Arturo Denim is one of the few Canadian retailers designing jeans, taking the torch from Edmonton forefathers Great Western Garment Co.
Owners Janna and James Stewart sold their first batch of jeans during the second weekend of the Royal Bison Art + Craft Fair in Dec. 2016 and opened their combination storefront/studio the following week.
Arturo makes and stocks one fit for men, made of raw Japanese denim, and one for women, which also comes in a hot-water-washed version. Jeans are $150 a pair, which includes in-store alterations, but customers must contend with limited hours of access.
While Janna takes care of pattern drafting and sample sewing, James works on design, denim selection, and fits, while also learning to do alterations.
“I ride her coattails to the top,” he says.
It’s been a long haul from their initial inspiration to start a denim company to having a pair of pants they were happy to sell.
“It was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be,” Janna says.
Before opening their new space, the Stewarts spent years planning, researching, and making prototypes. Until their debut at the end of 2016, Arturo was based out of a workshop on the second floor of the Mercer building.
“It took close to two years to execute a pair of jeans,” James says.
Neither Janna or James can remember, exactly, why they wanted to start making jeans in the first place. For the past ten years, Janna has also owned and designed the local clothing line Cinder + Smoke.
“Women’s fashion can be tiring,” she says, “because it’s such a quick cycle.”
Denim offered an opportunity to work with basics less susceptible to changing trends. Now that Arturo has finally launched, Janna has found her enthusiasm for designing dresses returning as well.
But even Janna’s experience as a clothing designer and dressmaker didn’t prepare the Stewarts for the world of denim design and manufacturing.
“There’s not really a manual for making jeans,” James says, “because it’s so industrial.”
Jeans aren’t garments that can be produced on a domestic sewing machine—in fact, at least 12 separate machines are needed. Janna found herself using Google Translate to search for instructional YouTube videos in Vietnamese showing factory workers using industrial methods and machines to install zippers or make back pockets.
“It’s like a cult,” James laughs. “Everyone is so guarded with their trade secrets.”
Just sourcing fabric for their new product took the Stewarts to a denim trade show in Barcelona so they could—in person—meet the necessary contacts they’d been unable to track down online.
Now, Arturo Denim participates in the industrial side of the industry through its collaboration with the Second Denim factory in Quebec, where most of Arturo’s sewing is done.
“I’d love to be able to do at least half of the sewing in the shop,” Janna says.
For the moment though, she’s busy preparing for a full rollout this spring, including new styles and at least one cut in black denim.
10443 124 St.