When Tennessee residents Carrie Eddmenson and her husband, Matt, were looking for the ideal place to set up their business in Nashville, someone recommended the neighbourhood of 12 South. “We drove here and it didn’t seem to fit what we were looking for—there was no foot traffic and it seemed dismal,” she says. “But then we saw the gas station, and that was the end of the story. We built everything with the aspiration of getting in this gas station.”
The everything that the Eddmensons built is a unique retail concept: their own premium denim line, which is designed right in the retrofitted 1950s-style gas station. The clothes are made on the bank of sewing machines in what once was the bay area, then sold alongside vintage cowboy boots, belts, and accessories in the store that takes up the rest of the gas station.
Their store, Imogene + Willie, oozes cool, and the space is stocked floor to ceiling with their wares. The now-whitewashed gas station is welcoming, and the staff make every effort to get you whatever you need. Eddmenson says they took a risk setting up in 12 South, but it couldn’t have worked out any better for them. “It works in our favour for the store to be a destination, so the lack of foot traffic is not an issue,” she says. “But in the street’s defence, it has changed greatly in the past 12 months that we’ve been here.”
The area has seen a lot of growth in the last year, with many unique and interesting businesses setting up shop. The community is working hard to create something wonderful; a local architect even offers his services pro bono because he believes in 12 South’s potential. The fashion scene in Nashville is also growing rapidly, and a number of musicians—including Dan Auerbach, Keb’ Mo’, Sheryl Crow, and Jack White—have moved to the city, upping its dandy quotient. Supermodel Karen Elson (wife of rocker Jack White) is the co-owner of the vintage store Venus & Mars, located in the trendy Belmont neighborhood.
At Imogene + Willie, an off-the-rack pair of hand-sewn jeans costs between $200 and $275 (U.S.), and for that price they’ll make any necessary alterations to ensure a great fit. For $1,000, you can get a custom-made pair that will fit like a second skin. “Ninety-five per cent of our business comes from our denim line,” she says, “and what we are doing is becoming more and more about the jeans.”
Before going solo, both Eddmensons worked in Carrie’s family business, which developed and designed for many premium denim lines (including their own). But after NAFTA moved production offshore, transferring the technology to other nations was “physically and emotionally killing us,” says Carrie.
The family business closed 10 years later, and the couple put their knowledge and design talents to good use. The Imogene + Willie creations are made regionally, in direct rebellion to mass-produced and poor-quality products we see all too frequently being marketed as high end. Says Eddmenson, “Imogene + Willie is somewhat of an evolution and rebirth of my family business.” From the success they’re experiencing, it’s clear their denim emporium is well appreciated by its savvy clientele.