Denim Goes Underground
A church basement in Los Angeles' upscale Westwood neighborhood isn't typically considered swanky retail digs. But for two days, such a space was transformed into a premium denim hub, teaming with UCLA coeds and young mothers sifting through racks of jeans by True Religion, Antik, Joe's Jeans and Chip & Pepper.

The real attraction, however, wasn't the jeans, but the prices — $79 a pair, or about half the cost of jeans at typical boutiques and better department stores, and $60 for skirts.

The catch is that Underground Denim sample sales offer product that is typically a season or two old, but that's still OK with the deal-hungry college crowd.

"This is a great shopping opportunity for college students," said UCLA freshman Crystal Ung, 18, who was toting a pair of Joe's and a True Religion miniskirt to the dressing room. "I usually shop at Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom and am a sucker for $150 jeans. But this helps the budget go a bit further."

For the past four years, sample sales have turned into a shopping must for fashion fans, who sign up for e-mail alerts from sample sale companies such as Billion Dollar Babes and Top Button. But Underground Denim, targeting younger shoppers, is also gaining steam.

Based in Culver City, Calif., Underground Denim was started two years ago by friends Jordan Rosen and Jamie Mazur. The Los Angeles natives attended Beverly Hills High School, where they secured connections with relatives of Peter Koral, co-owner of Seven For All Mankind jeans, and Paul Guez, founder of Blue Concepts, maker of Yanuk and Antik denim. Their idea for a college denim outlet was born when Rosen moved in with his friend, who happened to be Koral's niece, and bought 20 pairs of Seven jeans and sold them to friends.

"We figured this is a great way for brands to connect with the college market," said Mazur, a former marketing director for a financial services firm. "And it's a no-brainer when I tell them I can sell the lines to college girls rather than have them sell the goods to Loehmann's."

Their first test at UCLA two years ago with Yanuk jeans given to them on consignment was a success, he said. Through persistence and cold calls to other lines, they've established relationships to buy their wares from manufacturers as well as jobbers. In the process, they've grown to an 8,000-square-foot warehouse, stocking more than 20,000 units of denim, T-shirts, skirts and other contemporary wares representing about 20 brands, including Serfontaine, Primp, Tiffany Alana, J & Company and Juicy Couture. The tour hits 35 colleges in 35 states twice a year, including stops at the University of Mississippi, the University of Kansas, the University of Indiana, Louisiana State University, Vanderbilt University, Arizona State University and Loyola Marymount University. Ivy League schools are next on the target list. Sales at the company hit $3 million in 2004 and are projected to generate $5 million this year.

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