By  on May 24, 2007

Some may think that when it comes to a pair of jeans, the junior shopper wants the impossible — a premium product for $29.99.

While denim makers are finding this idea challenging, they also know that they have to attempt to make a better product in order to stay in the game. After all, with high-end jeans brands like Seven For All Mankind, Citizens of Humanity and J Brand on the radar of today's teens, traditional junior brands like Mudd and L.E.I. have their work cut out for them.

"Some teen girls have been wearing premium jeans for years," said Barbara Bylenga, president of the San Francisco-based research firm Outlaw Consulting. "Wearing these jeans is largely a status symbol for them and I think that the girl who wants them and gets them really isn't going to buy a pair of cheaper jeans on the junior floor."

Bylenga said girls from Generation Y have really gotten good at getting their parents to buy them these status jeans, even if they cost upward of $200 at retail.

"Parents want to make their kids happy and in many cases will do whatever it takes," she said. "An upgraded product from a junior jeans brand may be OK for a more mainstream girl, but I really think it's tough right now."

With that said, Bylenga said she thinks many junior jeans brands are doing a good job with what they have. They have upgraded their quality and still manage to offer their products at value prices.

"It's all about sourcing today," said Alden Halpern, chief executive officer of 4Whatitsworth Inc., the parent company for junior denim brand Tyte. "We source all over the world. We have designers that design the product without a price in mind. That way we get the $150 look and then figure out how we can produce it with good quality for a price."

Halpern said when designing in this way, there's always a little give-and-take. For example, he said many times they may offer a pair of jeans made in a lower-grade fabric, but offset that with a smart embroidery detail, nicer rivets and heavier stitching. This way, he said, the jeans can still be offered at $35. In addition, Halpern said there are ways to make the jeans appear in premium quality, such as with upgrading the logos and packaging and using contrasting fabrics on the inner waistband for good hanger appeal."We cannot underestimate this customer," he said. "She wants a contemporary product at a junior price point. Even though she may not be able to afford contemporary, that's what she wants and she isn't going to buy unless she sees what she wants."

Jay Gorman, chief operating officer and president of sales for Mudd, said offering value in a pair of jeans has been what the company has been about since the beginning. Today, with increased interest in the premium denim sector, Mudd's quality has been upgraded.

"The market has been the same for so long, which is the reason why we needed to create something new and give her a reason to buy our product," Gorman said.

To do that, he said the firm is working on providing jeans that have that premium feel: better quality denim and new tinted washes using baking techniques. These are subtle changes, he said, that make a big difference in the look of the jeans. He said the company's biggest challenge has been to provide product for a series of teens.

"The 12- to 14-year-old wants something different than that 16- to 19-year-old, more sophisticated teen," he said. "But yet, all of these girls are shopping on the junior floor. The key is to be able to target all of these customers and offer a wide range of product."

DKNY Jeans, which has always offered product at a higher price point than some of the more traditional junior brands, has also upgraded its product range and, rather than squeezing that quality into a smaller price point, the brand has gotten rid of its $49 at retail jeans. Today, the DKNY Jeans junior denim assortment runs from $59 to $98 at retail.

"The customer is looking for value," said Janice Sullivan, president of the Liz Claiborne Inc.-owned DKNY Jeans division. "If she sees that we've upgraded and likes the product, she will buy it, just as long as the price isn't that outrageous."

Sullivan said she realizes that this junior customer can easily find a less expensive pair of jeans just across the isle at Mudd or L.E.I., so that's why designers at the company are constantly getting into what the customer wants to see from them."You always have to be on your toes with this customer," she said. "So we really try to separate ourselves by focusing on providing her with great timeless fashion without competing with the moderate brands."

Sullivan said what also helps is to have a young, savvy design team.

"Our designers are completely in-the-know and are everywhere that she is," she said. "They are in the stores, on the Web, listening to their music. It's all a part of getting to know this girl."

In September, DKNY Jeans is trying something new by offering an extensive collection by Pete Wentz of the musical group Fall Out Boy called Clandestine Industries for DKNY Jeans. The line, Sullivan said, is sure to be a hit, since Wentz is increasingly popular and respected among teen girls.

With this increasing interest in premium denim for the junior customer, a few companies are taking the opportunity to enter this market for fall.

"All women want to be fashionable no matter how old they are. The issue is that not all women can afford that fashion," said Andrea Scoli, president of Sweetface Fashions Inc., the parent company for justsweet, a new higher-end junior line from Jennifer Lopez launching at department and specialty stores in July. "We're really filling a void on the junior floor with this brand."

Scoli said her design team has worked on standardizing the fits of the jeans so that when a customer decides she likes the fit of one pair, she can continue to come back for more of the same, just in new colors and washes. Retailing from $59 to $89, Scoli said every element of design that goes into a $200 pair of jeans goes into a pair of justsweet jeans. For example, the curved yoke, or amount of stretch fabric used, is carefully chosen in order to achieve that premium look and feel.

"Age is a state of mind, really," she said. "Teens want to look older — a 16-year-old wants to look 26 and a 36-year-old wants to look 26 — so really, we are targeting the contemporary customer, just at a price the junior girl can afford."Stewart Adler, vice president of A&M Global Manufacturing Co., the parent of brands such as junior sportswear label Coolwear, is another one getting into this sector with C Brand Premium, which will offer premium constructed jeans at a $50 price point. The line is a full denim jeans collection of skinny, straight, boot-cut and wide-leg styles. Each has some element of trendiness — triple-thread stitching, acid washes, crinkled whiskering and embroidered pockets, just to name a few of the treatments.

"These girls really can't afford a pair of True Religions, but they want the look," Adler said. "Because of our relationship with factories in China, we are able to pull off this construction for a great price; not cheap, but a great price."

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