A disappointing pair of $250 designer jeans inspired Levi Fitzmier and Frank Hopkins to start their own jean company.
The two have FNL Denim – for Frank and Levi – and on Thursday began a Kickstarter campaign (it goes live at 8 p.m.) to help advance the company.
The Wichita natives were living in Los Angeles after graduating from Maize High School in 2010. Hopkins was doing some modeling and decided to upgrade his wardrobe with some expensive jeans, but they immediately ripped – and not in a fashionable way.
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“We started looking into how jeans were made and how we could make our own jeans,” Fitzmier says.
They took out a $3,000 loan to have their designs made at a factory, but they quickly lost the money and decided to cut out the middleman.
Broke, Fitzmier says they returned home and borrowed his grandmother’s sewing machine to begin again.
He says the first pair they created “was the ugliest pair of jeans you’ve probably ever seen.”
“We took the machine to a store because we thought it wasn’t working right.”
They’d actually threaded it incorrectly, he says.
“We kept gradually getting better and better and better,” he says.
They kept getting new machines, too.
“Every stitch on a pair of jeans needs a different type of machine,” Fitzmier says.
That’s partly where the Kickstarter campaign comes in. In addition to upgrading equipment, Fitzmier and Hopkins have encountered other expensive issues, such as having to buy buttons and rivets in minimum orders of 5,000.
The two have graduated from working out of their parents’ basements to working out of Fitzmier’s house, which he shares with his wife and 9-month-old.
They’re balancing their jeans production with restaurant jobs as well.
Fitzmier and Hopkins say their friends from growing up are surprised at their career paths.
“To tell them that we sew, they just kind of chuckle and laugh,” Fitzmier says.
“We were not into sewing, fashion or anything at all,” he says of when he and Hopkins were younger. “We both played sports our whole lives.”
Fitzmier says they take a similar approach at practicing sewing as they did with sports.
“You’re going to get good at it.”
Fitzmier says he and Hopkins hope to inspire other kids from Kansas.
“We had the motivation and the inspiration to do this ourselves,” he says. “We just want to inspire people to just try to do something different.”