Made in Philadelphia: Norman Porter Co.
Posted on November 14, 2012
A denim and leather goods company operating out of the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA, Norman Porter is Michael and Dave Stampler, and John Mahaffey. The Stampler’s father was an aircraft mechanic and their grandfather an engineer; a heritage of hard work and detail that is evident in both attitude and production at NP. Recently, Norman Porter held an exhibit at Art in the Age in Old City, Philadelphia, to introduce the public to the work that goes into a pair of handcrafted jeans. This past Friday, I swung by the studio to see for myself.
I’ll admit that I had some interview questions to ask these guys, but they all just kind of went out the window. Dave was working on some cuts for leather wallets while I was hanging out, and Mike was putting the finishing touches on a few pairs of jeans and kept feeding me knowledge the entire time. He has a graduate degree in business from Kutztown, and worked for a while at a high-end upholsterer. We talked about the first pair of pants he made while he was still in school (an awful kind of gray flannel pants that he didn’t even wear out of the pride of building them) and the work that has gotten Norman Porter to the point that it is now. We talked about business, about mills and production facilities, about the machines, and for a little while discussed the merits of various firearms. Alex is the real denim fanatic on The American Classic, so it was an awesome opportunity for me to really sit and take in the details of the construction. Lucky enough for me, a new roll of Japanese black selvage denim arrived at the shop, and I stuck around to watch the first cuts for a new project (I’m sworn to secrecy for the moment).
I finally got to try on a pair of their standard denim, and I was instantly impressed by the fit and the cut. I notoriously wear black Levi’s 511’s (size 30) and have had the most difficult time finding a selvage pair that wasn’t baggy (or not even baggy, but a larger classic cut). After putting on a pair of Norman Porters, I didn’t want to give them back. Seriously. I put my old jeans back on a wished for them to be Norman Porters. On the wall of the shop are some of the different fabrics they offer: Japanese Indigo 14oz, Japanese Green 12.5 oz, Cone Indigo 12.5oz, and Japanese Gray 14oz. They also make a flannel-lined pair, which is definitely better for one season than another.
The exhibit at Art in the Age on November 2nd in Old City, Philadelphia was a huge hit. The space is normally pretty packed, but this time people were out for more than just free drinks. I could barely move around, and Mike was busy the entire evening pounding rivets and answering lots questions. Lots of leather goods were on display as well, plus samples from Art in the Age Craft Spirits, South County Brewing, and our friends over at Side Project Jerky.
Long story short, you owe it to yourself to try on a pair of the jeans. If you’re in the NYC area this weekend, swing by the Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn and say hello. In Philly, check out their studio in Fishtown at 2628 Martha Street, or try on a pair at Trove General Store in Paoli. Anywhere else, just go to NormanPorter.com and put a pair on your Christmas wish-list. They have our seal of approval, although when craftsmanship like this speaks for itself, it doesn’t need anyone’s damn justification.