Arizona Originals: Steve Vizzerra, The Blue Jean Buyer
In the late 1980’s when Levi’s were still made here in the USA, some young Arizonan entrepreneurs saw a business opportunity. like most twenty year olds Steve Vizzerra was just working a regular job when he heard about an opportunity that would change his life.
“Some friends of mine started a company buying vintage jeans and selling them overseas”, Vizzerra said from behind the counter of his Tempe shop. “We would buy jeans from all the old ranchers in Avondale, fill our backpacks, and travel across Europe all summer selling jeans.”
This is not a terrible way to spend your life right out of college and so in 1987 Steve joined the business full time. They had a strong buyer in Switzerland and before they knew it they had two storefronts there selling old Levi’s. In 1994 Vizzerra bought the business and ran with it. At its height, The Blue Jean Buyer had 13 locations across the world and Vizzerra was regularly scheduling buying trips across the southwest United States.
“We would advertise in an old mining town for weeks before we would show up. We’d rent a motel room on the ground floor, and in the morning we’d just setup a table right infront of our room. After spending all day buying we would have enough inventory for the next couple months. The best part was hearing the stories behind some of those old jeans, it was a lot of fun!”
Vizzerra was flying high, he’d taken the business from a fun hobby to being a real player in the industry. His industry though, was about to be shaken to it’s core. Levi’s jeanswere so desirable outside the U.S. because they were American made. “The second Levi’s moved their manufacturing overseas, our orders dried up.” Vizzerra recalls with an obvious tone of sadness. “We went from shipping thousands of pairs a month to 500 pairs every couple of months.
Today, Vizzerra’s shop in south Tempe is sustained through repeat business, word of mouth, and the almost constant stream of repair and custom business. Vizzerra has earned the title “Denim Doctor of Arizona” and should you ever decide to own a pair of his custom jeans you’ll understand why.
The Blue Jean Buyer has made a quiet but strong impact on the world’s fashion in a very real way. What’s just as significant is the impact Steve’s outlook should have on young entrepreneurs across Arizona. When I walked in to talk to Steve I thought I was going to get a cool story about a vintage store that loves it’s Levi’s. What I got was an insight into how to be more like an Arizona original “It’s like I say to my kids, if you’re going to do something make sure you love it otherwise you’re wasting you’re time.”