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Motor City Denim Co. Outfitting Machines And Humans

New ideas, new markets, new insights—innovation takes many forms. Look around and you'll find it all over the U.S.A. First stop? Detroit.

Motor City Denim Co. Outfitting Machines And Humans

Motor City Denim Co., Detroit

With Motor City Denim, Mark D’Andreta (above, with seamstress Shirley Thomas) has come full circle. His father outfitted many a Detroiter while running the cut-and-sew shop at Hudson’s, the majestic downtown department store that closed in 1983, and then created a company to make "robot clothes," protective covers for the machines on automotive assembly lines. When the Great Recession hit and carmakers slashed their orders, D’Andreta, 51, who now runs the family firm, diversified, launching Motor City Denim and producing handbags and jeans on the same machines as those robot clothes. "To survive," he says, "you have to be flexible." The robot orders eventually returned, and his custom-sewn-apparel unit is still growing. Capitalizing on speed honed for the automakers, his factory produces lines for both local designers and major brands such as Kid Rock’s Made in Detroit, for which it sews messenger bags and jackets. "There’s momentum to create a Detroit garment district," D’Andreta says. "If you don’t have manufacturing, it won’t work. That’s us."

A version of this article appeared in the May 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.