It was with much anticipation but very little in the way of expectations that I flew to El Paso, Texas late last week to meet, for the first time, with my denim production partner, Tri-Americas, and to bring my first order home. In modern manufacturing, my heretofore contact with Bob Paluzi, the owner of Tri-Americas, consisted of a handful of phone calls and a huge number of emails. I knew that they made beautiful jeans (mostly because I have been loving and wearing the hell out of mine since July), and, from my production manager, Alex, that they were a very reputable manufacture. And that is really all I knew. Unlike the rest of the business world, where you can follow everything and know nearly everything about a business online, much of manufacturing takes place offline. To really know a production partner, you are forced to do things the old fashion way – with an in person visit, a thing I really love about this business.
So I booked my ticket, found an adorable Airbnb and hoped for the best, imagining the worst. I had heard that El Paso was the “armpit of the US,” yet nobody that I talked to, including my friends in Texas, had ever been to El Paso. In addition, I had heard terrible things about sweatshop like conditions in US manufacturing facilities in Los Angeles, and worried about what I might find on the other side of my business.
When I arrived in El Paso the beauty and peace I experienced was so startling that I worried I would get into an accident in my rental car with all that there was to take in around me. There were mountains and desert seeped in a beautiful pink then yellow light from the desert sun, with the freeway painted peach and light green to match this curious, beautiful little city that seemed to have appeared out of my dreams. I navigated my way to a quiet little neighborhood where each house had unique architecture and color schemes – Mexican pioneer meets American pioneer with Spanish influences.
There was a monarch butterfly lingering on the porch as I came to the front door. I learned very shortly after arriving that I had coincidentally booked a room with Bob’s sister and her husband, two extremely gracious hosts who have spent their lives in El Paso. After a killer Mexican meal and stroll around the neighborhood, the husband sent me to a ridiculously awesome bar, Monarch, for “the best coffee in El Paso.” The bar is in a very old house and inside is cozy, rustic, wooden like being in the inside of a well decorated pirate ship. Like all the people I met in El Paso, the group in the bar were some of the happiest people I’ve met. The coffee was indeed amazing. I was invited out to take in the town, though my short timeline and serious work business kept me on the straight and narrow.
Then I was off to the factory and, once again, startled by what I found. Bob Paluzi welcomed me to Tri-Americas filled with beautiful old machines, art, comfortable furniture set out like a living room in the center with a dining room table for workers to enjoy their lunch. There were old antiques framing beautiful old-school washing machines. It was 4pm and everyone was just heading out for the day (definitely not sweatshop hours). Bob graciously took me out to the best Mexican food I’ve ever had next to an old cemetery where you could find cowboys felled in a shoot-out laying quietly next to a bar overflowing with people enjoying a cold beer and a good laugh after work.
Over micheladas I learned about Tri-Americas, and the manufacturing business Bob started with his dad in the 70s. These are people who dream big and created something, starting in an El Paso that was bustling with manufacturing, courageously rode the waves of the decimation of American manufacturing, and the financial crisis and are producing beautiful denim and providing jobs in a much evolved landscape.
The next morning I returned to the factory to find people working away at their machines, the music humming in the background. Workers chatted and laughed, it was Friday and everyone was looking forward to going dancing. A group of a dozen or so people worked on beautiful old machines, framed by golden spools of thread, in a beautiful atmosphere, loving what they do and the people they work with.
And it shows in the work they produce. I stood at a table wearing my Riding Denim, surrounded by my first production order, going through each piece one at a time – taking in the stitching, the pockets, the denim, feeling so much love for what I had in front of me. The craftsmanship is beautiful. The denim is beautiful. My designs are beautiful. Together we have made something that brings me deep joy and pride for what we’ve put together.
Now: the final step. Get the Riding Denim to you so you can love the hell out of them! I’ve brought home a very limited first order, so catch them while you can!