A pair of jeans is a common and essential piece of everyone’s wardrobe, but a perfect pair seldom becomes part of it. Searching for and finding the denim that fits every curve, slope, or preferred length is an exhausting feat and settling for an OK pair is a letdown every wear.
Knowing this struggle through years of trial and error, Daniela Rodriguez, CEO, and Andre Ramirez, co-founder, founded Neems Jeans in March 2020. Neems Jeans is a Los Angeles-based, custom-made jeans brand, with two important values: to create jeans that are sustainable and environmentally friendly and to be inclusive and create pieces that fit people’s unique body types.
“Our mission is to really empower people of all shapes and sizes to feel good in their jeans and feel confident, as they rightfully deserve to feel and, at the same time, never having to compromise on our planet or our people,” Rodriguez said.
Born in Miami to Venezuelan immigrant parents, Rodriguez, 26, grew up with a passion and affinity for music. From playing the piano at six to joining jazz and pep bands to obtaining a BM (Bachelor of Music) in music performance, voice and opera from Northwestern University, she has always felt the need to prove herself and be the very best she could be. “I have this theory that daughters of immigrants, first daughters in particular, are extremely hard on themselves,” Rodriguez said.
After graduating in 2018, Rodriguez decided to venture into business consulting, a path recommended by her then-boyfriend and now-fiancé and Neems co-founder, Ramirez, 27, whom she met while in college.
Ramirez grew up in South Florida, but was born in Cancún, Mexico and moved to the United States at the age of three. Once a year, he returns home with his immediate family to visit his relatives in Mexico. Ramirez earned a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from Northwestern and the couple consulted for a few years before creating their own clothing brand from scratch.
HOW THEY FOUND INSPIRATION AND FOUNDED A COMPANY
During a Black Friday shopping trip together in 2018, both Rodriguez and Ramirez became frustrated about not being able to find a pair of jeans that fit either of them correctly. At the time, Rodriguez recalled lamenting that she had experienced this situation her entire life. The couple decided to do something about it by launching a new kind of jeans company. Without any existing knowledge of the industry, they took a leap of faith and began their very own small business.
“We started to do customer research, so we went to the mall and started pulling people aside, saying, ‘Hey, what do you struggle with with jeans?’ Everybody said that they struggled with jeans, 100%,” Rodriguez said. “Starting to get feedback like, ‘I struggle with jeans fitting my waist,’ ‘They’re never long enough’ or ‘They’re never short enough.’ That was a way to test what the problem is out there with other people.”
Despite not knowing much about denim and what it takes to make jeans, the couple did know where the heart of the denim world lies, LA. According to Rivet, while New York City might have a lot to offer in terms of fashion, LA, which employs twice as many workers to cut, sew, and finish garments — 45,000 versus 22,600, according to census data — is widely considered the nation’s garment production capital.
Today, both Rodriguez and Ramirez say that entering the fashion industry with their differing backgrounds from each other’s and the field itself, though daunting, was slightly easier due to their business backgrounds, which taught the partners how to find their footing in unfamiliar territory.
“Business consulting taught us to figure out what the key things were that we needed to answer,” Ramirez said. “How do we set up operations? Where do we actually make these jeans? How do we set up systems and processes to make them custom-made? Because it wasn’t a thing at the time. Where do we source materials from? We just started listing out the questions that we needed to go find the answers to, and then, from there, it was all about executing.”
Before officially sending their brand out into the world, the couple had a lot to learn about denim. And although Rodriguez and Ramirez are not physically crafting the denim themselves, with hard work and dedication, they have guided Neems into becoming a well-established and sustainable jean brand.
“We started to talk to factories out here in LA that could sew our pieces, [and] we started to learn about what even constitutes a jean. There are 16 pieces that come together on a pair of jeans, things like that,” Rodriguez said. “Down to, where do we get the buttons? Where do we get the zippers? There was just so much involved and, little by little, we started piecing the pieces together.”
They held a soft launch in March 2020, simultaneously diving into the COVID-19 pandemic that made it difficult to sell jeans when everyone was living in sweatpants every day of the week. But despite the obvious setbacks these circumstances brought, Rodriguez is grateful for the slow beginning.
“I always say that I think it was a blessing in disguise because that allowed us to really test, very slowly, the product, and test what our customers wanted. If we would have gotten a billion orders at once, it would have been super overwhelming,” Rodriguez said. “It was nice to test with our initial products and our initial customers and orders and stuff to see how they liked the process, any feedback they had, and tweak here and there. So, everything happens for a reason.”
Creating a jeans brand, a customized one at that, became another lesson for Rodriguez and Ramirez with how expensive the entire process proved to be. Still business consulting while also cultivating Neems, and even after the fact, made using all of their life savings much easier, yet scary, for the couple.
“It was everything that we had accumulated from our consulting jobs,” Rodriguez said. “We had to buy a denim laser cutter machine, which was extremely expensive, and, because it was extremely expensive, it was like, ‘Okay, we have to put all of our money into this.’ And at that point, once we did, there was no turning back.”
The denim industry produces clothing that is toxic to the environment, experts say, with over more than two billion pairs produced nationally each year. Usually, denim is made from 100% cotton fabric that is first harvested, then spun into yarn to be dyed the infamous indigo, but today, according to GoodOnYou, a new “stretch denim” has become popular, involving elastane and spandex that impacts the sustainability of the final pair of jeans.
Discovering how harmful the making of denim is to the environment incentivized the founders to not only create jeans that fit people’s bodies but also consider their futures as well. Sustainability is a core value of Neems, which is first shown through their made-to-order jeans. To completely avoid overproduction, they do not make a single pair until an order has been placed on their website.
“The nature of our made-to-order business is that we only ever make what’s necessary. We don’t hold inventory,” Rodriguez said. “We quite literally only start producing the jeans once the order has been placed and we receive your measurements. We’re never holding inventory that is at risk of going into a landfill or [being] discarded in any way.”
Each made-to-order pair of Neems jeans is encased in the brand’s 100% recyclable boxes and poly-mailers and spruced up by its encased tissue paper of 30% recycled material and soy-based inks.
Denim brands require varying amounts of water a year, such as 3,781 liters of water per pair of Levi Strauss & Co. jeans, as found by the brand’s 2013 study, and they also emit a hefty amount of CO2 per year. To save 10,000 pounds of those emissions, Neems uses deadstock denim, the leftover fabric often discarded to landfills or incinerated, to eliminate waste.
“Deadstock denim is just as high-quality of fabric,” Ramirez said. “There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s overrun. So, we buy up that deadstock denim to make sure that it has a chance to make a great pair of jeans.”
Not only does denim waste water, but the cotton used to make the fabric accounts for many insecticides, severely impacting the health of agriculture workers and the safety of water and food supplies. Neems, through its use of 100% cruelty-free, vegan denim; the finest Japanese, Italian and American denim; and OEKO-TEX 100 approved labels, assures that every component of each article used in the jeans has been tested for harmful substances, deeming them healthy for human health. This company is actively working toward an improved denim industry.
“Going into Neems, I had no idea how terrible the fashion industry and the denim industry was, and now learning about it, I just couldn’t ever see us doing our business any other way,” Rodriguez said. “Morally, it does not feel right to be so wasteful, especially knowing the long-term impacts that it may have on the environment.”
What a pair of jeans is made from, whether those who made it were treated fairly, and how often you’ll wear said pair, are all questions, as consumers of clothing, we should ask ourselves before purchasing, but there are also ways in which fashion and sustainability go hand-in-hand. It can be difficult not to buy multiple pairs of jeans instead of one reliable pair, but thinking of how our purchases can affect the environment long-term is important.
“Buying jeans that are going to last you a really long time and that are made from more sustainable materials is just going to be better for the environment,” Rodriguez said. “You can have one pair of jeans that is a solid pair of jeans that will last you a really long time and that won’t risk going into a landfill or that will risk having harmful substances. I really do think that fashion and sustainability are very closely linked.”
The process of manufacturing denim jeans can not only be taxing on those putting in the labor but also a risk to their health, which is why creating safe and secure work environments for Neems factory workers and paying them honest wages is crucial to Rodriguez and Ramirez. Creating close relationships with them was just a bonus.
They knew that while being as low-waste and sustainable as possible was important, maintaining a balance of close relationships with their workers was just as critical, if not more.
“We’re really proud to say that everything is made here in LA, with Latino workers that are very fairly compensated. We have great working conditions,” Rodriguez said. “I can’t imagine paying [our workers] any less than we pay them because they’re super hard-working and great people and that’s important to us.”
Customizing a pair of Neems jeans, which are priced at $200 per pair, is easy with a choice between “Customize Women” or “Customize Men,” which takes you right to your jean preferences, such as style, rise, wash, stretch and length. From there, you can add your selection to the cart (which automatically includes an optional, free measuring tape), checkout and wait for your confirmation email, along with a link to Neems’ Mobile Body Scanner.
On the company website, shoppers may manually input their measurements or allow the scanner to take front and back, well-lit pictures of you to collect them themselves. Once measurements have been sent in, a customer’s pair of jeans are sewn together and delivered, for free, domestically, within two to three weeks.
“Once we receive those measurements, we design the jeans to your measurements on our pattern-making software,” Rodriguez said. “That is where we adjust the hips and the waist to your measurements. And from there, we cut it in our LA facility with our laser cutter machine, which cuts your measurements of the jeans. We get those cut pieces handed off to be sewn, washed, and then they’re done.”
Over the past two-and-a-half years, Neems has grown as a brand, and so has its social media platform. With Rodriguez running the creative and social media side of things, and Ramirez handling the more strategic and financial aspects of the brand, Neems took a large step in the right direction when she decided to give viewers a glimpse into the jean-making process.
“I’m not a social media person. I am not an influencer, so I was very hesitant at first to show our faces there,” Rodriguez said. “But I kind of embraced it and increasingly went on our page and would show me cutting the jeans, I would show our workers. That has really built our community, where people love seeing the behind-the-scenes. They love seeing me work on Neems and me being transparent about things. I feel like people relate more to a person rather than just seeing a brand.”
In tandem with Rodriguez and Ramirez’s values of sustainability and ethics, is their pride in being 100% Latinx-owned, which is not only a foundational pillar for the brand, but also for them as individuals. What was once the “American Dream” for Latinos, to emigrate to the US and provide for one’s family, is now a dream that goes beyond and pushes barriers.
“You can create things that weren’t created before, you can solve problems that haven’t been solved before,” Ramirez said. “Showing the community that we are capable of doing that, not only Americans or males, it’s not any one specific type of background that can do it. We can all do it if we put our minds to it. And so, being that example is really special.”
It’s easy to place blame on yourself for not fitting the mold of the jean when a pair of jeans don’t fit, when, instead, realizing that the jean needs to fit you, is how one should look at it. Radical self-love is another core value of Neems, committed to eliminating the guilt and anxiety that fitting rooms tend to leave you with, along with sizes, as all pairs of Neems jeans are made to uniquely fit all bodies.
“Jeans are, universally, the worst shopping items to shop for and I get emails every single day about it that are like, ‘I finally just received the jeans! I’ve never had a pair of jeans that fit me so well, in my waist, my hips.’ And, especially for plus-sized bodies, we don’t have size limits,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve made jeans for every size you could possibly think of. So, people really love that because the denim industry is so size-exclusive, and making jeans for every single body is something we’re proud of.”
A big goal for Neems is to expand into denim shorts in spring 2023, as well as potentially collaborate with an artist to create special edition designs of their jeans. Additionally, attempting to satisfy customers with earlier deliveries in the world of Amazon is also on Rodriguez and Ramirez’s to-do lists.
“Right now, it’s looking like a two-week turnaround time, which is pretty great for custom-made, made-to-order,” Rodriguez said. “The industry standard in about three to four weeks, and we’ve got it down to two just from streamlining the whole process. Eventually, our goal is to do one week because I know that people are expecting Amazon times. People are like, ‘Where are my jeans? And I’m like, ‘You ordered yesterday!’”
Neems, like many other up-and-coming sustainable jean brands, is paving the way for not only sustainable and ethically-made jeans, but customizable clothing in general, something Rodriguez and Ramirez are making their own.
“We really see a future of all of your clothing potentially being custom-made. Why wear something that was made to a standard size, to an average, when you could wear something that was made to you for a similar competitive price?” Ramirez said. “And even taking it a step further, doing all of that and making it feel just as easy as purchasing something off the rack. We’re really looking forward to transforming the way people think and buy clothing, and we’re excited that we’re just getting started.”