Interviewed by Abbey Edmonson | Photographed by Joe Worthem
In a place where family and history mean everything, Josh West and Nick Weaver have created a business that combines the best of both. West and Weaver bought several old sewing machines from Lucky Star Industries in Tupelo and hired seamstresses whose families had been with the company for generations. Thanks to their talent and experience, Blue Delta Jean Co. is the headquarters for 100% American-grown, Mississippi-sewn raw denim jeans.
Q: How did Blue Delta Jean Co. get started?
West: I was working as an economic developer at the time and noticed a resource of highly skilled sewing talent in north Mississippi that wasn’t available in many other parts of the United States. I knew I wanted to use this talent pool to create a product, and after a few months of research, I landed on custom denim. After researching the storied past of the garment industry in Mississippi, I thought it could work. Jeans are the quintessential American garment, so denim was an easy choice.
In 2011, we purchased the remains of a long-forsaken garment operation in Memphis, Tennessee, and moved the equipment to our studio in Mississippi. Seven months later, Blue Delta Jean Co. shipped its first custom jean.
Q: What is the connection between Blue Delta and Lucky Star?
West: Lucky Star was a longtime Levi’s 501 contract sewing operation in north Mississippi. They were a major employer for the area. Our first seamstress hire, Sara Richey, was one of their former employees. As we grew and hired more people, we brought in more of the former Lucky Star group. Now, with almost 30 sewing professionals, about 10% of our team is from the Lucky Star family.
Weaver: The ladies from Lucky Star taught us how to make jeans. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are. It’s nice to have hundreds of years of sewing experience in an 8-year-old company.
Q: Why are the ideas of family and history so important to you and to Blue Delta?
West: The history of north Mississippi’s sewing talent is one that is unique. When most garment production went overseas in the 1980s and 1990s, many areas lost their connection to sewing entirely. Northeast Mississippi was able to keep this remnant of talent due to the furniture industry’s sewing needs. The history of places like Lucky Star are crucial to our success. We are benefiting from a strong workforce foundation that was laid years before we started Blue Delta.
Q: You are a company that makes 100% American-made products. Why is that important to you?
West: It’s rewarding to know that your product is made in America. It was never an option for us though. We knew if this was going to happen it was going to happen in Mississippi.
Weaver: There is real value in making things here. We are seeing more manufacturers reshoring, and I hope that trend continues. With buyers wanting shorter lead times and having a renewed focus on quality, I think we will continue to see more companies like ours pop up.
Q: What are your future plans for Blue Delta Jean Co.?
West: Our company has grown every year because people like our product. We try to focus on the product and give people the best experience possible. We have a factory in Tupelo and a studio in Oxford where people can visit and buy our products. We also have over 300 sales reps with partner tailors across the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.
Our plan for 2020 and beyond is the same as it has always been. Make custom jeans that fit, and get better at it every day. It’s tempting to chase trends and products to make but we remain focused on getting better at the things we do well and that is custom jeans.
Q: What is your connection to Lucky Star Industries’ original owners, the Rousseaus?
West: The Rousseaus and the Gibenses are Mississippi denim royalty to us. They have been supportive in many ways. It’s obvious they treated their former employees well and loved them because we hear so many stories from the Lucky Star days.
Lucky Star Legacy
Chris Rousseau recently visited the Blue Delta factory to share memories and memorabilia with Lucky Star legacy employees.
“My grandfather, Charles Rousseau, started Lucky Star Industries,” Chris said. “They made Levi’s for 32 years, I believe. We had these factories. ... one in Baldwyn and one in Nettleton. I worked there in the summers as a kid from 15 on, and that’s how I knew Sara and Shirley, (seamstresses) that work for Josh and Nick.
“It was like a family at Lucky Star. Mothers would get their daughters hired, grandmothers would get their granddaughters and sons hired. Nick and Josh bought some of the sewing machines out of the Nettleton facility when we were shutting it all down.
“From the 1970s on, (my dad, uncle and grandfather) would hand these little pins to people for five-year, 10-year gifts, for loyalty of staying at that job.
“I found these little gold pins with little diamonds stuck in them. If it was five years, it had five little diamonds stuck in there in little clusters. I also had a picture of the old Nettleton crew and a picture of the Blue Delta crew now, and I put them together with the pin in a little shadow box, and they loved it.”