American Dance Party: A Local Clothing Brand Who Cares What You Wear
By RJ Walters
Photos courtesy of American Dance Party
American Dance Party is being highlighted as a 2023 Maker of Note by The Lakelander, as part of its MADE Issue, which focuses on big ideas and entrepreneurial successes of Lakelanders.
Marco Denis wants to help you understand what you wear matters, and he wants to make you look fashionable in the process.
If you run into the 41-year-old around town you might see him in either his professional ensemble that he wears Monday through Friday as a teacher in Polk County Schools or you might literally see him run past you in athletic wear as he trains for another ultra marathon.
But if you see Denis in his most typical state, you’ll find him in something well loved and chic, possibly nostalgic and with a likely nod to pop culture.
He grew up shopping mostly in thrift stores, and in his mid 20s he was inspired to marry his love for second-hand clothes with the opportunity to teach consumers about ethical manufacturing.
After traveling the globe, reading books and watching documentaries on the massive scale and impact of sweatshops, in 2008 he launched American Dance Party.
What began as screen printed shirts that were made in the USA has turned into a cultural phenomenon that is now shirts “re-made in the USA.”
Denis’s goal is to use fashion forward clothing as a vehicle to help people understand the reality of low wages, exposure to harmful work environments and grueling hours of physical labor that is the reality behind many pieces of clothing they wear.
American Dance Party gear is essentially one part second-hand clothing, hand stitched with fun, and sometimes rare, swatches of bedding.
“A lot of these fabrics end up in landfills and they take so so many years to break down,” Denis said. “Rather than having this just pile up and pile up in landfills, we can do our part and make something cool and nostalgic and make every piece really one of one.”
Denis and his business partner, Dober Kline, have built a manufacturing pipeline that begins with valuable connections to suppliers of character-laded bedsheets and pillows that date back to as early as the 60s, and the materials are hand sewn by a team of experienced seamstresses who live in Central Florida.
“Our seamstress team is incredible,” Denis said. “A lot of times it’s older women with incredible backgrounds in sewing who are extremely talented but who are doing other jobs because this kind of work isn’t there.”
A large part of the sales of American Dance Party and the culture the company has built is thanks to how staff connect with fans at large music festivals across the United States. Denis said that getting approval to sell at the Okeechobee Music Festival years ago was a big break that led to creating pop-up stores at enormous events, including Bonnaroo.