Made in Knoxville
A college town...check
Growing food scene...check
Eclectic arts and music scene...check
Ample outdoor opportunities...check
There is a lot to Knoxville, Tenn., not only for visitors but also for those who call it home as well.
Here are some of their stories:
Marc Nelson Denim
One could say that jeans have always been a part of Marcus Hall’s life. He recalls that many of his family members, as well as neighbors, worked at the now-defunct Knoxville Levi’s plant.
“We all wore Levi’s as kids, and people would tell us stories about who added the stitching or the button or did the wash.”
“We took for granted it was made in our backyard, and sold all over the world. We didn’t realize this until the factory closed.”
Combine the impact of Levi’s had on his young life along with his sewing skills (“my mom taught me, and I took tailoring in high school, which wasn’t a cool”), it makes sense that Hall would follow his childhood dream (after trying other vocations) of designing his own clothes line. But just not any article of clothing, he would create a high-end denim-centric clothing line.
After spending time in Los Angles learning as much as he could about this fashion niche, he headed back to Knoxville to establish Marc Nelson Denim.
Named after his grandfather, whom Hall says had a sense of style, the headquarters, located in the Warehouse District, produces small batches (no more than 214) of both men and women jeans. With limited runs of fabrics, he does the designs, adding a little twist to them here and there.
Available in over 20 boutiques across the nation, Hill says he had some thoughts about going the crowdsourcing route, but rather “stay old-school and grow organically with support from the community.”
Billy Lush Brand
In 2005, the California-born-Florida-reared Abe Kiggins accepted a full-time position as an athletic trainer at University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Miles away from the beach, he missed it. However instead of brooding, he decided to bring a little of the beach culture to Knoxville.
It started with the discovery of Halloween mask. Kiggins and his twin brother, David used it to create a character called “Uncle Billy” and shoot videos of him talking about surfing, skating boarding, stand-up paddling (SUP) and more. Even though “Uncle Billy” received 10,000 hits on YouTube, their wives did not take them seriously, or in Abe’s words, “they made fun of us.”
But they would not be deterred. The Kiggins gave “Uncle Billy” the last name Lush and developed a skating/lifestyle company
So, what began as something silly and fun would later evolve into a brand that would be known as Billy Lush Brand.
Abe also began to make boards in his garage.
This really wasn’t anything new to since his father shaped skateboards and surfboards when he was growing up.
As SUP continued to grow in popularity, Kiggins background in sports training wanted to transform land paddling into cross training in a SUP stance on a wide board. It would be a fitness outlet for those who can’t get on the water, yet easy enough that anyone can do it.
He admits his first prototype was ugly, but he knew he was on to something special, so he continue to develop it.
Once he had something, and completed his first sale to a buyer in Australia, he recruited his next door neighbor and a few others to help advance Billy Lush Brands to the next level.
Today, the boards are custom-made and still hand-shaped, which Kiggins says separates his company from others. It takes around three-and-half weeks to complete a board. Styles are available on their website.
As for moving closer to the beach, Kiggins has no plans right now. “Knoxville is home to us,” he says. “There are so many resources available for us here.”
Chef Matt Gallaher’s culinary route has been anything but typical, and perhaps that is a good thing. His experience is vast and unique - how many other chefs can say they have traveled all over the world with well-known bands and prepared their meals, as well as prepared meals at the governor’s mansion for a former Tennessee governor and his family.
Yet, here is the catch: Gallaher never attended culinary school, and he doesn’t feel like he has missed out. “That (culinary school) might have been too restrictive. My way has allowed me to be more creative.”
Prior to working at Blackberry Farms (“one of the most beautiful places in the world”), where he spent four years, with the last year as being sous chef, he worked at his mother’s catering company.
Even with all of this, Gallaher, who has a chemical engineer degree from the University of Tennessee, knew one thing - he was going to open his own restaurant one day.
And in January 2013, he and his business partner opened up Knox Mason in downtown Knoxville.
“It great to see this area becoming rejuvenated.”
In a city that is becoming known for its culinary offerings, Gallaher says his restaurant stands out because of the quality of food. He understands the importance of sourcing locally and is sensitive to what’s available when. That is why the menus are printed in-house daily.
“I go to the farmers’ market and pick out the produce. It’s always a surprise of what I’ll find.”
Not only is the food fresh, but he is also building relationship with the farmers.“It’s important to lean on each other and support on another. It gives us a sense of community.”
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