what we built the brand on.

You sought to make “the ideal pair of jeans”?

Yeah. We call it the ideal pair of jeans. Not the perfect pair. Not the best pair. The ideal pair. And the ideal pair for us was something that what completely focused on quality and that paid attention to the history but wasn’t trying to re-create it and something that was made responsibly. And so from those principles we opened our own factory. Our first account was Barneys New York. They put us into the New York Madison Avenue and the Beverly Hills stores in spring 2009, which was the worst retail quarter ever and we sold pretty well. We had no money, no marketing budget, nothing whatsoever. But people liked the quality, the styling and the detailing. From there it has grown and it was really the jumping off point for us.

And you still make everything locally?

We built our own factory in downtown Raleigh that is wide open and anyone can come down and see where we make all of our jeans. Every single pair that is produced under the Raleigh Denim name is produced in out little factory with about 25 people in total.

Who is your customer?

I think we’re hitting a few different groups consistently. Number one is it’s somebody who cares about quality. We’re seeing more people researching what they are spending their money on and caring a lot more about how things are made and why things are made and where things are made. We’re offering jeans that are a much higher quality. They’re not cheap but it’s a jump that people are willing and happy to make once they learn more about them.

Raw-3

The age range is way bigger than I thought it would be years ago. There are 14-year-old kids who are mowing lawns all summer to buy one pair of jeans to wear back to school. It’s amazing when that happens every year. They want this one thing so bad and they have worked so hard for it and they come in and they have cash in fives or tens from mowing lawns and sometimes they forget about tax. And then I’m like, “Dude, you need these. Just take them!”

But we cover every decade… Men in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties… We even have a few solid customers in their seventies.

You started with raw denim. Are those styles still your still your bestsellers?

We just keep adding on. We started completely focused on raw denim but every season and every year the range is so huge. It’s not a huge assortment of SKUs or pieces but for spring we are doing a 8 oz. stretch natural five-pocket with a zipper fly that costs $185. We’re doing a chambray trouser and shorts. We’re doing 50/50 cotton-linen blends. One of our bestselling styles is a garment-dyed pretty stretchy fabric that’s $198. And we do five or six mid-range washes on 1% stretch with zippers for under $225. We do a couple of super interesting fabrics from Japan and Italy each season. The bulk of the fabrics come from Cone Mills in North Carolina but every season I am always looking for something interesting and different.

Tell me about the new brand book you just released.

We started working with some people here in North Carolina for a video that’s on our website and it was the most fun project we ever worked on. We just went back to those guys and said we have to do this in a book form. It all came together really quickly. It wasn’t a function of having it get done really quickly; we were just having so much fun working on it. The tone of it is different. It’s a little crazier and a little more punk. But it’s completely honest and authentic and it’s who we are and how we are. It captures who we are as a people, who we are as a brand and how we interact. Our full team is all showcased in there and there’s no models or quote-unquote marketing there. It’s just us. It’s our factory, our people and our friends. It’s a little gritty. But I love that it’s so honest….

Raw-1

Nearly a decade later what have been the best and worst things about running Raleigh Denim?

I love working with my wife, Sarah, and that we have been able to build this thing that was a dream a long time ago together. I think that’s my favorite thing. But that may be the worst thing about it too. But I honestly don’t think there has been a worst thing. We love the work. It’s a crazy business but we love it.

Food & Drink

A Meaty Conversation About Butchery and Thanksgiving Turkey with Zeph Shepard

Portland's most interesting butcher gets us holiday ready with Thanksgiving turkey tips, alternative meat options, and the importance of respecting animals.
Living

You Could Own an Entire Abandoned New Zealand Village for Only $1.8 Million

Ever wanted to abscond from society Howard Hughes-style? We've got an investment opportunity for you.
Outdoors

From the Office to the Trail, Here’s the Best Dual-Purpose Work Gear

Suits are tough to hike in and fast-drying nylon hiking pants don’t usually fly at the office. So what do you wear to be ready for a day of work, adventure, and a dinner out?
Food & Drink

One Kentucky Bar Bar is Selling Pappy Van Winkle at Cost for ‘Pappy Thanksgiving’

Never tried Pappy Van Winkle? Chevy Chase Inn in Lexington, Kentucky, is selling it at cost for one day only.
Fashion & Style

The Best Men’s Parkas for Braving the Cold

The parka is the undisputed heavy hitter of any winter outerwear lineup.
Fashion & Style

Stay Dry in Style with the Best Rain Jackets for Men

There's a rain jacket for every style and budget.
Fashion & Style

Hugh Hefner’s Iconic Silk Smoking Jacket Is Up for Auction

Worn everywhere from the Playboy Mansion to press and media events, Hef's jacket has been around the block in more ways than one.
Fashion & Style

Keep Your Digits Warm with the Coolest Men’s Winter Gloves

Never lose feeling in your fingers again.
Fashion & Style

Burn Your Snuggie and Get Yourself One of the Best Men’s Bathrobes Instead

Pick between styles loved by mountain men, island-hopping billionaires, and modern minimalists.
Podcast

Beards, Booze, and Bacon: The Leather-Working Episode

Levi Martinez of Orox Leather educates us on the basics of leather-working, tips for spotting quality leather, and how to keep good leather looking great.
Culture

The Best Gifts for Men Who Have Everything

It’s hard enough to buy the right gift for any person in your life, but it’s especially challenging to find that special thing for the guy who seems to have it all.
Fashion & Style

What to Wear for Thanksgiving This Year

For the guy who's getting ready for turkey dinners, backyard football, and pumpkin pie.
Fashion & Style

Cop these Men’s Peacoats and Stand Out from the Puffer Jacket Crowd

The coat became popularized for streetwear by the dapper Prince of Wales in 1869 and has been a mainstay of men’s style ever since.
Fashion & Style

The Absolute Best Places to Buy Men’s Clothes Online

You'll never have to walk into a brick and mortar again.