The experts at Denim Therapy talk alterations, repairs, and favorite brands.
Not long ago, Geoffrey Chorbajian, 42, a former senior fundraiser for an environmental nonprofit and current stay-at-home dad, noticed that his blue jeans had a hole in them. To most people this is a normal occurrence, or at least not cause for undue concern, but to Chorbajian it was a catastrophe.
That’s because he’s a dyed-in-the-wool denim lover. He buys around six pairs of jeans a year at a few hundred dollars a pop, though he acknowledges at one time buying as many as one pair per month. Brands like Oni, Pure Blue Japan, Samurai, 3fifteeen, Kapital, Full Count, Eternal, 45rpm, Momotaro, and Somet have all made it into his closet; currently he’s most excited about TCB and Tanuki.
The other night I met Chorbajian in an overheated midtown Manhattan office space nine floors above Eighth Avenue and crammed wall-to-wall with denim. This was Denim Therapy, a business that, for the past decade, has been serving as an emergency ward for high-end denim. Its customers include Chorbajian, others like him, and at least one NBA player.
Though it isn’t particularly hidden, the service isn’t widely known either. Most people find Denim Therapy through frantic Googling after their favorite jeans are rendered unwearable — a crotch blow-out from biking, say, or a knee rip from tripping on pavement.
It’s emotional work, judging by the Yelp reviews. “After giving DT a try, I will never go anywhere else,” one man wrote. And further down: “I guess they would like to be treated as a-holes, because that’s how they treated this customer,” another man said. “The Yelpers are the worst,” said Raffael Flores, Denim Therapy’s logistics manager. He runs a tight ship.
The day we met there, Chorbajian had brought in a pair of Samurai raw denim jeans for routine alterations. (He does this with every pair.) “The fades tell the story of your life,” he said. “I have zero friends who have these jeans.” Chorbajian is an old hand around the Denim Therapy office, and the staff knows how to take care of the jeans he brings by. Usually he’s there for alterations; his measurements are already in their files. “This is the place,” he said.
“Every jean is very different: the way it fades, the way it breaks down.”
Denim Therapy was founded by Francine Rabinovich in 2006. “I had a favorite pair of jeans that I loved and I wasn’t willing to give them up, so I decided to find a solution,” she said. Her secret weapon is a woman named Marcia Cordero. A short woman with graying copper-brown hair, Cordero was sitting at a sewing machine; speaking in Spanish, she told her story as other members of the staff translated. She has been working with jeans for 43 years, spending 30 of them working at Levi’s in Ecuador before coming to the US to work as a seamstress for another company. She joined Denim Therapy as a part-time employee, but as the operation grew she switched to a full-time role.
“We became famous because of Marcia, the kind of darning and re-weaving technique that she does,” said Flores, who was wearing gray Hiroshi Kato jeans. “It could be very risky if you don’t know how to do it. She actually has this technique where she blends the colors into the grain, the pattern of the jeans. Because, as you know, every jean is very different: the way it fades, the way it breaks down.”
Like Chorbajian, the Denim Therapy crew has strong opinions about their own jeans. “From low-end to high-end... Uniqlo has some good ones; a little bit further up, I like Leftfield NYC; made to order, or whatnot — brands like Guston,” Ramell Frederick, Cordero’s apprentice, said. He was wearing blue jeans, a denim jacket, and a denim hat he’d sewn himself. “But then there are higher-level brands, like White Horse Ranch and Roy Denim. Those are pretty high up there, where I like to end up.”
“I like Raleigh Denim a lot, personally,” said Krystal Raydo, Denim Therapy’s office manager.
“I started with Unbranded Denim, then you have also Raleigh, which is a great brand,” Flores began. “I’ll go for Soma, which is a very nice pair of jeans; Naked And Famous, which are, like, really crazy kids in Canada. What else do I have...”
“You love Prps,” Raydo interrupted.
“Oh, Prps!” Flores said. “Those that come in, though — those are jeans that people have been wearing for years by the time that we see them,” he continued. “They have such a strong attachment with it that they never part ways with them.”
In total, staff members fix around 1,000 pairs of jeans per month — mostly high-end raw denim, but they'll fix any pair that's brought in.
Hanging on the wall, I notice a special-edition calendar produced in partnership with Prps, made out of the kind of 15-ounce Japanese Kaihara selvedge denim that Chorbajian loves. Denim Therapy, the staff all agrees, repairs a lot of Prps jeans. In total, staff members fix around 1,000 pairs of jeans per month — mostly high-end raw denim, but they'll fix any pair that's brought in.
If you’re not in New York City but are in need of these services, you can ship your jeans to Denim Therapy after filling out a form on its website, where you can indicate what’s gone wrong with your denim and get a quote. Staff will fix holes, tears, zippers, buttons, hems, and rivets; Denim Therapy also offers a maternity sizing program where an elastic insert is added at the waist, then removed after your pregnancy. All this is in addition to regular tailoring.
Fees can be a bit steep, especially if you’ve got a larger rip: Repair charges start at about $10 per inch for holes and tears; $12-$35 for rivet, button, and zipper replacements; $60 for maternity services; and $20-$30 for hem repair. But for someone unwilling to retire their favorite pair, that’s a small price to pay.