This Mississippi jean company outfits Nicole Kidman, Sturgill Simpson and several Chicago Cubs
By Ben Warnick
Originally published by Oxford Stories
(Main Photo by Danny Klimetz)
Josh West’s unique personality makes an interesting first impression. He is driven, well-versed and powered by creative ideas.
Those ideas have helped West create and develop Blue Delta Jeans, the Mississippi-made jean company that has become a go-to clothier for national superstars and locals.
The North Mississippi jeans powerhouse has partnered with many celebrities, including actress Nicole Kidman, New York Yankee Aaron Judge, several Chicago Cubs players (pitcher Jon Lester reportedly owns 17 pairs), and a host of other recognizable faces since 2011.
In giving Blue Delta a recognizable face of its own, West and his partner, Nick Weaver, have helped Blue Delta evolve from a simple dream to a worldwide product.
“My vision for Blue Delta is ever-changing, but initially it was to be a manufacturer for bespoke jeans,” West said. “Bespoke is basically the highest designation of custom. It’s really just a fancy word for ‘made from scratch.’
“You pick the color of your thread, you pick the buttons, etc. Bespoke is the top level, which means they’re making a pattern for you. So not only are the aesthetics customized, but the fit and the pattern of the garment is customized for each person. I wanted to make an American-made bespoke jean.”
The idea came to West while serving as regional economic developer for Three Rivers Planning and Development District. His daily presence in North Mississippi factories birthed his vision for revitalizing Mississippi’s rich history of garment work.
“We were in factories every day – from Toyota to Ashley Furniture to you name it,” West said. “As I went to other places, I started noticing that there was one thing that our region had that other regions didn’t have – talented seamstresses.”
West said most of the seamstress generation has died out, because many garments are now made overseas.
“What’s different about North Mississippi is we kept furniture. Furniture has a small element of sewing. These ladies and some men were still trained to sew. So I built the business model around those people. That was the plan, but we had no idea if we could get any of these people.”
With the help of his brother, Luke West, a Mississippi State University student, Josh West took a chance.
“I had no garment or manufacturing experience,” Josh West said. “Nick had no garment or manufacturing experience. Luke was our first salesperson. He was still in college, but he had a natural market with his Sigma Chi guys.”
West said they went to UM and sold 30 or 40 jeans in one night. “It was off to the races after that,” he said.
Luke West credits Josh’s hard work and dedication to the company’s success.
“I think my brother and I both have this instinct inside of us where we want to create on our own,” Luke West said. “Josh is one of these people who can see something differently that (everyone) else can. He puts together the pieces that no one else sees. Instinctively, he’s the kind of person who pushes himself. I’ve never seen anymore work harder than him.”
Josh West said making jeans is a hard process, because the fabric is not very giving or forgiving. Many places that sew suits can switch over and make dresses or T-shirts. Not so with jean making.
“You have to buy the equipment that’s heavy enough to handle the denim,” he said. “It’s almost like leatherwork. It’s hard to do it in custom because it’s so unforgiving. If you mess it up, you cut another piece. You don’t get to start over. It is an art.”
West said they hired wisely. “At the time, we were a two-year-old company,” he said, “but we had over 100 years of jean sewing experience once we started hiring these people with a lot of institutional knowledge. We basically said, ‘If y’all can make jeans, we can sell them.’”
West said it takes a team of artisans to make bespoke jeans, including a pattern maker. A pattern is cut into over 20 pieces, then the seamstresses puts those pieces together. Every jean made is a different size, style and thread color.
“It all takes very talented people to do it,” West said. “So it doesn’t look like a normal factory when you come into our shop. It’s more like a tailoring shop, which is exactly what we wanted it to be.”
West said the first thing they look for is quality fabric.
“The good thing is that most of the best fabrics in the world are still made here in America,” he said. “We do buy some fabrics from Japan. There are some fabrics that you can’t get anywhere else, so we also buy some fabrics from Italy. But I’d say over 80 percent of our fabrics we buy from the Southeastern United States, from North Carolina and Georgia, which is awesome.”
West said the jeans have got to be tough and something customers can wear as long as they want to. They do lifetime alterations and customer repairs.
“We have customers who wear jeans for three years, and hang them on a barbed wire fence, or lose 10 pounds or whatever,” he said. “If they send them back in, we will adjust them, and they can keep wearing them. So they see it as more of an investment. Well over 50 percent of the people who buy a jean from us will buy more in the future.”
West said there are very few places in the United States where they could do what they’re doing. Most of the talent in the seamstress populations are in large metro areas.
“Our state has is a talented workforce,” he said. “People show up to work on time. People give you an hour’s work for an hour’s pay. That matters as a business owner: to know that you have people who have your back.”