We pride ourselves on finding awesome people to shine a light on. In fact, we are pretty fucking good at it for being the new kid on the block. Part of this could be attributed to an eye for talent or finding rare gems hidden amongst the deluge of denim brands, companies and makers. Who’s good? What’s the quality like? Why is this selvedge denim company so damn unique? Can I fucking trust them? If you’re a little guy in a sea of choice and noise, it’s hard to identify the truly rare and spectacular.
That’s where we come in. We’ve been working diligently to find the best makers, brands and selvedge denim you might be missing. Our focus today, as you might have deduced from the title, is on Charles Miller, his wife, Tara, and the brand they are building, Charles Miller Brand Denim.
Make no mistake, theres a lot more going on with this brand than selvedge. Charles offers soft-goods as well as anti-microbial (hot button topic at the moment, eh?) denim spray and hand soap (it too is blue!). But wait, there’s more; CMB Denim not only offers a custom hemming service at the point of sale, but what’s more is they offer free repairs on for the life of your jeans. Not enough to make them shine? Tough fucking crowd. They have a program and product called RE-LIVE (sustainable recycled) CMBD. What in the hell is RE-LIVE you ask?
From their own words: “Those who are finished living in their denim or need a new pair for whatever reason can send their CMBD in (along with a brief story of the denim history) in exchange for a discounted pair of new CMBD. The used denim is hand soaked, repaired if needed, with the denim lot stamped on it’s leather patch…The year of original production and the number in sequence of relived denim is what makes up the denim lot.” You may recall, sustainability is kind of a big deal to us and these guys are literally giving old jeans new life and passing it on for the next adventure.
Without further ado, 15 in 15 with Charles Miller Brand Denim
TA: So, to start off let’s tell the people a little about who you are. What are three things everyone should know about you?
CM: I always put my family first in all that I do. You’ll probably see them in/around all the brand things going on. You’ll see them as part of my everything because without them, I wouldn’t be the man I am. There is a difference between the inspiration I receive from my wife and the inspiration that our children give us just by them being open to exploring life. Secondly, I’m an Active Duty Army Soldier. That is my full-time career.
CMBD is my other full-time love. I have 17 years in the Army. I’m just about 5 years out from retirement. The interesting thing is, both the Army and my experiences growing up are threaded into all the heritage pieces of CMBD. My mother was a career civilian in the Navy and my father was in the Army as well. My father also was a businessman. I’m a combination of them both and that makes me proud. The third thing everyone should know about me is that I wear calf sock all year round and my wife hates it! Lol!
TA: Wow, so, before continuing, thank you so much for your service. You and Tara’s! This is a first for The Arcuate! Ok, so, how were you first introduced to Raw/Selvedge denim? What was your first pair of raws?
CM: I’ve always been into denim. Growing up, my favorite outfit was a fresh pair of sneakers, denim, and a white t-shirt. I grew up wearing Levi’s, Jordache, and a had a few pair of Guess jeans when the triangle was on the back pocket; that was the early 90’s when fashion was about having the “freshest gear.” Being around my uncles who had clothing/sneakers stores, I gained a lot of style and perspective in wearing and caring for clothes. It was then that I learned the importance of having lasting staples in your closet.
I got into the raw denim scene shortly after I retired a previous clothing brand I founded. My first pair of raw were fresh Levi’s. Then I purchased a pair of selvedge when the Gap starting digging into the premium denim scene.
I tell this story all the time: I came home from a deployment in Iraq for R&R in 2011 and made my way to LA to get my doctorate degree in denim manufacturing and washing. I bought a pair of Rag & Bone and a pair of Diesel Jeans. The individuals who helped me at the store recommended I size down because the denim was going to stretch and become too big. I was hardheaded and, in my mind, they felt comfortable then. I purchased them and gave them away about two months later because they were too big. Huge lesson learned in fitting that we carry with us now at CMBD.
TA: Definitely been there. That’s usually the first lesson all new denimheads have to learn. I’m 90% sure Grant has learned it a few times. That the stretch is real! So, what was it that took you from wearing denim to making your own?
CM: It was my go-to outfit and I had a history with them. I wanted to move away from the mass fashion items of athletic wear or poorly crafted jeans to a heritage piece that a person could grow with. I looked in the mirror and saw it; denim in its raw state, not washed, not starched, just sewn and folded with extreme attention to detail.
TA: What do you feel sets you apart in today’s sea of indigo?
CM: Let’s call out the elephant in the room. There are only two African-American founded/owned premium denim brands. I never thought about it until someone brought it to my attention a few years ago. We are also the only denim/heritage brand that has a living veteran background of military inspiration because we are still actively serving in the Army.
We are also the only traveling denim brand because we move HQs to wherever the Army stations us. That makes us unique because we have to adjust, refine logistics and production operations. We travel hard and the initial tagline was: CMB Denim; tagged for the traveling professional. Since then we’ve built on that by leveraging the community we engage with everywhere we are. American-made, veteran owned and operated with both American and Japanese fabric for all of our pieces.
TA: You cater to both men and women; from an industry standpoint whose needs are more challenging to meet?
CM: I believe it’s a little of both because the masses of people who are purchasing premium denim are not always familiar with all the characteristics that go into purchasing a pair of raw denim. Understanding your fit, your style, your inseam and rise all play a factor in how well an individual will enjoy their denim. This holds true for men and women.
People forget that these pieces of clothing are part of your life and you gain memories with them as they age and are worn. This happens more so in menswear, but the womenswear scene is yearning for something just as dope. Women don’t have the same options men do and so you’ll find more women wearing menswear because there is a scarcity of well-made products for women. We are going to change that.
TA: You’re one of the few manufacturers that has their own antibacterial denim spray. Where does the antimicrobial effect come from and how do you think covid-19 will change the denim landscape?
CM: It’s crazy because the antibacterial denim spray was created from my wife Tara’s desire not to have “disgusting” denim around the house. The tea tree and witch hazel in it are the disinfectant and anti-fungal focus so that your denim is refreshed and sanitized before you fold/lay your denim out after a hard day’s wear. More than ever, we want to ensure families are protected now with COVID-19 everywhere.
TA: Where do you get the most inspiration from?
CM: Conversation with people, movies with our daughter, restaurants, architecture, photography, and other businesses doing creative things. I find inspiration in anything that sparks something in me to create or make something better. It’s about understanding what drives people to love a product so much that they cannot live without it; it’s that key to connecting something or some words of inspiration to that product that will get sparks flying.
TA: “Made in America” is a badge of honor these days. What do you feel is holding more companies back from being American made?
CM: The support of other small businesses is important. Made in America is tough because the cost is higher, good help is hard to come by because everyone doesn’t understand or
appreciate the slow grind of slow fashion. People also don’t have the patience to R&D for the best quality materials. It’s easier to go overseas to get something done for more than half the cost of producing it in the US in a package deal. Some may compromise fitting or designing tolerance, attention to detail and the ethics of who is making their product. It’s a different feel when you know who is making your items and where it’s made. A certain privilege of being made in America goes a long way.
TA: How has the closing of Cones White Oak Mill changed your product line?
CM: It hasn’t changed the production line, but it has changed that American denim we started our story with. We’ve always had a love for Cone Mills and purchased a lot of deadstock from them before closing. Holding on to it for a while and we have some dope plans for some limited heritage pieces.
TA: You also use Kuroki denim from japan. Have you made the pilgrimage to Okayama yet? If so, what did you take away from your trip?
CM: Our second love is Kuroki denim. We have not had the pleasure of visiting Okayama yet. We were supposed to visit this year as we move our pieces to an even more limited run of special drops. Due to the COVID, we have adjusted our entire schedule for the year, but we’ve also expanded some things that help us to maintain engagement with the denim community. Our focus moving forward is connecting American heritage with American and Japanese craftsmanship for both men and women.
We watched “Weaving Shibusa,” and got even more inspired about the pieces we develop and the items we drop. It’s a unique standpoint and we are positive we can push the envelope for men and women in the denim community to personalize their heritage pieces they decide to purchase from us; our number one priority is to provide excellent customer service in the form of all engagements with us from a conversation to the follow up on breaking in your denim.
TA: What’s next for your Brand? what can we expect in 2020?
CM: We have a few Spring/Summer pieces dropping, a leather/denim collaboration, heritage women’s denim run and women’s denim collaboration, a new denim jacket this Fall along with a new chore coat, and we plan on bringing back the CMBD university sweatshirts this Fall. Aside from products, we launched the DENIM STORIES series where we engage with someone from the denim community every week for a purposeful conversation keeping engagement and inspiration going. It’s exciting and every week gets better.
We hosted a virtual popup experience called THREADED; we are ironing out when we are going to do the next THREADED event. In speaking of women’s heritage, we are planning on a women’s heritage event this year possibly in the Fall once we launch the women’s denim run. Excited about that! We’re building an idea that helps other small businesses during this time and will provide support for other makers and still give the economy products that they desire at an affordable price. Can’t leak out the details, but it’s a community effort that we are excited about launching; this will happen within the next 30 days.
TA: What’s the longest you’ve gone without washing a pair of jeans and how much pressure/abuse from friends and family did you get before caving?
CM: Over a year and finally washed them in the Atlantic Ocean. All of my friends! But the learning curve came when the denim started to have character and the wear process was a real thing. The more you live denim, the more stories come and the more you are able to educate those who are not as well versed in denim as you are. It makes for great conversations and even more inspiration. Those are priceless experiences that cannot be duplicated or artificially created. There is nothing like breaking in a pair of raw denim and making it yours.
TA: From two dads to another. what is the most annoying children’s song that gets stuck in your head?
CM: Baby Shark – listened to it at least a million times on the way to school. Now, it’s all the songs from “Frozen 2,” and it doesn’t help that our daughter has a microphone that is super loud.
TA: Sorry Charles, but this question is for Tara. What’s the one thing Charles does that annoys you to no end?
TM: When Charles comes into the house in the evening with his energy on 1000 hyping up the kids and playing when I’m trying to get everything calmed down. Additionally, when I’m trying to concentrate on something and Charles and our daughter Elysia start beat-boxing and they feed off each other’s energy; so annoying. The kicker is, the beats and songs they create are so catchy, I find myself days later singing the song…lol! Extra annoying! He thinks it’s cute how much he annoys me.
TA: Last Question. We always like end with 2 truths and 1 Lie. Don’t tell us which are true, and which is the lie. We will guess and follow up a week after we post.
CM: I have flat feet. I only have 4 tattoos. I met my wife in Iraq.
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