It doesn’t get much more local than jeans from Dearborn Denim & Apparel—sewn by an all-Chicago staff in a Garfield Park former laundry turned factory, and sold in the company’s flagship store in Hyde Park. And once you visit the store and start talking to Kaleb Sullivan, Dearborn’s head of retail, it’s very likely you’ll be leaving with your own pair, hemmed while you wait.
The jump from Chicago Board of Trade bond trader to local clothing manufacturer is not a typical career path, but that didn’t dissuade Rob McMillan, owner of Dearborn Denim & Apparel and West Loop resident. Inspired by his wife’s comments about poorly-made expensive jeans, he started researching denim online, visited apparel manufacturers, roughed out a plan, and what began as a “what if ” soon became real and a shift to an entirely new calling. He explained, “When we realized we could get a great pair of jeans out the door at a rea- sonable price, made in Chicago, I said, I want those and I bet other people would too.”
Rob and Kaleb met as vendors with side-by-side booths at a local street fest in the summer of 2016 – with Rob selling the first Dearborn Denim & Apparel jeans, and Kaleb selling jewelry. Rob was impressed with Kaleb’s Jedi-like sales ability, and Kaleb noticed there was a lot of buzz about the well-made, classic jeans. They started
talking, and in spring 2017 Kaleb was hired as head of retail to staff the Hyde Park store, which opened in May of 2017.
Located between the stores Modern Cooperative and The Silver Room on 53rd Street, Dearborn Denim & Apparel has quickly become an im- portant part of the neighborhood’s retail corridor – selling jeans almost faster than they are produced at the factory, as well as belts by Chicago’s Horween leather (they also make the leather label on the back of the jeans), t-shirts by local designers, and other accessories.
It’s not a difficult sell. With several different fits for men and women (tailored, skinny high-rise, slim, straight leg, relaxed, and a soon-to-be released boyfriend style) in dark wash, medium wash, and black – the prices range from $59 to $65 – much less than any competition for an entirely “made in
America” pair of jeans. And there’s even an industrial sewing machine right in the store, so you can have your jeans
expertly hemmed before you leave.
The brand has been steadily building a following – named in 2017 by New City as the “Best American-made Denim,” and by Chicago magazine as “Best New Jeans Shop,” and featured in Vogue, Michigan Avenue Magazine, Crain’s, and others. After Kaleb organized a partnership with Riot Fest last year, the
company’s jeans are now worn by members of the local bands Cap’n Jazz and The Orwells, as well as Ministry and Beach Slang. The company offers monthly factory
tours in Garfield Park on Saturday af-
ternoons – people can meet the people who make the jeans, try on a few pairs,
and even have a free beverage or two.
At a time when U.S. clothing manufacturing has all but died out, the increased demand for Dearborn Denim & Apparel jeans has meant additional machinery at the factory and four new employees. The brand has added khakis for men, will be making a wider range of sizes and washes for all current fits, with denim jackets for men and women launching in early spring 2018. The goal is for the company to be a 100% waste-free manufacturer, and eventually employ 100 Chicagoans.