Kelly Durand in front of one of her two racks of Levi’s jeans and denim jackets.
Kelly Durand used to tour the world with rockstars as their stylist and tailor.
These days she’s styling Tucsonans with vintage Levi’s through her business, Desert Denim Company.
Durand tailors second-hand Levi’s jeans and denim jackets to perfectly fit her customers.
When Durand’s customer, Jessica Faris, received her dream jeans, she said she felt “like a kid on Christmas morning.” She now wears them almost every day.
Durand started her company in August and after only a few months has already started booking all of the 15 appointments she offers each month.
Customers connect with her through her Instagram account, @desertdenimcompany, where she posts pictures of some of her finds. Customers then get fitted at her home studio.
During the try on process, Durand guides customers through which pants in her collection will look best on them based on their body type and helps them decide by letting them know the changes she is able to make to the pants. Once they have decided she marks the pants up for tailoring, which takes about two to three weeks.
Kelly Durand’s workstation where she tailor’s clothing.
Even though Durand only sells Levi’s, customers are welcome to bring their own jeans of any brand to be tailored as long as they are 100% cotton.
One of her reasons for selling such a niche product is because “as a shopper, if I go to a vintage store I would rather have a variety of a few different things than a bunch of different stuff,” she said.
This is because in a way it narrows down the options.
If “they only have like three different pairs of pants and they are all not your size,” then “pants are out of the question,” Durand said.
Durand said focusing on one product allows her to be an expert at it. The reason she picked Levi’s over any other denim brand is because of their reputation. They are also the only jeans she ever wears.
“Since the moment they were created, they have been in style,” she said. “You can ask any fashion designer, even fashion designers who hate jeans, the 501s are timeless.”
Faris chose the classic 501s when she came in for her fitting. She has always found it frustrating to shop for jeans because she is a 5-foot-11 woman. She usually goes to a Levi’s store, buys a size up and has them altered, “but they never really did them that great, ” she said.
Faris, a tattoo artist, has known Durand for a few years because Durand is one of her clients. When Faris discovered @desertdenimcomapny, she “jumped on it as soon as I knew she was taking appointments,” she said.
Durand’s company is “the best solution honestly and I know and I trust her and she is so good about details and just making sure everything is perfect,” said Faris.
Durand sources 90% of the denim largely from local vintage pickers including Brandon Gibbs. Gibbs has his own shop on Ebay called Spooky Sheet, but he also shops for other business owners including Durand.
Stacks of jeans in Kelly Durand’s work room.
Gibbs hunts for vintage clothes the usual way at thrift stores, yard sales and estate sales along with the “old school way” of knocking on doors and asking people if they have clothes they can sell him. He usually tries to knock on doors of older houses owned by older people since they are more likely to have what he is looking for.
Durand began her journey as a Levi’s connoisseur and tailor nearly 20 years ago at 13-years-old.
Francis Rigali, Durand’s grandmother who had always made her own clothes, “taught me how to sew and everything. How to take care of clothing and how to get stains out. Pretty much everything I do now,” said Durand.
Rigali was 99 when she died in 2021.
“Sewing makes me feel very close to her,” Durand said.
“She is rooting for me,” she added, noting that she doesn’t think her grandma “necessarily likes jeans; she was a very classy lady.”
Although her grandma taught her how to sew, Ray Brown taught her how to tailor. Brown has tailored and designed clothes for musicians including Metallica, Lady Gaga, Guns N’ Roses and Stevie Nicks.
Brown was friends with one of the teachers at Durand’s high school, Metropolitan Art Institute in Phoenix, and went to a school fashion show that featured some of Durand’s designs. He decided to take her under his wing and teach her more about creating clothing.
They sewed together every day for two weeks and Durand learned the importance of taking precise measurements, pressing fabric before sewing, using tailor’s chalk and making hard creases, she said.
Durand is a stay-at-home mom for her 1½- year-old and currently does not have any employees to help with the company. Because of this she only offers 15 appointments a month even with the company’s increasing popularity.
“I’m trying to pace myself because I have to take my time on it. There is no rushing through it,” said Durand.
To make an appointment or see Durand’s collection, visit her Instagram site.
El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism.