Long before Instagram and Pinterest became scrolling feeds of inspirational quotes, the founders of Thigh High Jeans, Ann Smithwick and Kerry Peeples, were spreading words of love, encouragement and optimism through upcycled jeans.

Handmade in Memphis, Tennessee since 2009, Thigh High Jeans breathes new life to old jeans by adding colorful fabric to pairs, transforming straight leg jeans into ’70s style flares, denim skirts, cutoff shorts and more. Each item is finished with a positive quote embroidered along the thigh—a signature that led to the brand’s moniker.

The brand is fundamentally based on kindness—for the planet, the wearer and others in need. Jeans are made from 100 percent upcycled materials, saving textile waste from years in a landfill. Quotes are positive and uplifting and 50 percent of each sale is donated to one of three non-profit organizations, The Church Health Center of Memphis, Feeding America and Jolkona Foundation.

Thigh High Jeans

Thigh High Jeans was born out of the Great Recession in 2008. “We knew there had to be an alternative to some of the jean prices we were seeing for our daughters,” Smithwick said. To reduce spending and waste, the duo set out to create a brand that used 100 percent recycled materials and produces no additional waste in the process. “We just wanted to put energy into our brand. We don’t take anything apart like buttons or belt loops. We just put our own handwork into the jeans,” she explained.

Recycled, reclaimed, upcycled, remade—Smithwick says the jargon has changed over the years, but the brand’s mission has remained the same. “We want the jeans to become more than just a garment,” she said.

A local Wholefoods in Memphis as well as local coffee shops volunteer to collect donated jeans for the designers, while fabric companies donate sample fabrics for inserts and patchwork. “The average person has seven to nine denim garments and are only wearing three. We’d like to upcycle the rest,” Smithwick said.

“This company can reach a whole lot more hearts.”

Initially the collection was based on retro flares, modeled after the kitschy pairs Smithwick and Peeples donned as children. However, the line has expanded to include modern boyfriend fits, shorts, T-shirts, accessories and bags. Retail prices range from $25 for tees to $89 for jeans.

A custom jean business has also flourished, accounting for about 50 percent of Thigh High’s sales. For the same price as off-the-rack, customers can send in jeans with a note about themselves to have pair made with them in mind. Others send in items that are meaningful, that have belonged to their children or to someone who passed away. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, they write to us and say we picked the perfect quote,” Smithwick said.

Thigh High sells direct-to-consumer online and through its funky mobile retail unit, a 1970 Scotto Serro trailer called “The Monty Hall.” Funded by a grant from the Bloomberg Foundation in 2014, the trailer tours festivals and community gatherings across the country inviting shoppers to live the full Thigh High Jeans experience. “Anytime the trailer is out, its generating interest and dollars back into the business,” said Smithwick.

The Monty Hall has stopped in Austin, Texas, Kansas City, Missouri, Santa Fe, New Mexico and St. Louis, Missouri. Recently, it made its first pitstop in New York City for New York Denim Days.

“We’ve been a grassroots business and have grown under the radar and now we’re ready to take it to the next level and scale up this business,” said Smithwick. The entrepreneurial moms, both with creative backgrounds, envision growing their fleet of trailers globally. She added, “This company can reach a whole lot more hearts.”

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