"Everybody loves blue jeans," says photographer and Thigh High Jeans co-founder Ann Smithwick. "Putting on a pair that have already been worn in, it's comfortable. It's like putting on an old glove."
Along with her longtime friend Kerry Peeples, Smithwick recently began re-making donated jeans into one-of-a-kind pairs of pants.
Both artists, Smithwick and Peeples started with about 60 pairs of jeans donated from friends and began adding their now trademark side panels and inspirational messages (the location — thigh high — is where the name comes from). Both say they feel like they're back in art school and working on a really fun project.
"Ann is a photographer; I'm a painter. Now we're blue jean makers," says Peeples.
Each pair has a quote embroidered down the left leg (it's easier to read that side as people are walking toward you). Though Smithwick likens the surprise of the message to a fortune cookie, the quotes come from Shakespeare, Mother Teresa, Buddha, and other artists, poets, and philosophers.
"The wearer gets something out of it, but so do the people who pass them by," says Peeples. In fact, they say working with inspirational quotes every day has influenced them to dig deeper within themselves.
Both are big proponents of Memphis and, though none of the quotes are political, they recently got permission to use Memphis mayor A C Wharton's "One Memphis" slogan on their jeans.
Jeans are donated at coffee houses around the country — locally, jean receptacles have been placed at Republic, Otherlands, and Poplar Perk'n — and Smithwick and Peeples use recycled scarves, blouses, and skirts to create the insert panels. Because of the recycling, two pairs might have the same quote, but no two pairs of their jeans are alike.
Customers can buy a pair of Thigh High blue jeans off the rack or they can bring in a pair of jeans for them to customize. Fifty percent of the profit from each pair goes to one of three charities and customers can pick if they want the proceeds to go to a local, national or international non-profit.
"We're putting out a product that's funky and cool and fun, because Memphis is all that," Smithwick says. "We plug Memphis everywhere we can."
For more information, visit their website at thighhighjeans.com.