Detroit Denim

Fashion Apparel Start-up Thrives in Detroit with Support from Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC)

When Eric Yelsma was laid off during the 2008 Great Recession, he seized the opportunity to follow his passions and start his own fashion apparel company, Detroit Denim, LLC. The company, which focuses on quality products with an emphasis in sustainable production, follows a made-to-order process to ensure products are manufactured as needed. Detroit Denim customers can order customizable, perfect-fitting jeans to feel confident both wearing and purchasing.

Inspired by the rich manufacturing history in Detroit and a vision to bring denim production back to the states, Eric and his wife, Brenna Lane, set up shop in the heart of city. In fact, today, all of the Detroit Denim in-house manufacturing lives in what used to be a metal fabrication shop for old automobile advertisements and posters.

“It is truly rewarding to be manufacturing a product in this great city, especially in a shop with such an historical manufacturing presence,” said Brenna. “I’m so proud of how far Detroit Denim has come—every day I come to work, and I really feel like this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.”

The start-up process was a lengthy journey to success for Detroit Denim, but the company received support from organizations like the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and its Pure Michigan Business Connect (PMBC) team to grow their small business.

“I would never have imagined 11 years ago there would be such a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem in Michigan,” says Brenna. “The MEDC and PMBC have always been supportive of the notion that tech and fashion can be an industry here in Detroit and in Michigan.”

Through several local industry networking events, Detroit Denim was introduced to neighboring Detroit business WHIM, which specializes in innovative technology solutions for small and large businesses. When WHIM launched the Fashion and Tech Hackathon in 2013—with support from PMBC—Detroit Denim was chosen to be a case study for the event. The 36-hour weekend innovation challenge brings together diverse teams with the goal of creating new tech solutions. In the case of Detroit Denim, the teams worked to solve the problem of taking the company’s 4-6 week wait for customers and turning it from a liability to a business opportunity.

As a result of this event, and Detroit Denim’s partnership with both WHIM and the MEDC, the company had the tools and knowledge it needed to pivot from a made-to-stock to made-to-order system, making their projects customizable and sustainable.

“We’re a very mechanical company and work mostly with our hands, not with technology,” said Brenna. “Having partners like WHIM and PMBC show us what was possible on the technology side really opened our eyes and helped us understand how far we could go.”

To learn more about the MEDC and how they can support your small business, visit