Hard work, creativity and tenacity are all woven into the fabric of life in Mississippi. Those same qualities enabled a few entrepreneurs to create unique apparel lines that allow their clients to sport a piece of the Magnolia State.
When Chase Neal graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2012 with his degree of fine arts in hand, he knew what he did not want to do.
“I wanted to brand myself, but I never really wanted a retail storefront,” Neal says. “I preferred reaching out to retailers all over the place and selling my goods at multiple locations.”
South Home & Apparel (SH&A) became the business that Neal envisioned, as a provider of Southern lifestyle clothing and home decor, fusing his creativity with wholesaling.
SH&A supplies customizable apparel and handmade home decor to over 40 retailers throughout Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas.
“I’ve always liked apparel and art and design, and wanted to utilize the two together,” Neal says. “I like my canvas to be a T-shirt or a hat. All the designs you see are me.”
T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats are all customizable with a wide selection of styles, colors and Neal’s original designs.
“What makes us different from other wholesalers is we have so many custom options,” Neal says. “I create high-quality artwork and then make it where a retailer can completely customize the item and make it fit their location.”
Neal stays on top of the latest trends and rotates products out of his catalog every six months in order to keep his offerings fresh and current.
“I’m always studying, so my designs actually have research behind them, and they’re popular,” Neal says. “They’re top fonts and top designs, so that keeps me relevant every season. You’ve got to keep changing.”
The beauty of Southern home decor is expressed through distressed signature woodblocks, cedar carvings and ornaments.
All of SH&A’s woodwork items are handmade in their shop in Oxford, while the printing is outsourced locally.
Nick Weaver and Josh West started Blue Delta Jeans in 2011 with the purchase of a former garment operation in Tupelo. West and Weaver’s collaboration resulted in a unique way for customers to bypass cookie-cutter jeans for a garment that fits just right.
“Most people have never had a jean that fits them correctly,” West says. “We take the time to measure you and put you in a jean that’s going to fit properly.”
Merging old-school garment artistry with state-of-the-art manufacturing, Blue Delta Jeans creates custom-fitted and customer-designed jeans – and soon realized why there weren’t many custom jean companies in business.
“Denim’s really hard to work with in a custom environment,” West says. “As a heavier fabric, it’s hard to alter, and we had to use different kinds of machines. But we didn’t know that at the time, so we dove in headfirst – and it worked.”
While working in economic development, West felt local sewing talent was being underutilized.
“I knew we had a lot of garment experience here in Mississippi,” West says. “I wanted to take that talent and make something else with it.”
West knew an American sewing product would have to be custom and premium to be successful.
“We looked around at what people were wearing and wanting, and jeans came out as the desired product,” West says.
To purchase a pair of Blue Delta jeans, customers connect with a Blue Delta salesperson or wholesale dealer.
“The first thing you decide is what kind of fabric you want,” West says. “We buy denim from all over the world. The second thing is to pick a thread, which really determines the personality and outward aesthetic of the jean.”
After picking out the thread and fabric, the next step is to talk about the style and fit. “We take 16 measurements and talk with you about what style you want and how you want the jean to fit.”
Blue Delta Jeans offers more than 30 options to choose from for cuts, colors and threads. The business has grown every year to its current staff of 45 with reps in over 40 states.
“In the early days, business was mainly through word of mouth and local events,” West says. “Then we started getting a lot of artists and athletes.”
Notable clients include Nicole Kidman, Morgan Freeman, Dak Prescott and Eli Manning. “We do a lot of professional athletes primarily because they’re hard to fit,” West says.
Blue Delta Jeans’ business model helps them be distinct.
“To make a garment in the U.S., you’re different,” West says. “And then to make a custom garment the way we do it, I think that makes us stand out.”