By now one would think all great ideas have already been considered and executed in the world of denim. With this in mind, sometimes the best way to take a step forward in a saturated market is to revisit the most basic question of all. For Raleigh Denim Workshop founders Victor Lytvinenko and Sarah Yarborough said question was one that had lingered in Lytvinenko's head since the brand's inception in 2007: How would the ideal pair of jeans be made, and what would they be made of? The answer is rooted in the brand's background—the ideal jeans would be made of organic cotton grown, milled and manufactured entirely in North Carolina. The problem was, at that point, some four years ago, certified organic cotton had never been officially grown in the state. Raleigh sought to change that.
As it turns out, growing certified organic cotton is costly and time-consuming, but after a bit of searching Raleigh teamed up with Cotton of the Carolinas to find Nashville, NC local Lewie Parish—an established farmer looking to get back to the chemical-free way of farming he grew up with. To reassure the farmer he'd be covered even if the crop turned out badly, Raleigh worked with Cotton of the Carolinas to secure a matrix of businesses that would purchase at every quality level, all the way down to a local mop maker interested in the lowest level. As luck would have it, the entire 22-acre crop turned out top notch.
Once the cotton was harvested, Raleigh ran into more muddy sticks however, as few were willing to work with the organic material. In the end, it took speaking with the president of Cone Mills' parent company International Textile Group to convince the mill to make the fabric organically. "Everyone was skeptical about doing it, but also wanted it to work and wanted to believe it could work," says Lytinenko. The resulting fabric—grown, ginned, spun and woven within 100 miles of Raleigh's workshop—sets a new standard in raw selvedge denim. "It's not only the first crop of certified organic cotton grown in North Carolina, but it's also the smallest footprint of any jean that I know of—I don't know of anyone doing it with a smaller footprint," says Lytinenko.
With the third year's crop ready to be planted in the very near future, the second crop currently being processed and the first resulting batch of completed jeans now on shelves, Lytvinenko and Yarborough are excited about each aspect of the hopefully longterm project, that after a handful of years has finally come to fruition. "There's something super-cool about the transparency of it; I know the farmer that grew the cotton, I know the guy that ginned the cotton, the guy that spun it and the guy that wove it," Lytinenko explains. "And we cut and sewed it in our shop."
The raw 13oz White Oak selvedge denim jeans, made from the first certified organic cotton crop grown in North Carolina, are now available from Raleigh for $325. Visit Raleigh for more information and see the slideshow for an up-close look.
Studio images by Graham Hiemstra, all others courtesy of Raleigh Workshop