By Caleb Bushner
If there’s one thing the world doesn’t need, it’s another denim brand. And that’s precisely why Tony Patella started Tellason Denim. You see, Tony is the kind of guy who will spend twenty minutes talking about a coffee table. Not because he’s trying to impress you, but because he’s that excited by the craft and design that’s gone into it. It’s, as he would call it, “the right product.” And Tony would much rather buy the right product once, than buy (and replace) the wrong one every season. “In high school I would buy Lacoste polos. They were $60 and made in France. My friends would buy polos from The Gap for $20. But by the end of high school they’d have bought several pairs of ill-fitting, low quality shirts while my Lacoste polos were still looking great. In the long run they spent more money and didn’t have as nice of a shirt.” It’s that kind of long-term thinking that makes his denim company a little different – and a lot better – than most.
Patella, who launched the brand with his longtime friend and business partner Pete Searson (hence “Tellason”), says his goal is to “make the best product possible and put it in the best stores possible.” To achieve that, the duo produce their entire range in San Francisco, the birthplace of American denim. “Denim is a product that needs to be made artisanally,” he says. “San Francisco is where denim should be made. Not New York. Not LA. Not overseas. San Francisco.” Keeping production local isn’t the only area in which Patella and Searson refuse to compromise. From taking over 100 days to fine-tune the design and fit a pair of jeans, to using leather patches made by Tanner Goods, to examining every finished pair by hand, the two do it all entirely on their own terms.
The same is also true in terms of how they decide who to work with and sell to. It’s important to Patella and Searson that both their stockists and consumers understand the value of the right product as well. Recounting a recent sales trip to Japan, Patella praised the country, gushing about everything from the Airline (“their level of pride and standard of excellence is incredible”), to the taxi (“you could eat off of any surface in that cab”) to the steadfast values of the Japanese consumer (“they care about the provenance of things”). The trip was so inspiring that he and Searson decided to do an exclusive, Japan-only jean. As Patella puts it, “it’s all about aligning yourselves with the right people and growing slowly.”
Despite their new found of love of Japan, the two are far from abandoning the American market. In addition to the recent introduction of two new fits and a second exclusive fabric, the pair are coming out with a tote that they co-designed with Tanner Goods (“It’s a true collaboration: made by both parties, not just co-branded”), and they’re set to release their first ever shirt, an absolutely gorgeous 6.5 ounce denim number that’s made in the same factory in San Francisco that makes their jeans. Summing up their company’s ethos, Searson says, “ultimately, it comes down to respect. We care about doing right by people and the product, and we hope the consumer has respect for that.”
About the author:
Caleb Bushner is a consultant, writer and speaker on all things sustainability, branding, marketing and social media. He has an MBA in Sustainable Business from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, one of the “premier Green MBA programs in the country.” He lives in San Francisco.