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Behind the Scenes | Traveller Denim

Most ordinary people don’t show up for work in a pair of jeans they made the night before.

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But when Erik Untersee arrived at work wearing his own handcrafted pair of skinnies, Selenia Rios saw potential. Soon the couple, who met while working on a Ben Kweller music video, began dreaming of a new business, one that would offer handcrafted, bespoke jeans made from the highest-quality raw denim, jeans designed to last a lifetime.

They immediately started raising money—“enough money to buy a car, but not enough to buy a house”—says Rios. A key investment from local entrepreneur and owner of Texas Light and Film, Tony Brummer, allowed them to make their idea a reality. They immediately found their current location, signed the lease, and began to renovate, doing all of the design and labor themselves. With a workspace and storefront of only 280-square-feet, they had to plan carefully. The final design remains mostly unchanged from the original one they drew on a cocktail napkin while out at the Yellow Jacket Social Club. In June, just six months after they first began to brainstorm, they opened the doors of Traveller Denim, on Chestnut Avenue in East Austin, with a party that lasted until 3am.

“We’ve been sending jeans to Barcelona, New York, Australia, the Philippines,” Rios says with delight. The demand for bespoke, raw denim jeans was greater than they had imagined. And that in itself is remarkable, given that a custom pair of Traveller jeans starts at $350. They also offer some ready-to-wear jeans for $255. A women’s ready-to-wear line, called Show Pony, will be available this fall. All of the company's sales are direct to the public.

For the uninitiated, a pair of raw denim jeans is one that remains unwashed after being fabricated. The more one wears the jeans, the more the fabric will mold and crease specifically to the wearer’s body, causing distinctive folds and creases such as “honeycombing” behind the knees or “whiskering” on top of the thighs. The idea is to create an article of clothing so specific, unique and perfect for a client’s needs that the he or she will never take them off. I.e., jeans so good you wear holes in them. “These are quality things that help define you,” Erik says. “As you wear it, it ages to your kind of lifestyle. We leave our fingerprint and the client lives their lifestyle and makes it into their own.”

Rios and Untersee are the only employees at Traveller, and they make each pair of jeans by hand, a process that can take up to ten hours. Although they get some of their denim from Japan, they are dedicated to using American-made materials, including the thread. Instead of zippers, they use buttons, which don’t break as easily.

This obsession with quality extends even to the vintage sewing machines in their small, well-lit workspace. However, depending on such old machinery can be risky. If their treasured Union Special (which they describe as the “holy grail of sewing machines”) breaks, Untersee and Rios have to figure out how to repair it themselves. “We’re not trying to be outrageous,” Rios insists. “We’re based on simplicity. It’s about beautiful, well-made textiles and neutrals that go well together and our cuts being perfect. We can outfit the hipster punk rock kid and the IT guy.” Untersee says, “Even when we’re here late”—they tend to work 12-hour days—“there’s joy in creating something that fits. It makes people happy.” For more information about the Traveller Denim, visit travellerdenim.com.

Credits

Photography by Bill Sallans

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