Written and photographed by Emma Davis
When I think of vintage Levi’s, all I can think of is Elton John singing, “LA lady, blue jean baby, seamstress for the band.” But Cara Kelley of Indigo Denim Collective is the world’s seamstress, and according to her Instagram bio, she’s a ‘Boston baby.’ When Kelley first came up with the idea re-inventing and selling classic jeans in an online boutique, she immediately brought best friend Gabrielle Nuki on board. “I texted Gabrielle and said, I’m starting a vintage denim clothing line, and I remember she was replied, ‘Cool.’ I was like, ‘That was an invite!’”
Indigo Denim Collective is an online shop for one-of-a-kind vintage jeans. Through cut-outs, altering the hems and cuffs, embroidery, and more, Kelley and Nuki creative totally one-of-a-kind staple pieces from basic, thrift store denim. The 18 and 19-year old Portland, Maine natives both attend Emmanuel College in the Fenway neighborhood of Boston where they studying biology and graphic design, respectively. Kelley credits coming from entrepreneurial family roots for her ambition behind the idea, while Nuki recalls growing up inspired by her mother’s ‘revolving closet’ of vintage and thrift store finds, including Prada jackets. Both wearing thrifted high-rise jeans, slip on Vans, and vintage jackets, it’s clear these girls also know how to find gold in a Goodwill. A trip to Goodwill was actually how Kelley came up with the idea. She had purchased a couple pairs of vintage Levi’s without trying them on, only to get home and discover they didn’t fit. She considered simply re-selling or re-donating them, when the idea of doing some hand-distressing and make a little company out of it came to her. From there, she and Nuki scoured local consignment shops for quality denim, and got to work.
While the idea may have come quite organically, making their concept come to life wasn’t as simple. Kelley had some experience hand-distressing denim for herself but their visions of incorporating stitching, patches and creative designs would take trial and error to get right. “Billie was a scene,” Kelley reminisced, talking about one of their first pairs of jeans that had patchwork. They recalled a story about their first altercation as the Indigo Denim Collective team; after working on different jeans for upwards of six hours, Nuki and Kelley disagreed on how to do the stitching on Billie’s hem. The girls laugh now, claiming to have sacrificed blood, sweat, and tears for that pair. The embroidery floss they use to ensure the best quality despite wear and wash wasn’t easy to get through thick, real denim and was the cause of lots of pricked and bleeding fingertips. “We both cried. We almost broke up for like, 5 seconds,” they laughed, “Over that hem!”
Collaborating on everything and making compromises despite disagreement has created a cohesive look for their collection, as well as created an equal balance of work between the two. As college students, how much they get done depends on the week. Nuki recalled a particularly busy week for her school-wise, where Kelley took the reins and got a lot of Indigo Denim duties done for her. Nuki uses the word “fluid” to describe the work balance between the two. Both putting in time, energy and ideas to every single pair, they ultimately end up creating a more cohesive collection of jeans. “You can’t tell which one of us did what,” said Nuki.
While every pair of Indigo Denim Collective jeans may flow well together within a collection, Kelley and Nuki recognize the personality and individualism that each pair has. Together, they form a collection—hence the ‘Collection’ part of their brand name. “I don’t feel like we even really have a set vibe that we’re going for. We have jeans that could be sold at free people but we also have jeans that could be sold in hot topic. Every pair is so unique and different, and that’s why we name them names. After we design them, we’re like okay what do we FEEL,” Kelley continued, explaining names from Indigo Denim Collective’s first collection, “Quinn is cool, trendy. Frankie is a weird, funky pair.” Similar to how each pair of jeans has its own distinctions, the girls of Indigo Denim Collective encourage whoever wears the jeans to make them their own. The unisex jeans are mirrored by unisex names. Kelley laughed in reference to the current trend of cutting slits right below the back pocket of jeans, noting their goal to “destroy gender stereotypes by putting guys in some a** rips.”
The jeans follow some of these current trends while also creating some of their own. They note that anyone can get basic, distressed jeans just about anywhere. They try to put aside their own opinions and styles and focus on the customer, but ultimately they create whatever they would like to see worn out on the streets. Each pair of jeans is interesting and unrepeatable, making them a commodity in an age of conformity in fashion. But as college students themselves, Nuki and Kelley recognize the even greater selling point: the affordable price. “I think what people get so excited about is that we aren’t so exclusive. It’s such a great thing for a great price,” offered Kelley, “Really cool Urban Outfitters jeans are upward of 100 dollars…college kids don’t have that money!” For Kelley and Nuki, it isn’t about making money. They think it’s fun, a good creative outlet, and they love to see friends and customers excited about the product. Collaboration is something they plan to incorporate even more going forward. Claiming it’s a good way to meet up with people, get feedback and find out what everyone else is into, they’re excited to connect through collaboration. “We’re fueled by these people,” Kelley said of her friends and supportive followers.
Nuki and Kelley recently released Indigo Denim Collective’s spring collection, and are undoubtedly back to work finding and creating more unique jeans. Perhaps Indigo Denim Collective cut-off shorts will be making an appearance in the next collection (Kelley had said “They will be a thing, for sure,” in response to the commonly asked question). Kelley and Nuki hope to empower others through personal style and wearing the clothes that speak to them. As Kelley said of Indigo Denim Collective’s mission, “That’s the whole point. There’s a pair for everyone. Or at least we’re trying.”
Shop available jeans at http://indigodenimco.bigcartel.com/
Keep up with the girls of Indigo Denim Collective and keep an eye out for your perfect pair by following @indigodenimco on Instagram
Kelley: “Coloring my hair with hair chalk”
Nuki: “Turtlenecks. Oh, and any guy who can rock a black turtleneck is also a keeper.”
Favorite area of Boston:
K: “We like to get on the T at the Fenway station and get off at random stops.
N: “We get in to random buildings, or just walk around.”
K: “We also spend a lot of time in Chinatown; we’re both obsessed with Asian food.”