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The Denim Dynamic

he boom times for denim has created a hotbed of activity in the junior jeans sector. <br><br>For five years, LEI, Mudd and Paris Blues dominated the market, but today those brands have lots of competition. Lines like Angels and Bongo are climbing the...

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he boom times for denim has created a hotbed of activity in the junior jeans sector.

For five years, LEI, Mudd and Paris Blues dominated the market, but today those brands have lots of competition. Lines like Angels and Bongo are climbing the junior jeans ladder by being trend-oriented, while selling pants for as little as $20.

LEI and Mudd remain as leaders in the category. LEI, which was purchased this year by Jones Apparel Group, racked up $248 million in sales last year, plus an additional $100 million in sales of licensed products. Mudd’s annual wholesale volume is $280 million, which includes royalties from licensed products.

But others are not far behind. Although Angels is only five years old, executives at the company expect to reach $70 million in sales by the end of 2002 and climb to $100 million in 2003. Bongo is already generating sales of more than $100 million.

The New York–based Angels has been focusing on getting the name out there. While advertising wasn’t in the budget at first, the brand appeared in co-op store ads on a regular basis. Also, it developed a recognizable logo that has helped with customer identification.

Building the brand slowly but surely has been the name of the game since the start.

“[If it were] 10 years ago, maybe I’d want to have grown it as big as I could,” Carl Eckhaus, president of the family-owned company told WWD in September. “But we’re satisfied to have slight growth. We’re not looking to expand into other categories. Maybe we’d do it through a license, but not on our own.”

For Los Angeles–based Paris Blues, its about changing with the customer. For example, Lisa Engelman, president of sales, said the firm introduced a new “grown up” logo in order to help the brand appear cleaner and a bit more sophisticated. Style wise, the brand has moved away from heavy washes and treatments and toward a simpler, vintage-inspired look.

Also planning for a classier turn is the New York–based Bongo, a division of the New Rochelle, N.Y.–based Candie’s Inc., which plans to continue its aggressive consumer and trade advertising. Since Candies Inc. purchased the company, it plans to put a major advertising push behind the brand.

For a year, the company has used singer Willa Ford in its ads, which proved successful for the brand, but according to company executives, it plans to move away from the celebrity-clad ads to a more sophisticated look concentrating on the clothes.

In the status-brand realm, Liz Claiborne has developed the DKNY Jeans & Active business for the past five years, while Jones Apparel Group has been working on the Polo Jeans line. Tommy Hilfiger’s jeans line has also found success with junior customers, partly for the prestige of the name brand and partly because of its connection to the music industry.

Most recently, Hilfiger was the title sponsor for last summer’s concerts featuring Santana, Moby and Barry Manilow at the Jones Beach Theater on Long Island in New York. Hilfiger was also a sponsor of the Rolling Stones’ “No Security” tour and the “Tommy Hilfiger Presents Lenny Kravitz: The Freedom Tour.”

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