DETROIT DENIM

ERIC YELSMA

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Eric Yelsma started his line of jeans made from raw, unwashed denim a little before he opened shop in Ponyride in 2011. Figuring out how to produce jeans with no background in the industry, he created a lean manufacturing model, different than the large batch production used by most clothing manufacturers. Detroit Denim recently moved out of Ponyride, opening a larger production space and retail shop on the city’s East side.

How he knew it was time for Detroit Denim to move out of Ponyride:
Space was the most obvious thing. We were in 1,200 square feet there and we’re in 4,300 square feet here. To grow at all we needed more space.

And I think we’d been there long enough. Ponyride, I believe, is there to help you sort of prove your concept, figure it out, and then move on -- sort of launch to the next thing.

On learning to coexist with others:
What I found with Ponyride is that when you’re with other people, there’s an awful lot of collaboration that takes place. The nice thing is when we had left, we had done a project, or worked in some way, with every single tenant there, which was really cool.

We also learned and set up a culture of being patient and being able to work and coexist with other people. We had daily interaction with multiple people throughout that building. It’s amazing, the things that can kind of result from just conversations and exchanges and connections.

You have to be willing to be social and reach out to people. Effectively, you’re in a public space, you’re having lunch with a bunch of other people, it wasn’t just a little cube farm. There’s far more interaction, and I think Ponyride made efforts to promote that, they had events and so forth, that were pretty neat for getting people together and connecting them.

On being made in Detroit:
In the U.S., less than two percent of apparel is made here anymore, so the standard is, you come up with this design, and then you just source it overseas. And so for us to capture this whole thing internally, it seems so basic and obvious, but it’s actually pretty unique. And to further that, we actually put a retail store on the front end, which makes it even more unique. 

You can count on one hand the number of jeans companies in the U.S. that get rolls of denim in one end, and then have people actually walking out with those jeans on the other side. 

On the vibe at Ponyride in the early days:
It was like an adult playground. We’d drink and have parties and they’d have bonfires in the back, which were so nice sometimes, because after a long day you’d go out there and unwind a little bit. We have some very close friends as a result of Ponyride.