Making the Connection

Denim rules at The Jean Connection. Unusual and hard-to-find fashion denim lines are a specialty at the 10-year-old store in Dallas’ Preston Center, which carries nearly 30 brands for women, men and children in a wide range of prices and sizes.

Sales are up 12 percent so far this year thanks to the store’s growing customer base, including a booming mail-order outreach to customers across the U.S., and an expansion that tripled the store’s size to 3,600 square feet, said owner Caren Watson.

“We have room to offer more styles than ever, and I continually search the markets for the newest and best denim jeans,” she said. “There are lots of factors to consider when someone buys jeans — it’s a very personal decision. So I want to be able to help everyone who comes in the store leave with a style that makes them look and feel good.”

The store’s demographic ranges from 12-year-old girls to 70-year-old men, though most business is done with women ages 16 to 34 and men ages 20 to 40.

Brands include Red Engine, Christopher Blue, Sacred Blue, Farm Girl, AG, Modern Amusement, Jet Lag, Chip & Pepper, Diesel, Paper, Denim & Cloth, Seven for All Mankind, Citizens for Humanity, Dish, Mavi, G-Star, Energie, Blue Cult and Miss Sixty.

The store also carries fashion tops from edgier vendors such as 3 Monkeys, Junk Food, Splendid and Scrapbook Originals, plus shoes from Reef and Diesel.

“The first thing women say when they walk in the door is ‘I’ve been told you can make me look good in a pair of jeans,’” said Watson. “We’re honest with customers and have been known to spend hours working with one customer to find the right style and fit…We ship jeans all over the U.S. We advertise but our best marketing tool has been word-of-mouth. A man in New Jersey calls every few months and orders at least 10 pairs of AG jeans in the same size, style and rinse.”

An average sale at The Jean Connection is about $250 and includes two pairs of jeans and a top or pair of shoes. Retail prices range from $54 to $198.Watson scouts markets across the U.S. for the latest denim styles with a special eye for unique fit properties.

“We’re waiting for our first delivery of James jeans from Los Angeles and I’ve already got a really long customer wait-list for them,” said Watson. “James jeans have angled and pleated back pockets that flatter the rear end. They’ll retail for $140 a pair and will sell quickly. Fit is such an important issue when buying jeans. And that’s one of the reasons we carry so many jeans. There’s something for everyone — and we’re continually adding more lines.” — Rusty Williamson

I.C. Isaacs Trims Loss

I.C. Isaacs & Co., which produces Marithé & François Girbaud jeans in North America, trimmed its losses last year, according to a recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company recorded a net loss of $1.7 million, or 15 cents a diluted share, for the year ended Dec. 31 compared with a loss of $5 million, or 68 cents a share, in 2002. Sales were up 0.6 percent to $66.2 million.

While the overall sales growth for the year was slight, the company noted that sales trends improved through the year, with fourth-quarter revenues coming in at $17.1 million, up 39 percent from $12.3 million a year earlier. In the first two quarters of the year, sales were down, while third-quarter sales had been up less than 1 percent.

Net sales of women’s sportswear were off 6.3 percent to $9 million for the year. The bulk of sales were men’s products.

The firm, now headquartered in New York, did not break out quarter-by-quarter profit figures. Isaacs maintains its administrative headquarters in Baltimore.

The company also noted in the SEC filing that its decline in gross margins resulted “from sales to off-price retailers at reduced selling prices.” It said that during the first quarter it sold “to a mass retailer at gross profit margins significantly below the margins on goods that are sold to department and specialty stores.”

Isaacs, which is majority owned by investment vehicles controlled by François Girbaud, last year named Peter Rizzo, formerly of Bergdorf Goodman, as chief executive officer. — S.M.Embracing Imperfection

When a shopper shells out $200 for a pair of dungarees, she often is expecting to get something close to perfection. But Scott Morrison is betting that some shoppers are really looking for the imperfect.

Morrison — who in February left his post as vice president of sales and marketing at Paper, Denim & Cloth — this week resurfaced with a new jeans line he’s named Earnest Sewn. The California native said the line is inspired by the Japanese aesthetic concept of wabi-sabi, which refers to the beauty of the imperfect.

“Everyone’s trying to really make a perfect jean, so to speak,” he said in a phone interview. “I wanted to try to take a bit of the opposite approach.”

To build imperfection into the line, he’s rethought the way the jeans are constructed, using single-needle sewing machines instead of the typical double-needle models.

“You’ll see crooked stitches, little broken stitches, that hint at the fact that it wasn’t perfectly made,” he said.

He explained that he hoped that imperfection would reinforce to the consumer that the jeans are a handmade, artisanal product. To hammer home that point, the three workers who are primarily responsible for sewing, sanding and wet-processing each pair of jeans will sign them.

There is a heavy focus on hand work — single-needle stitching means it takes twice as long to sew the jeans, and some of the washes take 14 to 16 hours to complete. The denim itself will come from the U.S., Japan and Italy. Morrison said the intensive hand work and high-end fabric justifies the line’s high price points. Wholesale prices start at $82 and retail prices will range from $182 to $240.

“What we really try to do is put as much money into the product as we possibly can and give the consumer a reason to really reach out and embrace it,” he said. “You should have a $180 or $190 product that really inspires people.”

The jeans will be produced in the U.S., in factories around Los Angeles and in Kentucky, Morrison said. He added that he’s only found a small number of contractors he trusts with the product, which limits his potential output to about 20,000 pieces a month and would allow potential volume of $16 million to $20 million.Morrison said his strategy is to keep distribution limited to specialty stores, “Hopefully to be small and special enough that people will notice it.”

Morrison, who is serving as president and designer of the new venture, has also hired two former Paper colleagues. They are Lori Jacobs, who will serve as vice president of sales, and Eleanor Lembo, who will handle public relations and some designing.

At Paper, Morrison was replaced by Chris Gilbert, son of Mudd Inc. president Dick Gilbert. Mudd owns Paper.

The initial run of the Earnest Sewn collection, which includes 20 styles of jeans and one denim skirt, is due to ship by the end of June, Morrison said. He added that in future seasons he plans to integrate tops and other sportswear items into the collection. — Scott Malone

Goa A-Goin’

For the past few years it has seemed that a new company was crowding into the jeans business every month, though some didn’t last that long. Now Los Angeles-based high-end contemporary line Goa is pulling out of the crowded field.

Owner Gerard Medina, who launched a denim collection last spring, is giving up on the fabric for now.

“It’s a difficult animal and there’s too much competition,” he said.

Instead, he has brought on Jacynthe Veillette, the designer behind Jessie USA, to steer the company into T-shirts and sportswear. Launching for fall is a collection of cashmere sweaters. Heavily embellished in Swarovski crystals, beading and embroidery, the sweaters will wholesale around $180. Veillette is also designing a group of T-shirts with sublimations and embroidery that will wholesale for $68. — Nola Sarkisian-Miller

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