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VOL. 128 | NO. 233 | Thursday, November 28, 2013

Memphis Designer Puts Personal Touch on Denim Line

ERINN FIGG | Special to The Daily News

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If you’re wondering where Memphis fashion designer Derrick Gooden gets his talent, you could say it’s in his jeans.

Derrick Gooden has created the Urbandel line of handcrafted menswear that specializes in denim.

(Submitted Photo)

Gooden’s Urbandel line of handcrafted menswear specializes in denim. Growing up in Memphis and Tipton County, he took a little ribbing from his friends when he told them he wanted to start sewing clothes.

“It wasn’t always in my vision – I started out wanting to be a basketball player. But my mother is a seamstress and I always had kind of an eye for fashion, so one day my cousin said, ‘Hey, why don’t you try making clothes?’ My answer then was ‘Huh?’” Gooden said. “But then I started thinking about it and decided it was a pretty good idea.

“But yeah, a lot of people find it funny,” he laughed.

The now-husband and father taught himself how to sew and made his first pair of jeans 10 years ago when he was 22.

“I bought the material at Wal-Mart and made that first pair on a $113 Brother sewing machine. Jeans are some of the hardest things to make – there are so many pieces involved – and that’s what drove me to try it. It’s that competitive part of me. I love a challenge.”

So he made them and he wore them. People started coming up to him on the streets asking, “Hey, who makes those jeans you’re wearing?” That’s when Gooden knew he was on to something, although it took him a while to take the idea seriously.

“I was still young and having fun. I’d put them in a fashion show here and there and occasionally go to a trade show to see what other people were doing, but it wasn’t until I met Charlisha about three years ago that I started taking it seriously and investing in industrial equipment.”

Gooden is referring to Charlisha Renata, founder and marketing director of consulting firm Memphis Fashion Group.

“When I first met Derrick I was impressed with his talent, especially knowing he’s a self-taught designer. Most of the local designers I’ve met were still in the novice stage as far as garment construction. I’m not saying they’re not talented, but Derrick’s level of execution was far beyond what I expected,” Renata said. “I really wanted to work with him to build his brand because I can visualize his future as a successful fashion designer. Many times we are our worst critics, and that may detour us from chasing our dreams. I act as a motivator for my clients because I truly believe in what I do and for whom I do it. I’m that little voice that repeats, ‘You can do it, I believe in you.’”

Apparently her little voice worked. Now, Gooden has a recently redesigned website, Urbandel.com, which features his T-shirts, outerwear and specialty, hand-crafted jeans of selvedge denim, which is denim made on old looms, used in production up until the late 1900s. The word “selvedge” comes from “self-edge,” referring to the denim’s clean finish, particularly in the seams. It’s a tighter, denser weave that many people say gives the denim a more authentic feel.

And although Gooden used to design the jeans and let other people sew them, he now makes each pair with his own hands.

“I wasn’t thrilled with the details or how they were putting the clothes together, so I just started making them myself. When I tell people I design and make the clothes, they usually don’t believe me,” Gooden said. “But if someone buys a pair of my jeans, I want them to know it was my hands touching those jeans – they weren’t sourced overseas.”

Gooden said he chose to focus on menswear because he believes there aren’t enough new designers who do.

“Men like to buy clothes, too,” he said. “Hey, I know a lot of guys who like to buy clothes even more than women do.”

As inspiration, he cites fashion lines by Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs and Dolce & Gabbana, among others. He also watches fashion shows and keeps his eye on people on the street.

Right now, his horizons look bright and jam-packed with activity. In early 2014, he’s launching a spring line, which will feature 15 styles of jeans in a variety of colors. He wants to launch a series of YouTube tutorials to teach other people how to make jeans. And he’s also doing custom orders and hopes to have a line for women out by late 2014.

A line of leather goods and possibly children’s clothes are among his long-term aspirations. Gooden recently made a peacoat and a tiny pair of jeans for his 23-month-old son.

When asked about the most important message he wants to convey to the public, Gooden shifted the focus away from himself.

“I want to tell young people out there to just go for your dreams,” he said. “It won’t hurt to give it a try. People come up to me and tell me they want to be doing what I’m doing, but they don’t even know where to start. I tell them to just go for it. And sometimes you’re gonna fail a few times before you succeed – that’s just part of the process.”

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