If you’re an average American woman, you likely know one of the great frustrations of wearing jeans — after a couple months of frequent wear, no matter how expensive they were or how high quality the company claims them to be, they almost always start to develop tears in the inner thigh area.
Two recent Idaho State University graduates are hoping to change that.
The business, Mezclilla Jeans, is still in its early stages, but both owner Samantha Jimenez-Castro and Chief Operations Officer Kastil Gregory said they know it will take off because they will be providing something no one else currently does: plus-sized jeans that don’t tear made by women who care.
“I think our business stands out for two reasons,” Jimenez-Castro, who is Latina, said via email. “The first being the product. Our jeans will be designed to help combat an issue that is so common but has never been addressed in the masses. The second reason being that it is Latina owned and operated. I think having representation in the business sector is crucial. Business is a white-male dominated area, and it is important that women and women of color are represented and are in charge.”
The business — “mezclilla” means “denim” in Spanish, a nod to Jimenez-Castro’s heritage — started in an entrepreneur class taught by Jeff Street, director of ISU’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development. Each student in the class is required to come up with an idea for a product, and Jimenez-Castro’s idea was picked by the class as one of the best.
“Her idea was to have jeans that don’t rip in the thigh area,” Gregory said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if that never happened? You could just have the jeans and that wouldn’t be a problem. She came up with this idea because she is a very curvy girl, and so am I, actually. I’m a very curvy person. Our legs rub, and that causes some issues as far as wearing pants. I’ve gone through so many pairs of pants it’s not even funny.”
Mezclilla Jeans took second at the annual Pitch-Off contest hosted by CEED and U.S. Bank in December at ISU, which earned them $1,000. Because of their success at the ISU event, Gregory and Jimenez-Castro decided to take their product to the annual Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge in Boise in March, where they won the award for best minority-led company, which earned them an additional $2,500. Additionally, before leaving ISU, Gregory and Jimenez-Castro were in for one final surprise: They were nominated and won the 2019 Woman Student Entrepreneur of the Year award.
Gregory, who graduated this year with a degree in marketing management and now lives in Boise, said the company is in the research and development stage right now, which is where they are spending their winnings. She doesn’t know for sure yet how the finished product will end up, but there will be an additional layer of fabric in the thigh area.
“We want the jeans eventually to be reinforced all the way through so it’s a good material,” Gregory said. “But it’s a lot of science and a lot of testing that still needs to be done. ... Essentially, we’re just adding an extra layer to reduce the friction. It’s going to be slimming, reduce friction and be stylish.”
There is only one other direct competitor currently on the market — Friction-Fighter Jeans, which also sells jeans that are less likely to tear — but Gregory said that company has been sold out of its jeans for almost a year, and their jean sizes only go up to a 14. The average American woman is a size 16 to 18.
“They aren’t including a giant market that needs the jeans,” Gregory said. “Plus-sized women are our target market. We want to focus on them first and then branch out because it’s better to find the niche first and then go forward and expand.”
Jimenez-Castro, who just graduated with a business management degree, has been out of the country for several months, so it was up to Gregory to make the pitch at the Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge. Gregory is Caucasian, but said it meant a lot to her to be able to make the pitch for best minority-led company on Jimenez-Castro’s behalf.
“I was worried it would be a waste of time to sign up for that potential prize because I didn’t look the part,” Gregory said. “But I really liked that the judges were able to hear our story through me, were able to understand the minority-ness through me for Samantha.”
Mezclilla Jeans is a company made by women for women, and Gregory said that it is especially important for women — not men — to head up these kinds of companies, partly because most men don’t have the specific problem of jeans that rip in the thigh.
She said that when she was at the Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge, during her pitch, she would ask the male judges if they’ve ever had that problem, and most of them said no.
“Unless they’re bodybuilders and they develop their thighs, their thighs don’t ever touch. They don’t have this issue,” Gregory said. “When it comes to a product that’s for women, such as we have, it’s really important that women are behind the wheel because men just don’t get it. They can of course be on the team. Men are totally welcome, but if they were to be running the company, they really wouldn’t be able to relate to the customer.”
Jimenez-Castro also emphasized that companies for women should have female leadership.
“I think it’s important that woman design clothing for ourselves,” she said. “Mezclilla Jeans was started by women — two curvy-sized women, proud of their hips, thighs and legs. Being curvy is something that must be celebrated along with just celebrating all women’s bodies and the beauty of our different unique bodies. When women decide what we feel confident in and what we want to wear, it gives us power — power to feel confident and to make decisions for ourselves, that we are in charge of our dreams and decisions. Making these jeans is so much deeper than just clothing. It’s about creating something that makes women feel in charge and powerful. Making clothes for women, by women.”
Five of the six students from ISU whose teams placed at the Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge are women. The others are Matazie Hobbs and Alexis Christiansen, who won the award for best marketing and trade show for their Sani-Station, which automatically sprays disinfectant inside a diaper changing station when no longer in use, and Kaylie Johnson, who won overall runner-up with her partner Donald Young for their idea MaxVac, a plastic device that stores and disposes of syringes to provide safer use in hospitals and medical settings.
For Gregory, it’s a big deal that so many women from ISU did well at the challenge.
“Women are still underrepresented in a lot of places in corporations,” Gregory said. “We’re rising, don’t get me wrong. Women are getting more into it. Half the companies in the entrepreneur challenge were women; whereas, like five years ago, there was only like one company that was women. That’s a really big deal. That means women are starting to take a lot more charge and see our value and our take is really important.”
Gregory added that women dominate the retail industry as far as money spent, so it is an obvious solution to have women head up retailers..
“Who knows women more than women?” she said.
For Jimenez-Castro, it was an especially big deal to make it into the Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge, not just because she believes in her product but because she is a woman and especially because she is a woman of color.
“You don’t see many Latinas, in Idaho, in competitions like these,” she said. “Being Latina, there is even more pressure on us when it comes to the business world. We are underestimated, and for me it is extremely important that I be a positive representation of myself and my people. Too many times we are told our dreams are too big, too difficult, and that we can’t, when we most certainly can. And that’s what we did. We won money. We won a spot to compete. We did our best and gained so much knowledge.”
Jimenez-Castro hopes that the success of Mezclilla Jeans inspires more women in the future.
“I would just like to inspire people to do what makes them happy. Whatever that means to them,” she said. “I want women to see me and see themselves — a young woman with flaws, who doesn’t give up — and know that their dreams and goals are valid and achievable.”
In the short term, Gregory says she and Jimenez-Castro will be talking to people who sew and denim companies to see what it will take to get the jeans on the market. They also want to survey both men and women to see if it’s something they’d be interested in and how much they’d be willing to pay.
In the long term, they have big plans. They don’t just want to sell their idea to a big brand that already exists because they want to be their own brand and do it in their own way.
“We want it to be up there with the big companies,” Gregory said. “We’re shooting big, and that’s what we want.”
Fast fashion is a huge contributor to global pollution, so Jimenez-Castro and Gregory want to help offset that by recycling both Mezclilla Jeans and other brands of jeans.
“Samantha and I really want our company to be really ethical, and we want our company to be empowering,” Gregory said. “We want our brand to stand for way more than just a pair of jeans.”