Written by  Sally Ibarra Barceló
Photography by Paul Bostrom

“Marc Nelson embraces the one-of-a-kind, the rugged, and the craft of creating dependable high-end pieces that become lifelong staples in closets across America.” – MND

A tailored experience requires crafting every stitch by hand, measuring, and trying the fit a few times — whether a custom pair of denim or a perfectly fitting suit, nothing says a proper gentleman’s wardrobe than one that is perfectly tailored.

Centered around each customer’s experience, Marc Nelson Denim is a small-batch craft denim brand that also specializes in custom suiting. Headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, Marc Nelson Denim has now expanded to a second studio location in Lakeland, Fl. 

“Inspired by my great-grandfather who played an essential role in my life: he was my rock in a childhood filled with constant waves of change.

“I learned to appreciate dressing well from my great-grandfather. He was a true gentleman, a provider, a holy man, and an amazing dresser. He taught my oldest brother and me that you always want to leave the house looking like a million bucks no matter who you are- the janitor or the mayor. From grade school until this day, I have taken his advice to heart.”

“I learned to appreciate dressing well from my great-grandfather. He was a true gentleman, a provider, a holy man, and an amazing dresser.”

Marc Nelson Denim was founded in 2011 by Marcus Hall, who grew up near the old Levi’s factory on Cherry Street in Knoxville, TN, where his family and friends were once employed. Denim has long been a fabric that helped shape his life and the lives of those around him. With a desire to restore jobs lost in the off-shoring of the American Denim industry, Hall and the Marc Nelson Denim team has a vision for instilling the same sense of pride Knoxville once felt.

Well on Hall’s way to doing what he set out to do, by 2015, he was honored in the community as an entrepreneurial leader and role model. In May of that year, he was presented with the Pinnacle Minority-Owned Business Excellence Award from the Chamber of Commerce – one of the city’s highest honors. 

Knoxville celebrated Marcus Hall and his accomplishments, but Hall led a second life behind closed doors that would soon come to light and turn his life upside down while jeopardizing his life’s work.

In 2009 Hall started the gambling operation called “the numbers.” He and two others would take bets on the daily drawings of the Illinois Lottery, pulling in as much as $90,000 a week. In his prime, Hall sported four cars and dozens of properties. 

“The money was impossible to walk away from, and I was addicted to the adrenaline rush. I’d grown up struggling to find my next meal or clothes to wear to school. Now I had enough “income” to become an entrepreneur and own all the material possessions I could dream of,” says Hall. “In fact, starting Marc Nelson was my exit strategy. I was convinced I’d get the clothing business off the ground and step away from the gambling. But I kept putting it off until it was too late.”

By 2016, Hall was sentenced to 33 months in prison, serving 14 months. His guilty plea took it all except his denim business. 

Marc Nelson Denim | 716 E. Lime St. Lakeland Fl, 33801

“Just after entering prison, I tore my Achilles tendon. Frightened, and in pain, I had a confrontation with God. He said to me, “What do you think success is, anyway? Why did you think that was the answer?” At that moment, I knew the only path to peace was to find happiness not from external sources, but in my own skin.”

After prison, in 2018, Hall began to rebuild his life. “Welcomed home by my native city of Knoxville, Tennessee, I was determined to make good on this second chance. But I wasn’t sure where God was going to take me. And little did I know that a chance opportunity to answer a phone call would change my life and the direction of my company,” says Hall.

On probation and living at a halfway house, Hall was not allowed to work for himself, so his dedicated employee Kim Milligan was in charge of the store while working for a company located in the rear of his building. Being so close by allowed him to pop into his showroom during lunch breaks.

One afternoon as Hall took his lunch break from work and walked through the Marc Nelson showroom, the phone started ringing. 

Hall recounts this day like so, “Kim was in a back office, so I picked up the phone. A man with a voice like a wise, patient grandfather said, “I bought several pairs of denim from a shop in Lakeland, Florida, and the owner no longer carries your brand. 

He spoke as if we had been friends like we had known each other for years and asked, “Would it be possible to purchase online or through you directly?” When I told him, of course, he asked if this was Marc Nelson. I laughed and said, “Why yes, it is.”

He knew about my prison sentence. We spoke about it for a moment, and he showed no judgment. He told me he was glad to have talked with me, and he loved my clothes. I sent him three or four pairs of denim.”

The man on the phone was Mr. Hedrick, a Lakelander. After his purchase, Mr. Hendrick called again and said he loved the jeans, and a few months later, he visited the Marc Nelson showroom in Knoxville.

“After several trips to Knoxville, Mr. Hedrick invited me to come to see him in Lakeland. When I arrived in his scenic city, it was love at first sight. Lakeland reminds me of Knoxville. It’s a small, big town where you never meet a stranger, and people take care of each other as family. Three years later, after I’d flown back and forth many times, Mr. Hedrick and his circle of friends told me that I needed to open a local store.”

Denim has long been a fabric that helped shape his life and the lives of those around him.

Hall immediately brushed off the idea, but his new clients and now friends in Lakeland didn’t give up. Hall says, “Ronnie Hedrick II, Wesley Barnett, Patrick Spinosa, brothers Jack and Will Harrell, and Mac Miller – who had all started as clients and who I now call friends – simply stated: “We won’t let you fail.” And again, God was at work.”

“The men in Lakeland had amazing style and flair,” says Hall. 

Hall looked into the idea of opening a location in Lakeland further and found out that Nathan’s premier men’s store closed after 78 years, so he knew that maybe there was a need he could help fill in Lakeland.

Today, the Mark Nelson Denim studio exists in downtown Lakeland in a historic home on Lime, St. A cozy and inviting space to make you feel at home while you find the perfect fit of denim or meet with Hall for a custom-made suit. The studio embraces a warm, Americana, and gentlemanly ambiance, complete with a bar to enjoy your pour of choice during your appointment.

“What I truly do believe is that God put me where I needed to be. He put me in the right place at the right time.”

“What I truly do believe is that God put me where I needed to be. He put me in the right place at the right time.”

Mark invites Lakelanders to, “Please stop by Marc Nelson Studio to try on clothes, enjoy a chat, and drink a glass of fine whiskey. We’re open Monday through Saturday. You can check Facebook and Instagram for when I’ll be in town. I’m honored to be a part of your special city and look forward to dressing your fashionable men for years to come.”