By Tonya Jameson
Photos by Jonathan Cooper
To most people, a pair of jeans is simply another piece of clothing. To Stan Fraser, jeans are storytellers: the way the fabric bunches above shoes, wrinkles beh
ind knees or leaves an imprint on a pocket that held a wallet for years.
Every tear, fade, color variation and other embellishment on a pair of custom-made jeans tells a story. As the owner of Stitch & Co., a custom denim store, Fraser helps people create jeans that tell their personal stories.
Fraser, 44, opened his store on Cedar Street beside Draught in 2013. Straight Stitch, the name of the store, looks like any other high-end denim boutique. Inside, there are wooden shelves laden with all types of jeans; giant wall-sized posters of beautiful people wearing denim adorn the walls. There’s an accessory shelf with wallets and jewelry. Bags range from denim duffle bags to purses.
One conversation with Fraser, however, and you quickly learn that Straight Stitch is more than just a jeans store. Fraser’s passion is contagious, educational and a little overwhelming.
“It’s like ice cream to me,” Fraser said about his love for all things custom denim.
Straight Stitch specializes in bespoke Japanese selvedge denim, which is a type of raw denim made on vintage looms. It’s stiff and not prewashed. He branded his jeans Anarke. The label name reflects his philosophy of chaos inspiring creativity.
The name also describes how Fraser started making custom jeans. He taught himself how to sew by watching his mother, a seamstress for Ralph Lauren and others, and mostly through trial and error.
He’s been hand-stitching jeans since he was in junior high school in Brooklyn. Over the years, he sold jeans from his home, and later in New York boutiques. Demand often outpaced his production capability, so he quit.
He joined the Navy and was stationed in Virginia. After moving to Charlotte 10 years ago, he started a home renovation business and later a commercial cleaning business with his brother-in-law. He was even a commercial truck diver.
Yet, he couldn’t stop talking about denim.
“It’s the process that I adore,” he said wistfully, sitting on a chair in his store. “You take raw cotton and make it into this fabric.”
With his wife’s blessing, Fraser made his dream a reality. He took a voluntary layoff from his trucking gig. He used the separation money to open Straight Stitch. The front of the 1,100-square-foot space is a showroom and store. Fraser made the shelves from reclaimed wood. He built other shelves from recycled materials such as pipes and chains.
The workshop is in the back. Customers can see Fraser, wearing his denim apron, cutting fabric and measuring on his worktable. His wife, Robin, quit her job to work with him full-time.
She encouraged him to open his own store after he became frustrated working with New York boutiques. His jeans often sold out, he said, but boutique owners put them in the back of their stores.
“Having clothes in other stores, you can’t regulate how they sell it,” Robin said.
Fraser opened here because rent is cheaper than in New York and the market is fertile. He’s already expanding through personal connections to Switzerland and Paris. In the United States, customers find him on social media and travel here for custom jeans.
“In New York, you’re a dime a dozen,” he said. “No one’s doing this in Charlotte. No one’s making jeans from scratch.”
Most of Fraser’s customers live in Charlotte. They aren’t denim enthusiasts. They have no clue where to start or what to expect. First, he tells them to lower their expectations. Raw selvedge feels different that typical American denim. Custom jeans have imperfections just like shelf denim.
He asks customers to determine how they will wear the jeans, casual or business casual. How do they want the jeans to fit?
Customers choose thread color, buttons and pocket style. Rolls of denim hang from a wall on the left corner of the store, next to the fitting cubby. Customers can feel the fabric and determine the color and weight of their denim.
“I want them to dictate how the jeans come out, the look and the fit,” he said. “You choose every step of this jean. They see the process from start to finish.”
He calls his jeans a blank canvas, because they aren’t made with pre-faded spots, rips, painted-on paint drops or machine-created wrinkles and marks. Those embellishments come with time and wear. They tell the story.