A Stitch in Time
by William Beisley
With garment manufacturing in Philadelphia at an all-time low, a brand like Norman Porter Co. appears like a denim-clad apparition from the past.
The company’s jeans and other products have all been designed and produced with an almost bygone craftsman approach. Michael and David Stampler, brothers and co-owners of the company, favor raw, selvedge denim, primarily the Cone Mills variety, which has been manufactured in Greensboro, NC, since 1891.
Their back-to-roots approach shows in every dimension of their work. After the denim arrives in their Fishtown workshop, Michael tends to each aspect of the production. The process for making a pair of jeans takes roughly three hours. First there is the initial trimming and shaping, stitching, and meticulous ironing and hand-hammered riveting. It eventually concludes when the hand-cut and stamped leather patch is sewn on to the reverse. The jeans have a distinctly American look and feel to them, as if they were made to be stained with grease and worn for weeks on end.
“We feel that American-made products really tie people and communities together,” David says. “Personally, purchasing products made in the United States gives us a stronger connection and value to that product. Just knowing that it was made here by people you may know or interact with in the community is a powerful thing.”
Norman Porter Co. works with other Philadelphia-based companies like the Selvedge Yard, which retails its wares, and tattoo shop True Hand Society, whose artist, Mike Ski, tattoos each of the leather patches for the trio’s collaboration line.
After years of Michael making his own clothing, the Stamplers combined their savings, and with the help of a friend started Norman Porter Co. in a small Kensington shop. Research and experimentation followed, resulting in their first run of jeans in 2012.
“I think it was the idea that starting our own company really meant that whatever amount of time and effort we put in was a direct investment in ourselves,” David explains.
The Stamplers attribute family and community to much of their success, and they pledge to continue to hold up both as ideals as they continue to grow the company.
Norman Porter Co. proudly bears the namesake of the brothers’ engineer grandfather, and they believe their collective ambition is a “direct result of our upbringing,” says David. “It always feels great when our mom calls and tells us she saw an article about our work. That has been the biggest accomplishment for us.”
They continue to expand, and aficionados of their jeans can also now get denim aprons, leather belts and—just in time for the winter weather—wool hats.
Norman Porter products are available online at NormanPorter.com, Totem (535 South St.), Art in the Age (116 N 3rd St.) or by scheduling an appointment to visit their shop at 150 Cecil B. Moore Ave.