Jeans brand Imogene + Willie burst on the scene with the concept of offering honestly-crafted jeans in Nashville, Tennessee. Owners Matt and Carrie Eddmenson have organically grown their brand into a full-on line as well as a denim tailoring service, all run out of a refurbished gas station in Nashville's 12 South neighborhood.
What makes their brand really cool is the space in which they do business. We talked with the two about ambience, found art objects, and the thin line between rugged authenticity and Cracker Barrel corniness.
A lot of the buzz about Imogene + Willie comes from the location. How did you find that spot? Did you know from the get-go how you wanted to build it out to reflect the spirit of the brand?
Matt: Before we moved to Nashville, my wife Carrie had written this blog about this dream business we had come up with together, and she had this premonition that our business would be in a gas station. And she could not shake this idea that it would be in a service station, so we would come down to Nashville very week and scope the city out and pick an area and go have lunch in that area and just hang out — and I think on our second or third trip we had lunch in the 12 South area of Nashville, and we found this gas station that had this for sale sign on it.
We called the number on the sign and we asked if they would be interested in leasing it, and the answer was no. They were asking for an astronomical price for this building, and we were super bummed because from just peeking in the window we knew it would just be a really cool spot. Sure enough, after pestering the landlord for a better part of four months we called and she said she was on the way to put a for lease sign in the window, and we were like "don’t even bother, we'll be down in the morning to sign the lease."
When it came to the build out for the building, we had to do so much of the little stuff like make sure water didn’t pour into the back room and doing structural things. A lot of what we did didn’t have anything to do with the aesthetic because the walls had these really great textures. A lot of the stuff we spent more time on was the bathroom and a lot of painting.
Carrie had this premonition that our business would be in a gas station.
Anything special about how you built it out? Any cool secrets?
M: Yeah, we were tearing out the ceiling in order to build a loft where our office is, and we found service report receipts from 1859. So we took those and made them into bathroom wallpaper, and the baseboard that goes around the bottom is the old tin ceiling. We repurposed a lot of the stuff. There is this old pulley that you used to pull an engine out of the car that's in the showroom. You can't recreate little things like that, so might as well leave it where it is. We had a lot of fun building this place.
How many purposes does the space serve for you guys?
M: Right now it is everything to us. We're busting out the seams with 18 employees, thank god we're not all here at the same time! That being said, we had a kitchen, but we tore that out and now they're dressing rooms, but it also serves as where we distress some of the washes that we do. We have a sanding department in the old dressing room kitchen, and of course all of our sewing machines are in the other half of the gas station, and we also have a cutting room where we cut all of the fabrics and do alterations to the jeans we tailor. We even added an office upstairs. The one thing we fell short on was storage, so we got an old shipping container where we keep our inventory.
Is that outside the building?
M: Yeah, it's right outside, and the backyard serves as a music venue or just overall party space, so it's pretty unique, but yes all of those things. And we have a couch when you walk in, so a lot of people plop right down on the couch and drink their coffee, but we totally encourage it.
Are there any plans to make any more renovations in the futures?
M: If memory serves me correctly, the building itself is on a historical preservation site so I think it would be difficult to change the footprint of the building, but we have this gorgeous backyard. And sometimes we think we should just make that the new office and the upstairs can be storage where we keep shoes and boots. We're always thinking about that, but nothing currently in the works.