Joe Faris to the city: Realize the world around you
Motor City Denim's creative founder talks in a Detroit Make It Here Q&A
When it comes to great jeans, it's all about the butt, says Joe Faris, co-owner and senior designer of Sterling Heights-based Motor City Denim Co., which launches its first collection of "Industrial Couture" for men and women February 1.
To ensure perfect posteriors, he designed three styles: a low-rise fit, a classic boot cut and what he calls "Good Butt" jeans with added stretch. The collection includes skirts, dresses, outerwear and T-shirts.
If Faris' theory is right, customers soon will be feeling like rock stars when putting on his work.
"I design from that perspective," he said. "The feeling I describe is 'badass.' It's got an edge."
With jeans starting around $150 a pair, he said, "I want (them) to be the jeans you put on to go out, not the ones you clean the garage in."
The company is the culmination of a longtime dream for Faris, a veteran designer for such brands as Bugle Boy and Ralph Lauren, as well as a 2008 "Project Runway" contestant during the show's fifth season.
The dream came true through a partnership with Mark D'Andreta, president of TD Industrial Coverings Inc. of Sterling Heights, a nearly 30-year-old manufacturer of protective coverings for robots. After retooling some machinery and adding a couple of jeans-specific machines, Motor City Denim was in business.
D'Andreta said the company, a subsidiary of TDIC, plans this year to manufacture 3,000 pairs of jeans, 250 jackets and a few hundred shirts, in addition to T-shirts and hoodies that debuted last October during Fashion In Detroit, a runway event Faris founded in 2009 to showcase the local fashion community.
He projects sales of $250,000 to $350,000 for 2011.
Customers can shop online as well as at Showtime Clothing in Detroit and the local chain 4Men. More stores in Detroit and across the country could carry his products soon if all goes well.
"I'd love to be in Nordstrom and Saks," said Faris. "We're not there yet."
Counting three TDIC technical designers among its employees, Motor City Denim has six sewers dedicated to prototyping and production. There are plans to hire at least six more sewers and a customer service person in 2011.
Faris, 43, is passionate about bringing fashion to Detroit and keeping the line made in the USA.
"There are no 'Made in China' labels. That's one of my main things in doing this," he said. "As a country, we have given up the garment industry."
Motor City Denim's suppliers include Taylor-based Arrow Uniform as adenim-wash facility, local screen printers and embroiderers, denim manufacturer Cone Denim in South Carolina, and American Apparel, based in Los Angeles, for the hoodies and T-shirts.
Growing up in Lathrup Village, Faris said he knew the power of appearance early on. By seventh grade he was working a sewing machine, an interest sparked by his interior designer father and later honed as a stockroom boy at a Gucci store in Troy.
Following high school, he attended Parsons The New School for Design in New York City and was just a few credits shy of graduation when he took a job with Bugle Boy. He also added Donna Karan, Perry Ellis and Ralph Lauren in New York City to his résumé before coming back to Michigan in 1992 to work for urbanwear brand Pelle Pelle, based in Auburn Hills.
"I wanted to come home," said Faris, the father of two girls, Keely, 11, and Maia, 7.
In 2000, he launched his own brand, RedFly, but by 2008, worn out from running his own business, he was back to commuting to New York for a job as senior designer for Schott NYC.
He was there when he tried out for "Project Runway," prompted by daughter Keely. His finish in the show's top six gave him the credibility boost to once again start his own venture.
"It put me in the spotlight to do something like this," he said.
Best fashion lesson you ever learned?
I learned that every season is about building it up then knocking it down from my Ralph Lauren boss, Alex Cannon. His office was like a tornado went off on it. He's a creative genius, always able to come up with new things. One season was regatta, the next was tennis. I learned to work in themes.
What's it like working with the traditionally industrial team at TDIC?
Some designers at TDIC have gone to fashion design school, so now they are getting to do what they went to school for. It's fun. I believe in the organic process and collaboration. I've done that my whole career, getting feedback from a variety of people.
What has been your biggest challenge in making this happen?
First, finding a partner, and now, sales. There are so many pieces to the puzzle. One challenge with RedFly was that I did $1.2 million in sales first year. I exceeded expectations. Then I needed to finance it. You can have the greatest product, but without the right sales force or marketing, it's like a tree falling in the forest. That's where "Project Runway" helped. I got noticed.
How are you marketing Motor City Denim?
Right now, it's social media. We are at the height of where social media is changing the landscape of advertising. Smart agencies are getting hip to that. It's a really interesting time for that. (Of course,) I would love to spend $50,000 and have ad in Vogue.
One item of clothing you wouldn't be caught dead in?
I used to say Crocs … until I owned a pair. Probably a Speedo bathing suit.
What are your thoughts on Detroit reinventing itself as a garment district?
I feel this city, with its infrastructure and factories, needs to look at going into fashion. I'm living proof of that. Some of these suppliers of the Big Three can look at going back into garments. There's a big need for that. … If you're a smaller garment company and you need to manufacture even 1,000 pair of jeans, that's hard to find. All the companies are now making mass production for the big guys. We are easier to reach from New York than China. I can design something and have it sewn by the end of the day. That's power. There's a tremendous opportunity for this city to dive heavy into the garment industry.
How does Detroit inspire you?
We're such a working-class city. Every time I go downtown, I discover something new. It's like going into a garage with all these dusty things and you polish them off and see how great they are. I've always said Detroit has its own fashion. People are very fashionable.
Best lesson from "Project Runway"?
Being able to challenge myself. The time constraints were crazy. I got stronger with each challenge. By the end, I felt I'd proved everything I needed to prove. The older (you) get, you don't challenge yourself as much.
What can you tell other creatives about taking a leap like this?
One really good piece of advice that took me a while to learn is, if you need a partner, look for one with qualities you don't have. You don't need another designer to be your partner. I was very fortunate to have met Mark, to have the vision that we can do this here. It's been very hard to find.
Advice for creatives looking to start out?
Find one or two things that define you and focus on that. Hone in on one item and bring it to market. Start with social media.
Also, I never understood the true meaning of the word patience until I turned 40. You realize things will come. As a young person, you want everything now. Patience is believing it will happen.
See the line at www.motorcitydenimco.com.