Thanks to a kick ass denim company from Bristol, Tennessee, I’m letting my hipster love light shine.
Okay. Maybe not full on hipster. This dad bod can’t do skinny jeans. But I have been smitten by the Pointer Brand chore coats made at L.C. King Manufacturing and my oldest son says I look like a hipster when I wear one, so I just have to (happily) let it ride.
After ten years of being involved with the music scene in and around the cities of Bristol (TN and VA), I recently began to notice that more and more of the bands coming to town have been rocking these killer denim jackets and jeans. The look was both rugged and hip and piqued my interest. Imagine my delight when I found that this denim garb was being made just a block south of State Street.
That I had begun to notice L.C. King’s street wear on the musicians around town was no accident. Chris Stewart, marketing guru for the company, recognized that L.C. King’s philosophy is inextricably wound with the musical heritage of the city and he set out with a plan, soon after arriving at the company last year, to get L.C King’s product on musicians and in front of music fans.
That’s a plan I can get behind and I found myself wanting to see the factory to get more of the story.
As good fortune would have it, I was involved with bringing David Gans, noted musician and Grateful Dead author, to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum back in April and was able to coordinate a trip through the factory with Stewart as part of Gans’ Bristol experience.
Our tour started around noon and, for the next three hours, I was held spellbound by Stewart, who walked us through the factory while recounting the tale of the family run (for four generations) company that has been hand making denim work wear in Bristol for the last 103 years.
We meandered around stacks of small batch denim pieces waiting to be turned into jackets and jeans and past sewing machines in continuous service since the 1930s while listening to stories about, among other things, jobs passed down from one family member to another, much like family heirlooms, and the one guy who has cut virtually every piece of every item made in the factory for the last 20 years.
Leftover Salmon, Sol Driven Train, Quiet Life, Scythian, Dr. Dog, Moon Taxi, Banditos, and Spirit Family Reunion, among others, have taken the tour and left the factory with L.C. King swag in tow. The jackets and jeans are offered with no strings attached but with one idea in mind: musicians making honest American music should be doing it in clothing that is, likewise, wholly American.
That philosophy – along with the hip look – is what makes L.C. King a century old American original.
I recently chatted with Chris Stewart about this evolving connection between roots music and the company’s handmade denim.
BRO – How did getting your clothing on musicians – in lieu of more traditional print marketing – develop as an idea?
CS – We have over one hundred years of real-world results from our sales, marketing campaigns, branding initiatives, and a constant barrage from competitors new and old. One thing we have learned along the way is that we are not always best served by the standard contemporary marketing options. Common marketing is great for short term sales, but it doesn’t always address our real goals of longevity, brand loyalty, and the heritage promise. There is so much print and online marketing these days that it is easy to tune it out or be perceived as disingenuous. So, when building a new marketing strategy around who and what L.C. King really is, three words efficiently define our brand platform – authentic, American, and heritage. I decided to let the brand speak for itself by collaborating with other brands that fit the same description, and as a great band or musician is about the truest form of brand, it seemed like a natural fit and has become a fruitful direction.
BRO – You see parallels between the story of L.C. King and roots music in Bristol. Expand on that?
CS – Landon Clayton King designed Pointer Brand as a working man’s product, and it remains such to this day. Over the decades, we have expanded into new realms of “work” beyond the blue collar standards, but we still build, design and style hoping that our gear is as much about function as it is form. Likewise, American music was the common, hard working (wo)man’s expression. Both are authentic in their nature and appeal to the masses while expressing their hard earned heritage. As the music has evolved and taken labels such as country, roots, Americana, bluegrass, old-time, and more, L.C. King has evolved similarly into work wear, street wear, women’s wear, and men’s style. It seems to me that this past century has seen a very similar evolutionary model for music and our products, and I believe it is more than just coincidence that Bristol shares the origins of what have become staples of ever-contemporary culture with Pointer Brand in 1913 and the Bristol Sessions in 1927.
BRO – Can you describe that moment during a factory tour when an artist truly gets it?
CS – It is a completely different experience for every band or musician that visits our factory. Their expectations are formed ahead of time based on the diversity of their backgrounds, so everyone expects to see something different no what matter what they knew about us ahead of time. But you are right, there is a moment for each visitor that is akin to being shaken from one reality to another, and then with wider eyes and a clearer mind, they can finally see what and who we really are. This very often happens as they walk through our factory, touching the century old equipment, watching the workers use techniques passed through the generations, and having real conversations with those workers that have a common thread. That common thread is that it’s not just about the product, but about people, process, and passion, which is how musicians feel about their music. It goes back to roots again. At that root of what we both do, whether it’s on stage or in a factory, the underlying care and sincerity should be obvious. Once the musicians see that, a bond based upon respect and commonality forms and is almost always a lifelong trust we share.
BRO – Got a short list of artists you’d like to invite to the factory? They just might be reading.
CS – To single out people I want to meet isn’t a question I can answer. I love meeting all artists, from those just starting out to seasoned, Grammy winning professionals. Sometimes it’s a green three piece combo crammed into a boxy Volvo. Sometimes it’s a twenty piece entourage that pulls up in three matching buses with custom painted trailers. They all have a story to tell and we love to hear it, and we love sharing our story with them. There is definitely no bucket list other than trying to connect with as many musicians with an authentic voice as possible. If they have an inclination to seek us out, make the trip, and give us their time, there is a good chance a wonderful connection will be established.
BRO – Hipster . . . . that’s not a dirty word, is it?
CS – Goth. Punk. Grunge. Greaser. Prep. Hipster is just a contemporary variation of something that has occurred many times in our history. It’s a societal subset that stretches the style and fashion to connect with a lifestyle divergent to the majority. So, no, hipster is not a dirty word. Hipster culture has a built in appreciation for well made clothes and simple styling – along with big beards, hand-brewed coffee, and craft whiskey. Maybe there isn’t such a giant gap between a contemporary hipster and a turn of the century working man, with their big beards, home- roasted coffee, and moonshine. We make clothes for anyone who is willing and able. Everyone deserves to wear great handmade heritage clothing and we could care less how it gets styled and which genera it is identified with. I am proud when I see anyone wearing Pointer Brand. The working man takes on many forms these days, and we are here to support them all. We are, and always will be, Authentic American Heritage wear. Made for living, worn for life.
If you find yourself in Bristol, do yourself a favor and make your way to the L.C. King building and see for yourself what is going on. Take a spin through the factory store. Try on a chore coat or a pair of jeans made right here in the USA through a process that is unchanged for over a century. You won’t regret it.
To check out the line of L.C. King work wear and street wear, or to get more information on when you can visit the factory store, point your browser here. And when you do visit the website and fill your cart with hand crafted American denim, use the code BRO15 for an extra 15% off any order between now and June 30th.
Many thanks to my good friend Brent Treash for the great photos.
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