Pennsylvania born & bred, and true salt of the earth guys, Mike & Dave Stampler are the brothers behind Norman Porter Co. I reached out last year, asking if I could come down and see their Philly workshop. I was greeted with genuine smiles, a firm handshake, and a ton of passion for their craft. We’ve gotten to know each other, and I’ve grown to like poking around their place and shooting the shit with them from time to time. Everything in their studio has a purpose, history, and heart. I like that. I also find it fulfilling talking about the inspiration, design, materials, craftsmanship, repurposing of old machinery, and all the attention to detail that goes into everything they do. They are the epitome of “industrious little fuckers”. Their father was a mechanic. The boys grew up in the garage and were bestowed with a solid work ethic. Dad still doles out chores when they come visit. Knowing Mike & Dave now, it’s no surprise that Norman Porter Co. (named after their Grandfather) is all about utilizing the best quality materials and craftsmanship to create an honest product that stands the test of time. Quality is not some cliche tagline for them. It’s legit.
Quick history: Mike Stampler is a big dude (he prefers tall gentleman), and couldn’t find clothes that fit well. Years ago, a friend who bought thrift store clothes that he altered for a better fit got his wheels turning. Mike started teaching himself to sew on a home machine, and it stuck because he’s good with his hands and likes to tinker. Mike improved, graduated to an industrial machine, and got into denim. In tearing apart jeans that represented the “industry standard” he found ways to improve upon the craft, and created the jean he wanted to wear. Once Mike laid the foundation, his brother Dave jumped in and Norman Porter Co. was up and running.
“So I started out about 7-8 years ago making jeans, bags, and such by hand. And I wasn’t trying to make a giant fortune doing it. Basically I was trying to pay myself $10 an hour doing it. We started out back then by trial and error, and making a lot of terrible pairs of jeans in the shop that never saw the light of day. We looked at a lot of jeans, and found that not everyone does it the same. Some details were better than others, and also a lot of the make is ultimately dictated by the equipment you’re working with. So we broke down the process of making a jean into small steps. Once we felt like we nailed one step, we’d lock it down and move on to the next step and nail that one, until we had the jean make and quality that we were happy with.”
Do: Work hard, keep the ball rolling, stay humble, remember where you came from.
“Our first studio in North Philly was where we basically roughed-out the entire process with the cheapest roll of selvedge denim we could find because we didn’t want to waste anything too nice. That place was a real hole-in-the-wall. It was 300 bucks a month, in the ghetto, bullet holes in the window, no heat, kinda place. The neighborhood gang was called the Bart Simpson gang. You go down to the train tracks and yell Bart Simpson until a dealer comes out and sells you drugs… not a place you’d want to hang around. It was pretty depressing. That was our reconciliation period. That whole process took about 6 months, where the focus was to nail down the jean. From there we continued to refine things and improve the equipment as we could. We’ve been making jeans for awhile now, but for the past 2-3 years Norman Porter has been hitting selvedge denim pretty hard. ”
Denim: Norman Porter uses selvage denim mostly from Cone Mills (USA), and some also from premium Japanese mills.
“We really like Cone Mills denim. The quality is great, it’s made in the America, and we use it the most. Since we buy small quantities right now, there are times we can’t get what we want, when we want it, from Cone. The Japanese denim we get our hands on is perfect. It’s very consistent quality, very few flaws on the roll, it’s just perfect. For pocketing, we pretty much stay with our Hickory Stripe. We like the look of it, and 10 oz is a good weight for a pocket bag. It’s going to last. What’s also really nice about the Indigo Hickory Stripe is that it fades and the color breaks down really nice over time. Just like the jean.”
Craftsmanship: Every single piece of machinery that Norman Porter Co. uses in their Philly shop came from a different place and has a unique story.
“Some of it was Craig’s List finds, some of it comes from a friend of a friend knows a guy with a warehouse of old equipment, and some of it we’ve just stumbled on. It’s been a big time hustle getting what we have, and we still need more. Some machines were buried under layers and decades of dirt. This one came from North Philly, that one came from Bucks County. I got this one for free in Maryland because the Boscov’s alterations department was going out of business. My dad picked it up for me. (laughs…) This one that’s green was black back when we got it. Black from the grease, and residue, and dirt. The beautiful thing about these machines is that they were really well oiled. And a lot of times in the factory there would be a lot of lint too. Those two things together create this kind of barrier that keeps the machine free from rust. The dirt actually preserved the equipment. So some people look at it and say, oh this thing is trash. You take it, clean it up, and it runs.”
News Flash: Two guys making and selling their own handmade denim is not a get-rich-quick scheme.
“All this stuff, these machines were all deals that we got. Which is great, we needed it. But the running around is time consuming, we have to hustle all the time. It’s a lot of hard work and it’s very stressful. There’s no budget so we are constantly having to think about how we’re going to do this or that. We have to put in the extra work to get what we want. So, we’re not always working smart, but we always work very hard. We are pretty crafty, and it’s paying off. This brand was built off our backs, and that feels good.”
Passion: Do what you love, make things that get you excited.
Norman Porter Co. also does great handcrafted leather goods. Wallets, custom belts, cool bracelets. And again, It’s Mike and Dave making it all happen in their shop. There’s no outsourcing to China. There’s no cutting corners on quality to increase profit margins like the big brands. These guys aren’t getting rich by a long shot. They just want to do what they love, and not push paper behind some desk somewhere. They aren’t pulling a fast one, or charging a ton of money. They believe in working hard, and putting out great product at a fair price. The Stampler brothers are about quality and integrity, and are guys that I’m very proud to associate with. More than anything, the product represents who they are. They stand for lasting quality, and believe that you should enjoy what they do for a living.
Mike Stampler & Dave Stampler at the Norman Porter Co. workshop in Philadelphia, PA
The new Norman Porter Co. button fly selvage jean.