It’s Saturday morning, and outside a Sydney Road shop in Melbourne, an eager queue waits patiently for the doors to open for business. But it’s not brunch or a latte they’re after – they’re keen for Dejour Jeans.
Nam Huynh, the man behind the operation, has been making his jeans for more than 20 years. Since setting up shop in Brunswick in 1989, he has followed a simple formula for success: do one thing, and do it well.
The jeans come in a selection of styles and a revolving variety of colours, and are custom-fitted on the spot – for a fraction of department-store prices.
”The things I focus on are the price and the quality,” Mr Huynh says. ”As cheap as possible, and the quality as high as possible.”
Every pair of his jeans comes with a guarantee. Alterations and repairs can be made at no extra cost, even years later. No wonder this morning the queue is practically snaking out the front door.
Dejour’s success seems a bit of an anomaly amid all the reports of a faltering retail sector and bricks-and-mortar shops crumbling in the face of online shopping. But perhaps it just comes down to old-fashioned service.
Each pair of jeans is tailored to a perfect fit. ”We make sure customers feel not only comfortable but they’re wearing something that suits their body and individual shape,” says employee Tay Guy. ”We’re not into pushing a sale.”
It’s a novel concept – prioritising customers over a quick buck – but it seems to work.
To keep prices low, Huynh has shunned traditional retail practices. Production is outsourced only as far as the back door. Instead of thumping techno blaring through the stereos, shoppers browse to the busy hum of vintage sewing machines. And there’s no fancy decor – in fact, Dejour doesn’t even advertise. ”If I do advertising, I have to increase the price of the jeans,” Huynh explains. ”I don’t want to do that.”
Fortunately, he hasn’t had to. Glowing word-of-mouth reviews have kept him pretty busy, and since one of his customers decided to set up an official Facebook page for the shop in 2010, sales have been at a steady high.
”I know nothing about the internet.” Huynh laughs. ”I only know the sewing machine.”
He learnt how to sew aged 14, and when he moved to Melbourne from his native Ho Chi Minh City in 1981 found work at a clothing factory. But Huynh always dreamt of making jeans, which had been too expensive back in Vietnam. So when the factory closed, he decided to take a chance, opening his original shop a few metres up Sydney Road. For the first 10 years, he and his wife, Madeline, ran the entire business themselves.
There weren’t many customers back then – Huynh reckons he’d get about five to 10 a day – but there was still a lot of work to be done.
”I’d have to cut everything by hand, make every single pair,” he recalls. He would regularly stay until midnight to finish his orders.
Not much has changed, though Dejour is a fair bit busier. Huynh has more hands on deck now, but he still works well after closing to keep up with the demand, now averaging 500 pairs a week.
While he realises people would still be happy paying double the price for his jeans, he’s simply not interested in chasing profits.
”One hundred dollars for a pair of jeans – no. Not me,” Huynh says firmly. ”My price is not going to be double.”
Don’t expect to see the Dejour brand for sale anywhere else either. Huynh has no plans to expand. ”I don’t want people to sell my jeans … and they don’t care about the customer.”
”I survive from loyalty of customers,” he says. ”I don’t want to lose even one.”