To say that meeting Justin James was serendipitous is about as much as an understatement can be. With our core values of business centered around localism, thoughtful craftsmanship, and quality, I was honestly surprised that we didn't meet earlier. I first learned about Opie Way from a friend visiting from Asheville, who was astonished that I didn't know of the brand already. They had just been featured in a few articles, and I instantly knew that we had to meet. So, I cold called them, shooting them an email and introducing myself and saying that I felt that we should establish a friendship. And boy, have we!
That was August of 2020, and since then Justin and I have become very close friends, calling on one another in times of completely unrelated business need, visiting consistently, and pouring our creative juices into products together. In fact, I don't think it is a stretch to say he is one of my closest friends in life. When we speak by phone, only half the time is it ever about business. That's how business should be, right?
Justin's brand, Opie Way, is real, honest, full of love, and at times full of headaches, just like most small makers and brands that we have become friends with through the years. He and his wife Amanda set out to create something beautiful by building thoughtfully designed and sourced, made by their hands footwear in western North Carolina. They named it after their two daughters, now three counting Pearl, and built it from scratch in Fletcher, NC just a couple miles from their home.
Justin, like me, is obsessed. I mean obsessed, like mad scientist obsessed. He's a creative, he's a problem-solver, he's more do less talk, he's exactly what the driving force behind a brand should be. He's the get there early before everyone else and the last person walking out turning the light off as he leaves.
Their efforts have caught the attention of media, leading them to become the Garden & Gun Made in the South Award-winning brand, as well as the Our State Magazine Made in NC Style Award winner, both in 2020. They have garnered the attention of nearby Asheville newspapers and periodicals, and even gotten some love on Heddels, the go-to journal for denimheads and niche clothing consumers worldwide.
When we met for the first time in person, he took some time about a month after the email, to drive down to meet us at Revolution Mill. We pulled dozens of pairs of sneakers out of our archives, poured through details, unrolled countless bolts of fabric, and took a tour through our hardware collection. It was the jumping off point for us to walk away from knowing that we had a project brewing amidst the whirlwind of a first time together.
So, we spent months going back and forth over design and construction, sourcing trims and fabrics, and building out what would become the first collection of classic canvas sneakers. Think Chuck Taylors, but on illegal steroids. Seriously, the materials to just make the shoes they make cost twenty to thirty times that of a pair of mass-market kicks. Side Note: Did you know that when Nike bought Converse they even thinned the sole by using a felt-like substitute so as to cut down on the already thin rubber? Opie Way shoes are inspected in between each and every step, they have threads singed to keep from unstitching, they have extra reinforcements and overlapping panels in the exact place to keep them sturdier, hold their shape, and are even built in a manner that allows them to be resoled, time and time again.
It made absolute sense for this to be the embarkment point for our journey together. It's opened so many doors. We are now working with another NC-based business to develop engineered knit uppers for sneakers, to create a more modern line. We are working on proprietary fiber to yarn development for uppers that have a game-changing potential for the industry. We are developing more technical designs and using state-of-the-art soles from trusted suppliers.
Another business that I direct operations for, Proximity Manufacturing Company, recently began producing selvage denim here in Greensboro, using colored filling yarn, called Weft Out™, which Opie Way has released in a series, including purple, gold, and a few more releasing in June/July 2022.
Justin has even taken a day off and traveled down the mountain just to come and see the Weft Out™ cloth, while turquoise was in production at our facility inside the White Oak Plant.
Meeting people like Justin and Amanda keep our gears turning, keep our creative juices flowing, and have built a foundation for a lifelong friendship. We are so proud to know them, and so proud of the brand they're building!
You can watch the video from 2020 Garden & Gun Made in the South Awards, featuring Opie Way here.
You can follow Opie Way on Instagram here.