There's nothing Erik Untersee and Selenia Rios can't make.
The two met on the set of a Ben Kweller music video — he a grip and she a stylist — and immediately "geeked out" over a shared passion of design, construction and build. After becoming constant companions and spending years in the film industry working on shoots in the likes of L.A., Miami and New York City, the two finally settled on Austin as the to-be home of an extreme craftsmanship venture: Traveller Denim Co.
In a boxcar-style space in East Austin, Selenia and Erik make custom fitted, high-quality jeans by hand. A fashion school degree? Nah. Previous experience in the fashion industry? Who needs that. The duo is just that intrinsically industrious.
Eric recounts the day he started making his own jeans on his bedroom floor. "I worked as a carpenter for a long time and I like to build furniture — and [making jeans] is just like building anything else, in terms of thinking of it as a structure."
For the past two months, he's constantly worn a pair of jeans that served as a Traveller Denim Co. prototype — and it's still one of his favorite. The constant wear has created what is called "bruising" on the raw denim, giving his pair a distinct identity that reflects his lifestyle, from the faded impression of his wallet to the "honeycomb" patterns behind his knees.
"That's what's cool about raw denim — it allows people's denim to grown with them and become a part of who they are," he says.
It's this distinction in individuality that Traveller intends to thrive upon: Each client will have their own custom pattern created and come in for two fittings (where they'll be greeted with a glass of bourbon) before the final product is delivered.
Sounds like a long process, but they anticipate to deliver a pair of jeans within one week (it takes anywhere between four to nine hours of work per pair) — an impressive turnaround, considering they're working on rare sewing machines from the 1930s - 1950s. And if you don't have quite that much time on your hands, Traveller will have a selection of three pre-made styles (skinny, tapered, straight) available from time to time.
While the selvedge denim comes largely from Japan (or as "old-new" stock from places like Cone Mills), Erik and Selenia take great measures to ensure all other elements like rivets, buttons and thread are American-made. "What's crazy is that nobody makes thread anymore in the U.S. — it's all outsourced. We want to avoid the disposable America and get away from sweatshop mentality," says Erik.
In fact, they're so devoted to that cause that Traveller's long-term goal is to open a manufacturing facility in Austin, where they'll "hire local, keep it handmade and get [Traveller] into the position to produce for a broader market," Selenia explains.
Until that moment, they'll keep rolling out new products like work-shirts and leather goods. And ladies, fret not, a custom jeans line called Show Pony will debut in the fall.
It's hard to believe, but Selenia and Erik say that Traveller was just a dream three months ago, yet it's quickly turned into a reality that is composed of their literal blood, sweat and tears. Together, they've created everything with their own four hands, from the wood-lined walls and light fixtures of the showroom to the awning and planters outside.
"We're hand-making the jeans, so why not make everything else?" Selenia says. "If we're going to do this, we're going to go hard."
Traveller Denim Co. is hosting its opening party June 1, 6 p.m., at 1403 Chestnut where they will also feature goods by Noah Marion Quality Goods, Shuford Alexander Cases and Austin Street Apothecary. Jeans range from $275 - $350.