How Raleigh Denim Set the Standard for American-Made Jeans

Founder Victor Lytvinenko explains the insane level of craftsmanship that goes into the North Carolina workshop’s vintage-loomed denim

A pair of American-made jeans from Raleigh Denim Workshop
"Buy one of these instead of two or three or four of something else," pitches Victor Lytvinenko.

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“Our proposition was: we’re making a long-lasting thing, a meaningful thing, and that our design and craft celebrated the history [of American denim], but with a modern fit and detailing,” says Victor Lytvinenko, explaining the philosophy behind his jeans company, Raleigh Denim Workshop. “These jeans are going to last for five to 10 years. Buy one of these instead of two or three or four of something else. It’s more expensive, but actually, with cost per wear, it was going to be a lot cheaper. People didn’t necessarily know that, but I think people were hungry for that. They wanted something meaningful. That’s what we were offering.” 

It’s clear that Lytvinenko is passionate about real-deal craftsmanship, a facet of manufacturing that has largely eroded in this day and age. His fervor bleeds into his North Carolina-based denim company, which he co-founded with his wife Sarah Yarborough in 2007. Raleigh is widely cited as one of the leading forces of the late-aughts selvedge movement, when decades of fast fashion and declining quality spurred a resurgence in premium, meticulously-made denim, and continues to set the standard for American-made jeans with one of the best products on the market: the Alexander Selvage Raw.

To the layman, the Alexander — while vastly superior to the substandard construction that most mass-market jeans now feature — might look similar to other premium selvedge styles, with the typical brass button fly, relaxed fit, chain-stitched hems and authentic raw wash. But the care and craft that goes into Raleigh denim is unique, both in its U.S.-made construction and its respect for the region’s legendary denim tradition.

While many companies, Raleigh included, buy from international mills, the Alexander’s hardy fabric is specially sourced from Vidalia Mills in Louisiana, which acquired and uses the same Draper-X3 looms that created the legendary selvedge denim at the now-shuttered Cone Mills White Oak plant in Greensboro, North Carolina.

This selection is a highly intentional choice, not only given the rarity of American mills and the quality of the denim, but the robust history that comes with it, as the birthplace of modern denim production — the patent for the continuous rope indigo dyeing machine was filed at the White Oak denim mill — and the beating heart of the American denim industry for much of the 20th century before the Levi’s move to overseas production decimated the landscape.

Detail of Raleigh Denim Workshop Alexander Selvage Raw Jeans
The fabric used in the Alexander jeans is specially sourced from Vidalia Mills in Louisiana.

Once the fabric arrives, the entire construction process is done by hand in Raleigh’s workshop, down to a personal signature on every pair of jeans. Lytvinenko estimates that, from start to finish, upwards of 11 employees contribute to the jeans in some way, in a process that takes 20 to 30 times as long as mass-produced factory denim.

Clearly, it’s a labor of love — and one that ensures incomparable quality control, given the crop of elite equipment the workshop has built up over the years. “A lot of the machines that we use are ones that I rebuilt with mechanics from the last Levi’s factory, in Bakersville, North Carolina, which closed in 2005. Some of them are the ‘holy grail’ machines: We have four of the Union Special 43200G machines, the chain-stitch hemming machines from the 1930s,” says Lytvinenko, who dedicated months of his life to learning how to find, build and rebuild these machines via “informal apprenticeships.” 

When Lytvinenko says holy grail, he means it — by his estimation, there are only 40 or 50 of the Union Specials still standing. From the Reece 101 buttonhole machine to a Union Special belt-loop machine from the 1930s, each piece of the jeans is made from America’s best fabric, using the gold standard of American apparel manufacturing. For Lytvinenko, it’s a mandate, not a superfluity. “Each machine I have, I picked, built and rebuilt specifically for these operations because it’s the most beautiful, because it’s the most meaningful.” 

The result of all that work? A pair of hardwearing premium American-made jeans, built using the same techniques employed 75 years ago but updated for modern life. It’s the only appropriate way to make jeans, if you ask Lytvinenko. “What we say on our labels is that we make things with love, we take our time and we love what we do. That’s what’s really meaningful to me. We’re taking whatever time it takes to make it right.”

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