An innovative denim sensation has swept Los Angeles prompting big names like Bella Thorne and Chriselle Lim to slip on a pair of 1denim jeans. Neatly tucked at The America At Brand, this shop features a charming coffee/tea bar, an outdoor patio and offers customizable denim options. The shop is equipped with a trained barista who can create latte art, and speaking of art, you can also have your jeans modified on the spot with patches, distressed fray possibilities, tailored hems and embroidery. The 1denim executive team consists of 2 sisters, Claudia and Elizabeth Bae. Their family has been specializing in denim for decades. We interviewed the sisters as they tell us their family’s story of hard work and perseverance.
Hi, Claudia and Liz. Tell us a little about yourselves.
We are daughters of immigrant parents, who are originally from South Korea. Our parents immigrated to Bolivia and later to Argentina at a young age in search of a better opportunity than what was available to them in South Korea. Our mom made dresses that my dad would in turn sell out of a trunk on the streets of Bolivia. They saved enough money to open their first retail store in Argentina and then eventually took our entire family to the US. In the US, our mom worked as a patternmaker while my dad was setting up a business. It was both their dream to be business owners, like many immigrants. Over the course of over 27 years, they built their denim manufacturing business from the ground up, starting with a small cutting facility and later into a full-service manufacturer offering sewing and washing services.
We grew up watching the struggles our parents endured in building their business and understood what their business meant to them and we both could not let that end with them. That’s how we both ended up in this industry—in order to continue their legacy and use their years of experience to build something that was our own.
Elizabeth knew from when she was young that she wanted to do something in fashion. My parents used to tell us stories how she would take off the clothes my mom picked out for her and choose her own wacky outfits, being absolutely adamant that she is only going to wear what she picked out. She was only 6 years old! She continued onto studying fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising and later, fashion marketing at Parsons School of Design in New York City.
For me, it was different. I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to be in the fashion industry although I did and still do have an immense love for clothes and especially shoes! I studied business administration at the University of Southern California and later got my J.D. at Cornell Law School. I went on to practice corporate law at a law firm in Los Angeles until I transitioned into the family business in 2014. Elizabeth’s the creative sister so I think this was a way for me to contribute in another way and bring a different skill set to the business.
Claudia, you explained that you were a corporate attorney before deciding to start 1demin, what was the transition like?
The transition was definitely challenging. I think the most difficult part was probably learning to work with my entire family—my dad, mom, and sister, all in one big (but really, small) office. Working elsewhere, I can clearly see the lines to draw in a professional relationship and how to navigate through office politics. Working with my family, we cross all lines and say and do what we personally think is correct. That can definitely create some tension. With that said, the best part of the transition was also working with my family! As a lawyer, I had pretty tough hours and rarely saw my parents or Elizabeth. Now, I am with them most of my waking moments. I don’t think many people get to spend that much time with their family so I really see this as a blessing.
Liz, you worked in fashion before and was the executive for Denim of Virtue, how did you parlay that experience to 1denim?
I was fresh out of design school at the time when I started managing Denim of Virtue and really grew a lot from that experience. I think the most significant experience I gained from Denim of Virtue was dealing with all of the problems and rising above them. There were certainly good times with great sales, but around 2008, the recession hit so sales dropped significantly, boutique stores (a large portion of our wholesale customers) literally disappeared as they closed their shops, and we were having to figure out how to get our shipment volume back up or get payment on merchandise we already shipped. I think it taught me to be a little more cautious with 1denim as well as understand that there will be substantial road blocks along the way as we build our brand. It taught me that no matter what support we may have, at times, it may not be enough and there will always be events out of our control. At 1denim, I keep that in mind and try to be patient—as I know from that experience it takes a lot of time and care to build something and that there will be highs and lows. In addition, I was able to apply to 1denim the knowledge I gained from my time at Denim of Virtue, of design, production process, and overall understanding of what customers want in a denim product.
How is 1denim different from other brands?
1denim differentiates itself from other denim brands in a few key aspects. First, we are completely vertical meaning that we own the factory that produces 1denim garments as well as the retail where the garments are ultimately sold. This is a great benefit to 1denim since we are able to better control production lead time, quality, and pricing, as well as utilize the many skills and years of experience we have gained in manufacturing denim for other well-known brands. We support our Los Angeles based factory and the employees that we work with, some for more than 20 years. We also direct retail our products and don’t take a large margin on our denim but rather share the savings in eliminating the retail markup with our customers. That’s why our customers are able to purchase premium quality, American-made denim for less than $100. Additionally, because we understand the struggle in finding good fitting jeans, we offer our products tailored for different body types—slim women, curvy women, slim men, athletic men, and even kids. For our kid’s denim, we innovate wash treatments to make garments chemical-free and environmentally safe. For example, most of our kid’s denim jackets and pants are treated with ozone gas for more than 9 hours achieving eliminating the need to wash the garments with bleach and other harsh chemicals.
List some attributes that you believe make a successful entrepreneur.
There’s so many! The first things that come to mind is that you have to be hardworking and be willing to do the dirty work yourself. Starting out, you don’t have a big team so you have to be the CEO, the CFO, the designer, the wash developer, the production manager, the store manager, the sales team, and so on. In Claudia’s case, sometimes the barista at our brick-and-mortar store’s specialty coffee bar. There are definitely days where we feel completely overwhelmed but we look to our vision and keep moving forward. You also need to be able to recognize your short fallings and not harbor over a mistake or wrong call. It seriously feels like a trial and error process so there are going to be times where things feel impossible or just plain wrong. You need pick yourself back up and try again—maybe with a different approach.
What advice would you give to people interested in becoming an entrepreneur in the fashion industry?
Be brave! Entrepreneurship is not for the feeble hearted. It’s going to be a really tough road ahead but the reward can be so great. I think it’s important to have a good support system of family or friends that can help you through the darker moments. Also, as cliché as this sounds, but remember that you are who you know. Make sure to put yourself out there, network with industry folks, and make long lasting business relationships and friendships. Maybe not now, but years down the road, those relationships can grow into a beneficial partnership.
How does it feel seeing your jeans on notable actors and bloggers?
AMAZING! We’re just happy to see that people are wearing our jeans and love them enough to share it with their friends and following. It makes us feel like we’re doing something right with our products.
What will we expect from 1demin in the future?
1denim initially launched with a core line of basic styles and classic washes. We are now experimenting with more fashion styles and washes so stay tuned for our new overalls, oversized jackets, colored denim, and even knit tops and dresses. We will also be holding in-store DIY events where customers can shop for denim and personalize their denim with hemming, patchwork, fringing, and destruction. These events will be exclusively offered to our customers that sign up on our website at http://www.1denim.com.
Thank you for interviewing with us Claudia and Liz!
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share 1denim with you!