Dearborn Denim & Apparel founder Rob McMillan ’07 has big ideas for the apparel industry.
After working as a bond trader at the Chicago Stock Exchange for eight years, Rob McMillan ’07 took a risk: He left his job and launched Dearborn Denim & Apparel, an American-made apparel manufacturer based in Chicago (the website boasts “quality denim + slight stretch = incomparable comfort”), in 2016. Everything is cut, sewn and crafted at Dearborn Denim’s Chicago factory, using materials sourced from the U.S. We talked with McMillan about the ins and outs of entrepreneurship, e-commerce and more.
How did you transition from bond trading into entrepreneurship?
I knew I didn’t want to be a bond trader for my whole life. I had only planned on doing it for a couple years. In high school, I started a silk-screening company out of my parents’ basement, making shirts for my high school and that kind of thing. So I thought, what about apparel manufacturing? What would that look like? I realized I could set up an apparel manufacturer for relatively cheap — and the bottom line was that there are all these American-made products that are wildly expensive. It’s the cost of goods sold that gets amplified, four or eight times over, through the traditional apparel supply chain. Combining a manufacturer with an online retailer, I could make jeans from really nice, top-line materials and pay people fair wages, all for $59 a pair.
What is the online retail market like?
We’re competing with everybody else who makes jeans. We’re just doing a better job of it, and that’s where we’re finding success. At least I think we’re doing a better job. We do have two (brick and mortar) stores, but we stand out because we have a fabulous product for a fair price, because it’s straight from the manufacturer to the consumer, through e-commerce.
Was “American-made” always part of the plan?
Yes. Part of what I like about Dearborn Denim is that for a small company, we’ve got a giant payroll. That’s one of the attractions of apparel manufacturing, that it’s a big source of job creation as an industry. I wanted to do that in Chicago, and by using American-made materials you can also promote that as a source of opportunity in the other industries leading up to it, whether it’s weaving the fabric or spinning the yarn. Then there’s the question of supply-chain times — there are just shorter wait times. If I’m getting my materials in the U.S., I don’t have to deal with customs. Oddly enough, with clothes, there’s a lot of hullabaloo about American-made right now. It all can get really political, especially in the comments section on our Facebook page, but we’re just trying to make jeans.