Two childhood friends who went to school together in South Pontotoc and college never thought they’d be selling $500 jeans, much less counting celebrities and sports stars among their clientele.
Yet, Josh West and Nick Weaver find themselves doing just that.
West and Weaver are co-owners of Blue Delta Jeans, which got its start in 2011; West is CEO and Weaver is chief operating officer.
Dak Prescott has invited Blue Delta to take measurements twice – once for himself and once for his offensive line.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Blue Delta has visited nearly every Major League Baseball clubhouse to measure clients. It also has set up at The Masters, Daytona, the NFL Combine and the Final Four, in addition to flying cross-country for corporate events.
“It’s just silly. But it’s a good silly,” Weaver said with a smile. “We always talk about, ‘man, we’re sure glad our dreams did come true.’ We had good plans to scale the business up, and we’ve followed the plan that Josh put in place.”
Said West, “Our mantra is, we don’t take autographs”… but we do take credit cards. It’s a weird world with these artists and athletes, but if you go in there and act like you’ve been there before, treat them like a person like they are it works out well.”
FOLLOWING THE PLAN
When West came up with the idea eight years ago for Blue Delta, he had big plans.
“I wanted to be selling jeans around the world, I wanted to be in a bigger facility, I wanted to be making a better product,” he said. “But I didn’t know how’d I get here. And we’re here.”
Even he admits, however, he didn’t think he’d attract the elite clientele the company has garnered.
“I just didn’t see ourselves getting in front of all these people,” he said.
Blue Delta has only one storefront so to speak, in Oxford, but there’s no inventory – only fabrics and patterns for customers to peruse. It brings its share of customers, but there are no immediate plans to expand into additional locations.
“Brick and mortar is not really our thing,” West said. “We’ve got wholesale accounts in addition to Tom James, our largest account.”
Tom James Co. is the world’s largest provider of custom clothing, selling in the U.S, Canada, Europe and Australia.
A map on a wall at Delta is dotted with pink and silver pins, indicating where Blue Delta is selling its jeans.
“The beautiful part of it is, we don’t have to have inventory in any of those locations,” West said. “They’re all different shops. Tom James has affiliations with a lot those pins on the map, but the others represent other shops. We could never match that with our own brick-and-mortar because we don’t have the capital, but even if we did, we don’t have the bandwidth. We’re still small.”
And by small, Blue Delta is exactly that. The company employs 30 people in its 10,000-square-foot space, but six of them are in management and don’t make jeans at all.
“Also, our manufacturing hasn’t kept up with our sales team yet,” Weaver said.
The company plans to expand later this year, adding another 15 employees to help meet the growing demand.
But West said the company will never grow too big where it’s unmanageable. Producing a top-quality product often means sacrificing volume, but neither he nor Weaver are wiling to do that. They’re happy where they are.
MAKING THE JEANS
The process of making a pair of jeans begins like it does in any other tailored clothing shop.
“We measure a customer, and then it’s made into a custom pattern,” West said.
The pattern is printed, and the customer chooses the style and color he or she wants, along with their pick from 30 fabrics.
“Every station is doing a different process,” West said. “And we have a jean rolling off about every 10 minutes.”
The seamsters work in a clean, well-organized space in the Verona facility, and that’s by design.
West, who worked as an economic developer with Three Rivers Planning and Development in Pontotoc, learned a few things on that job.
“I spent so much time with Toyota I got that mindset, so I hired a lean manufacturing consultant,” he said with a laugh. “So we’re making jeans in a lean way.”
Some of the equipment is decades old – apparel manufacturing was once a staple of the area economy – but it still works and most of the seamsters are quite adept at it. But Blue Delta has also integrated automation. Patterns used to be cut by hand-drawn, but are now printed digitally. Hand-cutting of the fabric will be automated soon as well, which is faster, more accurate and reduces waste.
“It takes about nine minutes to cut by hand; we’ll be able to cut that down to a little over 60 seconds,” West said.
While Blue Delta has made a splash with the rich and famous, it’s also a jean for anyone who appreciates quality and the time and craftsmanship put into it.
With the changing tastes and buying patterns of today’s consumers who are in a rush to get what they want, when they want, Blue Delta is purposely taking its time.
“We’re the opposite of Amazon; you’re going to pay the value and wait in line,” Weaver said.
And while the price of the jean always come up, Weaver falls back on the argument of value and price. What are customers willing to pay for something that will hold up?
“If you would have told me in college I’d pay $300 for a cooler, I’d ask why, when I can get a $10 Styrofoam cooler and fill it with ice, or get $1,200 for a green grill when all I need is some charcoal.” Weaver said. “But we’ve realized that there’s better stuff, and if you pay for quality stuff, it’ll last. And that’s why we’re selling this jean.”
But even with the celebrity clientele, West and Weaver say there roots will always be firmly grounded in the Magnolia State and Northeast Mississippi.
“We sell most of our jeans outside of Mississippi, but if it wasn’t for Northeast Mississippi, we wouldn’t be where we are,” West said. “We couldn’t do this anywhere else. We have sewing talent here, and it’s cost effective”
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