By  on January 9, 2008

With her year-old jean label, K. Roque, Karen Roque hopes to put San Diego on the premium denim map.Focusing on tailored denim that can be worn at the office, Roque and her 37-member staff design and manufacture all their garments in San Diego — 120 miles south of the denim hub in Los Angeles.With wholesale prices ranging from $65 to $90, K. Roque aims to quadruple wholesale sales to $4 million this year, from less than $1 million last year, by broadening distribution to high-end department stores and national chains from the current roster of 40 specialty retailers such as Madison in Los Angeles and The Denim Bar in New York. The accounts she's targeting include Barneys New York, Henri Bendel, Neiman Marcus and Intermix. Roque also ramped up the number of styles for this spring to 32 from the 20 she offered in her debut collection. Acknowledging that success in the saturated denim market is predicated on offering more than a five-pocket jean, she cut denim weighing 7 oz. into a racer-back sundress as well as trousers with a 23-inch leg opening. Next fall, she plans to craft denim woven with silver thread into a jacket with three-quarter sleeves and skirts."I don't think manufacturers have evolved and kept up with what the fabric has to offer," Roque said. Roque, 38, is already a veteran in apparel manufacturing. Her mother owned a clothing factory and Roque began making her own outfits at the age of eight. After studying design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, she joined a swimwear company. Within four years, she was promoted from quality control to product design engineer, and then product development manager. She eventually became a private label manufacturer, codesigning swimwear and technical activewear for brands such as DKNY, Aaron Chang and RLX Ralph Lauren. Though K. Roque is her first foray in the denim market, Roque has enough manufacturing experience to try to differentiate her product from competitors'. For instance, she varies her washes to ease the fabric's draping and prints sublimated artwork on the lining of the waistband and pockets."I wanted to take it to a different level," Roque said. "The consumer has not seen [denim] in a different avenue and the beauty of what the fabric has to offer."

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