At New Hartford Company Hardenco, Denim is Sacrosanct
By Wendy Carlson
Photos by Ryan Lavine
Located in a nondescript industrial building off Main Street in New Hartford, Hardenco is making custom jeans the old-fashioned way, stitching together the denim fabric on vintage Singer sewing machines. These handmade jeans do not stretch, nor are they stonewashed, artificially torn, or (God forbid!) sequin-studded.
If you want “distressed” looking jeans, Hardenco co-owner Luke Davis, 38, says you’re going to have to distress them the old-fashioned way—by putting the wear on them over and over again.
“What we are selling is the beauty of a well-worn garment. We are not trying to artificially create it,” he says.
Hardenco jeans are as close as you can get to the rugged style of the original dungarees Levi Strauss designed in the late 1800s for laborers and workmen who needed clothes that lasted longer. Their popular heavy-weight Proximity line is based on patterns that Davis and his business partner Marshall Deming, 39, first developed more than a decade ago after researching patterns from the ‘40s and ‘50s. Their button-fly jeans are made of unsanforized denim, which loses a significant percentage of its volume when properly shrunk to the correct fit.
The two first started making jeans in their parents’ garage after graduating from college. In the beginning, they disassembled pairs of vintage Levis to learn how they were constructed. “But for the most part we taught ourselves by trial and error,” says Lucas.
As avid campers, they noticed how well-made the gear was and they wanted the same type of durability in their jeans. They are purists when it comes to the construction, style, and quality of fabric, even down to how they wear their jeans.
“I’m “anti cuff,” Davis says, referring to the popular folded-up style that leaves a semi-permanent crease on the fabric. “But I have to be careful cause I don’t want to offend people.” In contrast, Deming likes to roll up his jean bottoms rather than cuff them.
They opened their first shop in an old bicycle plant in Hartford in 2010, and moved their operation to New Hartford in 2015, where their product line includes canvas and flannel work shirts and pants, jackets, workers aprons, hats, totes and coasters. Their customers run the gamut from construction workers to millennials who are looking for sustainably-made alternatives. With a price tag of $285 for canvas pants and $385 for denim jeans, the clothing is an investment. But the company philosophy is to fix rather than replace jeans so they offer unlimited free repairs for the lifetime of the garment.
Kamal Hussein, 32, who makes special trips from Boston for fittings, explains the appeal: “We are all about being green these days so that means reducing what we consume. I tell people I would rather have a couple good pairs of good jeans that I can bring back to repair than jeans that fall apart.”
The design, construction, and patterns are done by both men who work on vintage machines from the ‘40s and ‘50s, which are simpler and easier to fix when they break down. Aside from the shelves of old Singer machines, there are two massive sewing machines salvaged from a battleship.
“It’s been a fun adventure, learning all the skills and how to use the right tools for the job,” says Deming.
“Neither of us knew we were going to end up making clothes when we first started,” adds Davis.
“It began as a hobby and then we just didn’t stop, so here we are.”