Lawless Denim

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See how one man’s dream to create custom-made denim jeans in Phoenix using Arizona products could help provide employment as well.

Ted Simons: In 1872, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis came up with an idea to use copper rivets to strengthen denim cloth. The idea was a hit and jeans soon become a mainstay of American clothing. Producer Shana Fischer introduces us to a Phoenix man who is taking jeans to a whole new level.

Shana Fischer: To say he loves denim is an understatement. For him, it's a way of life.

Roman Acevedo: You know, I remember having the big drawer full of 501s where I would pull the drawer open and I would find the ones with the least amount of holes. So I could wear them to school. Denim takes me back to being a young kid running around the stadium and it kind of resonates with a lot of people that way.

Shana Fischer: After 18 years in the restaurant business, he decided to open Lawless Denim, a custom denim and leather goods store.

Roman Acevedo: We do everything from denim jeans, jackets, shirts, leather jackets, all our belts are made by us, all our women's totes are done right here.

Shana Fischer: Rows and rows of denim line the walls and chances are when you create a custom pair of jeans at lawless, they will also be one of a kind.

Roman Acevedo: We've selected from the salvaged denim, very limited production, very limited runs, maybe dead stock. We'll get gift, maybe 100 yards if we're lucky and from there you get to select your denim, then you'll pick your buttons, your pocket liners, your thread colors, and then we take you in for a fitting and we take about 10 different measurement points to get the perfect fit for you.

Shana Fischer: She's coming in to get fitted for her second pair of jeans. Being able to be a part of the designing process is what caught her eye.

Johanna Root: And then from then just picking out which one looked coolest to me and it was really awesome, and then picking out buttons and rivets and stitching, you can have three different kinds of stitches and different colors. You can really get creative, designing them. I went for the gun metal. [ Laughter ] It's exciting.

Johanna Root: It takes roughly two to three weeks for his seamstresses to sew the jeans. It's exacting work since they're working with a limited supply of denim, they have to be sure each cut and each stitch is perfect. It's that dedication that has driven him to pursue his second passion: Putting people to work.

Roman Acevedo: I started lawless for two things. One I love denim and I love leather. It's those materials that only get better with age. And secondly, I wanted to find a way to put people back to work on a consistent basis and what I think I've identified is a really need and that need is the skill set to make our own goods. So that's what we're all about. How many people I can put to work and give them a good job with a good career.

Shana Fischer: His goal is to put 200 people in Phoenix to work. Part of that work involves creating their own denim using 14 vintage looms from the 1920s that he has housed in a nearby warehouse.

Roman Acevedo: These were the kind of looms that Levi Strauss used to use and what we're going to be doing with these is setting them to produce denim. To my knowledge, it hasn't been done west of the Mississippi. We'll be using Arizona Pima cotton to do that. We decided let's take this a step further and not only make our own jeans and use our own Arizona copper for our buttons but let's make our own denim.

Shana Fischer: In the end, this is much more than just a business. It's a chance to weave together his dream and his community.

Roman Acevedo: You know, when I close up the store at the end of the day and I walk out of here, I'm always fixated on my next move and what's going to happen the next day and what do I got to do to continue to grow this and take it to the next level and how can we perfect the product even more? And being proud of having something that really makes a difference here in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Jeans at Lawless Denim start around $79 a pair.

Ted Simons: Tuesday on "Arizona Horizon," we'll hear from ASU athletic director Ray Anderson, and we'll meet the new leader of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, which works to bring new business to the valley. That's at 5:30 and 10:00 on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

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