Imogene + Willie became a DT staff favorite in a very short time. The Nashville-based brand won us over with their rustic Americana-esque sportswear and inspiring background story. We even spotted one of our favorite bands wearing the brand during a secret acoustic gallery performance! Recently we had a chance to chat with Carrie Eddmenson, one half of Imogene + Willie, about what got the brand started and what direction they’re headed in. Check it out below.
Denim Therapy: Lets start from the beginning. What inspired you to get this brand off the ground?
Imogene + Willie: It came less from an inspiration and more from a need for a job. We were approaching winding down our family’s business, a company that developed and produced jeans for 26 years. All we knew how to do was make blue jeans. Our hands have always been blue. We dreamed up various business plans – a restaurant or a food truck, among other things. We just wanted to do something where we could offer hospitality. But we would get half way through the development of a non-denim concept and then come right back to what we know and love: making pants.
DT: How do you differentiate your self from the hundreds of popular denim brands afloat right now?
I+W: We are very dedicated to knowing our customer. We have held off on wholesaling to other retailers for two and a half years in order to have the opportunity to connect with the consumers we already have. We needed to know them. We needed to know exactly how they felt about our product. The relationship between the consumer, our team and the two of us is the pinnacle of our business.
The first 10,000 people around the world wearing their Imogene + Willie jeans have made the company what it is today. Those folks validate the brand. It is theirs, as well as ours. Now we’re finally ready to give it to retailers who we believe in and who will love the product and love on the customers for us. Imogene + Willie jeans will be available in stores for holiday 2011 is some markets and then into wider distribution for spring 2012.
DT: Do you have any pre-designing rituals?
I+W: No sketching. We tell Nestor, our pattern maker, exactly what we want. He can read our minds. The ritual, I guess, is sitting by Nestor’s sewing machine, waiting impatiently to try whatever it is he’s making on. Matt is always the first fit model for men; I try on the women’s prototypes.
DT: Describe the woman who represents your ideal target customer.
I+W: That, interestingly, is evolving and changing right now. In the beginning, our “ideal” woman was one that believed in and supported our commitment to making our product in America. That’s still valid, but we find that now that same woman is obsessed with the fit, as is her significant other who sees her wearing our jeans.
This isn’t a mom jean: it works on 18 year olds and 75 year olds alike, which is something that makes us really happy.
DT: What would be your dream collaboration?
I+W: Our dream collaboration would be to partner with an American company that has a big interest in bringing jobs back to this country.
DT: What are the most popular washes/fits in the line? What are your favorites, and how would you style them?
I+W: We have five fits for women and two for men. The best sellers for women are Imogene Stretch; it gives the illusion of an extra few inches of height! However, Alice, our newest women’s jean with a mid-rise and a slight boot cut, is quickly catching up. For men, it’s the Barton Rigid, a moderate slim-straight with a lower rise.
Matt’s favorite jeans is the Willie, a straight-leg, mid-rise jean that is our inaugural fit for men. My favorite is the Imogene, a straight-leg, mid-rise jean that’s our inaugural fit for women.
Matt and I both dress very simply. The shirt I wear almost every day is a vintage Wrangler shirt that my brother got for me ten years ago that I had Nestor rework to fit me. I will layer it up with some special turquoise pieces, which I think are just the most beautiful artistic expression of Native Americans. Matt wears a white T-shirt every day in the summer, and he puts a couple of layers on top of that same ol’ rag when it’s chilly.
DT: Do you have any favorite/least favorite denim trends right now?
I+W: We really struggle with trends. To be honest with you, we’re not really into fashion.
DT: Street style and style blogs ar e huge in the industry right now as a sour ce of inspir ation, influencing the high-end labels rather than vice versa. How much does street style influence your designing?
I+W: We should start paying more attention! The best part about setting up shop in Nashville is that we don’t really watch what’s going on in the larger world of “fashion.” We keep our heads down and just work on what we’re doing here.
DT: How many pair s of jeans do you own?
I+W: Matt has three: Willie, Willie and Willie! He has one pair of Willie’s for each year we have been in business. He got rid of everything else: he just sold his last 501 xx.
And me? Well, one pair of Imogene Rigid – the first one ever made; one pair of Imogene Indigo Stretch; one pair of Imogene Black Stretch; one super-high-rise black jeans in a style that has yet to be named (it’s the proto; I have it on now); one pair of Wranglers from the ‘60s; twenty pairs of Levis ranging in age from the late ‘40s to the late ‘70s.
DT: Can you give us hint about what’s next?
I+W: It’s blue.
—Michelle Christina Larsen
Tags: Americana, Carrie Eddmenson, Imogene + Willie, interview, mens denim, q&a, womens denim