Nine stories above 8th Avenue in Manhattan, the entrance to Denim Therapy is a 10 x 6-foot wall of folded denim jeans, jackets and overalls in varying shades of indigo — and disrepair. Denim Therapy, a place where denim comes to find new life, isn’t a massive factory operation with rows of sewing machines filling a factory floor. It’s a personal, handcrafted operation based in a standard Manhattan studio, with the chattering duet of siblings Marcia and Miguel Cordero’s sewing machines drowning out the noise of traffic passing through the garment district below.
Denim has transcended nearly every region, culture, political party, tax bracket and social group of the world. Starting with miners, carpenters and cowboys in the Old West, denim is now uniquely and widely embraced in wardrobes across the planet. And because denim is worn by everyone from bikers to runway models, from construction workers to Silicon Valley CEOs, every pair is worn differently. As Raffael Flores-Contreras, denim expert and logistics manager at Denim Therapy, puts it, “Every pair of jeans is unique and tells its own story.”
Denim Therapy, which was founded by Francine Rabinovich in 2006 and made famous by Marcia Cordero’s personal darning technique, specializes in elongating these stories. Customers range from large-scale manufacturers to smaller boutiques to individuals who simply can’t part with their favorite pair of blue jeans. Some customers prefer to walk in and drop of their denim in person, others send jeans by mail — more often than not with notes letting DT know just how important the package really is. Some notes are simple — “I bought these 16 years ago, I LOVE them!” — others more heartfelt — “Dear Denim Therapy, Enclosed please find my pair of beloved jeans for repair. They have been loved. I remember trying them on and showing them to my husband. I remember wearing them on my daughter’s field trips. I remember wearing them on the jumbotron at the Rolling Stones concert. I remember putting them on to take my husband to the hospital. I was wearing them when I left the hospital. Alone. Please take very good care of theses jeans. They have been through a lot.”
The “like new” repair, where Cordero studies the jeans to match her thread to the jean’s fabric, color and stitch pattern, is the Denim Therapy calling card.
As with their wearers, “Every pair of jeans has its own personality,” says Contreras. So as each pair of jeans comes in, each is attended to as a special case. Once a pair of jeans arrives at DT, it’s studied and assessed for damage. DT will then correspond with the customer, going back and forth, discussing the list of possible repairs and what the customer would like to have done. This, Contreras says, takes the most time. “Sometimes customers prefer a patch. For a certain look, others want the repair to be unnoticeable — like new.” The “like new” repair, where Cordero studies the jeans to match her thread to the jean’s fabric, color and stitch pattern, is the Denim Therapy calling card. Quickly working the jeans back and forth through her sewing machine, Cordero blends her stitching with the original fabric of the jeans. The result is a near-perfect repair and, in most cases, it’s unnoticeable unless pointed out. This hand-crafted procedure takes time, and from customer drop-off to return, it takes about two to three weeks. But for years of continued use, it’s a small time to wait.
Denim made a name for itself for being the more affordable material with which to make trousers, shirts, jackets. As Contreras says, “10 years ago, it was kind of crazy to think of repairing jeans, but nowadays, there’s a culture — people who care about and love their jeans.” So, as the market for premium denim has grown, people are more and more interested in preserving their investment. Thus, Denim Therapy helps the breaking-in process not be the breaking-down. A simple tear shouldn’t mean demise — or an eyesore. The best repairs let the process of fading, whiskering, fraying and wearing continue even after the first drastic plot twist hits the indigo. Denim Therapy lets the fabric’s story go on.