Made In Kansas: Custom made jeans

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Two Wichita-area men in their mid-twenties are hoping to make Wichita known for locally made "FNL Denim" jeans.

FNL stands for Frank and Levi. Levi Fitzmier and Frank Hopkins graduated from Maize High School in 2010, then went to California hoping to make it big there.  That didn't happen.  But the two hatched the idea of making made-from-scratch jeans better than what they'd seen in the Golden State.

"Started out in L.A. about six years ago," Hopkins recalled. "I bought a $250 pair of jeans that I ended up ripping from the crotch to my calf in less than a week."

"There weren't people making custom jeans,"  Fitzmier said. "So we wanted to bring a whole new idea to it... making one-of-a-kind jeans. Giving these people these options of, 'OK, I want this stitching. I want this pocket. I want this sort of design'... something that's one of a kind. We wanted a one-of-a-kind pair of jeans that fit. So that's pretty much where we started from."

Last August, they moved into a storefront in the Eaton Building on Emporia Street, a bit south of Douglas Street. There they work with 13 industrial sewing machines to make their custom jeans.

They know the jeans aren't for everyone, because of the price.  One will pay about $300 for a pair.

But Wichitan Derek Lowrey stepped into the shop last week after hearing about FNL Denim through social media. After getting briefed by Fitzmier about the different grades of cotton, Lowrey made his selections and was measured for the fit he wanted.

"You could just go to Walmart or Old Navy or wherever, but you're going to get what you pay for when you go to those places," Lowrey said. "Going to a place that's going to care about you and do measurements and do something custom from selvedge denim you pick is worth the money and worth the time. They're going to fit exactly the way you want them to fit."  

Hopkins said the two have made and sold 370 pairs of jeans since opening. He said they have customers in Japan and throughout Europe wearing their denim.

Fitzmier added they have a two-month backlog of orders. He said they can make about 20 pair of jeans a week. But the two have their eyes on making thousands of jeans and selling them via the internet.

But Hopkins noted doing that will require a factory and making a line of off-the-shelf jeans at a lower price for the general public. He said they'd like that to be in Wichita.

The two pointed out there is precedence for jean-making in Kansas.  The Lee brand originated in Salina in the late 1800s before being sold and moved elsewhere.

Hopkins and Fitzmier said they want to eventually start a women's line of denim clothing. But for now, they'll keep designing and making jeans from scratch for customers who want a fit they can't find with off-the-shelf store-bought jeans.

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