December 12, 2018

How Two Dallas Agency Strategists Embarked on a Quest to Find and Sell the Best Denim on Earth

Originally posted at adWeek 2018

The labor of love came from a desire for a better product

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Jeff Kauffman and Bennie Reed are two guys who love a good pair of jeans. The problem was, there were few options in Dallas to buy high-quality denim that fit well. That changed after some cold beers on a summer day, when the duo decided to take matters into their own hands and open up shop.

Deep Ellum Denim started a few years ago as a passion project for Kauffman and Reed, who work together by day at The Richards Group. It has become a budding business in Deep Ellum, the eclectic, creative and vibrant district of Dallas that is part of the store’s namesake.

“At the core, we were solving a need we both had,” said Kauffman, group media director of digital and emerging media at The Richards Group. “We didn’t just want to get into retail. We didn’t like the denim shopping experience, the product or where to go.”

The pair immersed themselves in the world of denim, which included a trip to Japan to research the industry and understand everything they could about the fabric and design of premium jeans.

“The manufacturing processes changed [in the U.S.]—and it changed the way denim was made,” continued Kauffman. “The Japanese noticed this trend in America and purchased the old machines that used to make American Levi’s jeans.”

All told, Kauffman and Reed spent nearly two years researching raw denim, ordering samples and trying on countless pairs of jeans until Deep Ellum Denim opened for business … sort of.

Before launch, the pair put their knowledge of social media to good use by creating an Instagram account that gained a decent following, which led them to test the concept with a pop-up shop that was opened only on Saturdays.

“We cultivated an interested [online] audience,” said Reed, who serves as digital strategy director for the agency. “For a year, we used to assemble and disassemble the shop every weekend. Two months ago, we opened a new shop at a long-term location.”

“We are naturally entrepreneurial, and it helped on the advertising side, acting in an enterprising way, just in a different industry,” said Kauffman.

The shop carries more than 300 pairs of denim from brands like U.S. indie Tellason and Canada’s Naked and Famous (which sources its denim from Kojima, Japan, considered the world capital of denim). Additionally, Deep Elum Denim carries brands from two iconic Japanese brands, Momotaro and Japan Blue Jeans. No matter the origin, all of the products have with one crucial point of differentiation from other stores.

“All [of our denim] is plant-based, indigo,” said Reed. “[If you] walk into a mall today, you’ll find denim that’s synthetic and made from chemicals.”

Deep Ellum Denim began with the men’s collection of jeans and recently rolled out a women’s line. The store is also testing a series of overalls and is preparing its next offering: a selection of shirts, driven by customer queries.

The Lord Alfred Tennyson quote: “To seek, to strive, to find, and not to yield,” can be found on the Deep Ellum website. Kauffman and Reed consider it a mantra of sorts that describes them and the business they created.

“We’re always on the hunt to find new, interesting products,” said Kauffman. “Whenever we hit a roadblock, we keep pushing, always trying new things. It [the quote] describes our nature and the opportunity to make a business work that way, too.”