Matt Baldwin doesn’t discuss denim, he pontificates on the subject. Considering he’s known in many circles as “The Denim Guy,” he certainly has every reason to. “I studied design at FIDM in Los Angeles, but working retail was like my master’s degree. I love people, and I love product. That’s why I do this,” he says beaming, and it’s easy to believe him.
Baldwin and wife Emily have run their popular Kansas City boutique, Standard Style, since 2003. He earned a reputation for his encyclopedic knowledge of denim—but it’s clear that the passion goes beyond a “gear head” obsession. “Not to get heady,” he smiles, “but that nonverbal form of communication—how people connect to products—that really excites me.”
Baldwin always knew a namesake collection was in the pipeline and finally launched with men’s in 2009, right after the recession burst the bubble on a very saturated denim market. “We went from carrying 30 brands in November of 2008 to just three. I had already been planning to release Baldwin, and when we put it out there—even during the recession—we sold 22 pairs that first day. I couldn’t believe it.” He attributes the success to both the quality of the textiles and standing behind something they really believe in.
After a few years of incredible grassroots growth, it was time to launch women’s, which he was able to incubate as a top 10 finalist for the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund. “I learned from observing Ralph’s [Lauren] success, that if you ever want to do women’s and men’s together, you have to do men’s first,” he explains with likable confidence. “I don’t want to wear my wife’s product, but she wants to wear mine!” Like the men’s, the women’s collection is all made in Los Angeles and uses innovative Japanese selvedge denim and a wash technique that can take up to 30 hours per pair.
“It’s about creating a new fabric language, but in traditional silhouettes,” he says of the denim that strikes a balance between a classic, stiff feel with a flattering, utterly comfortable fit. Another point of difference is the Kansas City printed in tiny letters on the buttons—something Anna Wintour strongly responded to during the Fashion Fund. “She really saw the macro picture. Kansas City is where we’re from and our history of food, culture, music, and art makes it a truly hidden gem,” he says, adding that when the CFDA’s Steven Kolb came for a site visit, he was “blown away.” The city has its own denim legacy, having been the home of Lee, and many major workwear factories once lined Highway 71 that leads out of town. “Kansas City was very much on the map, producing the world’s fashion from 1920 to the 1940s. We’ve tapped into this special sauce of KC denim, but it still feels very today.”
One thing’s for certain: we’re ready to live in Baldwin denim … and we’re totally up for a visit to the Crossroads of the U.S.A.