LOS ANGELES — The Guez brothers, who own significant stakes in Tarrant Apparel Group and Azteca Production International, are more closely linking their denim ventures — and fortunes.

Tarrant said Thursday it has expanded its joint venture with Azteca to include production for Express, one of both firms’ largest customers.

The venture, dubbed United Apparel Venture LLC, is 50.1 percent owned by Tag Mex Inc., Tarrant’s Mexican subsidiary, which vertically produces the majority of its orders. Azteca owns the balance, 49.9 percent. The year-old venture already handles business for Tommy Hilfiger Corp.

Gerard Guez, who founded Tarrant in 1985 and is currently its chairman, was traveling in Paris and could not be reached for comment.

Hubert and Paul Guez founded Azteca in 1991 and are co-presidents. Hubert Guez said the Commerce, Calif.-based firm, which produces branded denim under the Joe’s Jeans and Hippie labels as well as private label, will hit $300 million in revenues this year.

"The deal means resources will be shared," Hubert Guez said. "Right now the idea is to use the joint venture for the customers we were competing on."

He said the companies each do roughly the same amount of business with Express.

"Independently, we are the two biggest groups in Mexico for jeans making and together we are the biggest group in the world," Hubert Guez said.

Asked about the possibility of the two companies merging completely, Paul Guez said, "We are talking about it. There are a lot of synergies."

Tarrant reported net sales of $330 million in fiscal 2001, according to its annual report. That year, The Limited business, including Express, represented 22.8 percent of net sales, or roughly $75 million. Tommy Hilfiger business represented 7.8 percent of net sales, or approximately $25 million.

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