When looking for the perfect denim jacket, I found myself with a pretty hefty list of requirements. Yes, there are a million options out there, but after three different jackets in just the last year I still can’t find the right combination of fit, color, and length. Where can I find the perfectly not-so-oversized jacket that is also cropped and the right color denim? Off-the-rack jackets are either too light or too oddly washed. The length is also always an issue, they’re either too short or sit uncomfortably on my hips. No department store jacket would match my many requirements for the perfect jacket, so I turned to Hartford Denim Company.
HARDENCO is located on Hamilton Street in the Parkville neighborhood. The company was founded by David Marcoux, Marshall Deming, and Luke Davis. These guys specialize in denim, leather, and canvas goods. Everything from the design to the last stitch is done in Hartford. Their showroom is open Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 5:00pm, but they are also available for appointments. I made one.
It’s 9:30am and the morning sun filters through giant-wooden windows on to antique Singer machines. Some of HARDENCO’s newest launches, work shirts made out of black canvas from Mountain Vernon Mills and colorful canvas jackets, hang on rustic hangers. On an old workbench sits different denim styles, each folded and sized. Distressed denim lays on a rounder next to a mirror with a broken corner. A leather couch sits in front of a fireplace, the leather camouflaged with stains. Then, the door buzzes and Dave Marcoux walks in sporting HARDENCO apparel head to toe.
As I talk to Dave about some of their pieces, he shows me their new work jacket and the matching utility jeans that he’s wearing. Each piece is designed with a purpose. They use some of the toughest materials in each of their designs. The three founders continue to innovate. “Often times, it’s things that we’ve been meaning to make for a long time,” Dave says. “Stuff that we want to be using in our own personal line.”
He tells me about some of their upcoming releases, a duffle bag set that hooks to one another. “We’ve done it a few times before but never really like the design that we were looking for and Marshall came up with some really good ideas recently.” When talking about production, their pieces have to make sense in their lifestyle. He points to his pant pockets. Before they made it to the website, they had a few evolutions. Originally the pants only had one pocket, and after someone test-wore it, they decided to add the second pocket. Each piece is carefully designed and each pocket has a specific purpose.
Pieces are also designed based on available materials. “A lot of times the creative process starts with the raw material, so we have a good stock pile of zippers, new zippers from the 40s new in the box. Ranging from six inches to like ten inches, different colors. So it’s not like, ‘I just designed this bag, I hope I have a ten-inch zipper.’ We have five hundred ten inch zippers. How can we incorporate this into something?” HARDENCO sources their limited-quantity materials from around the country first, and then they go into production mode.
When they look to source their next run of denim or canvas, it has to be unique and of the highest quality. “Like the fabrics and things like that, we can buy only so much or there might only be so much available, or what we can afford. Like this black stuff,” he gestures to the black work shirts. “We might be able to get some more later, but what we found out, we got some brown canvas. Very similar. Made a run of pants, and aprons too. When I went to order more, they sent me what they said was the same thing but what they sent me was like, it felt like sweatpants. I was like, this is not what we want.”
HARDENCO pieces are almost limited edition, and sometimes when they are sold out, they might not come back because there is only so much material available. There’s a sense of exclusivity that really appeals to the customer, plus customers receive lifetime repairs on items purchased.
A few minutes into our conversation, a customer walked in with a pair of jeans in his hand. He is wearing a HARDENCO grey canvas button down with salmon vertical stripes. He started talking to Dave about a repair that needs to be done. “I’m very happy with them,” the man tells Dave as he fills out a repair form. The customer leaves within fives minutes and Dave walks into one of the workrooms.
After talking to Dave about their design process, I wonder how custom I can really make my jacket. Dave tells me about the “Know Good Market” that was happening later on that day. The guys attend local markets and the Brimfield Antique Shows in Massachusetts three times a year to show their product. We agree to meet up at Know Good, just north of the showroom to discuss the design of the jacket. Looks like everything on my wish list could be checked off.
When I arrive to the market later that day, the HARDENCO guys occupy the first stall as you walk through. They have totes, shirts, and some jeans on a wooden table covered with specked canvas. “We’re finally doing it?” Marshall asks me as I walk up to their stand. I then proceed to tell Luke my long wish list for the jacket. He pulls out a square of paper and starts drawing the jacket with a sharpie. (They didn’t have any custom order forms on hand.) Luke proceeds to measure my back and shoulders. Finally, I ask for a detachable shearling collar. Shearling is a natural wool fleece that comes from sheep. The collar will ideally be detachable, on for colder months, off for warmer. The jacket would serve as an all-season piece. We discuss three different ways they could make this happen, but never settle for one option. Shearling isn’t a material they normally have just lying around the shop but they were willing to source it just for me. The price of the piece of shearling would be added on to the final price of the piece.
The next day I visited the HARDENCO to finalize the order. Earlier in the morning Luke texted me many options of shearling, and when I walked in to their shop, the shearling was already on the design table. I also had to choose the color of the thread for the stitching on the jacket, and the pockets. Luke drew up four different pocket options for me.
“Too many options?” Luke asks pointing at his sketch. He continues to ask me about details so small I wouldn’t have even thought about. Finally, I tell him I trust them when it comes to the details. If you look at any of their pieces, the details are incredible. I ruled out two options and then went back to my inspiration photos. We run upstairs to pick out the buttons. I have a choice of brass, copper, silver, and black.
In the other room, a sewing machine rumbles as Marshall tries to start it back up. We discuss how they will design the detachable collar, and Marshall is confident they could make it happen.
We walk back downstairs and run through my list one more time. All white, double stitching to contrast the dark denim and gold buttons that will complement the off-white shearling. The cropped jacket will sit right above my hips while also being slightly oversized. All I could ever want in a denim jacket for roughly four hundred dollars. A jacket for life from the guys at HARDENCO.
After all of this planning, we go into the sewing room that is surrounded by the industrial-looking machines, and we move to the calendar on the wall. Luke points to June. The production time for a custom design could take as long as eight to twelve weeks. I say goodbye to the guys and the sewing machine whirls as the door shuts behind me.