The denim gold rush of recent history has been a lot like that of the music business: once an indie band — or brand —shows promise and profits, the big guns come out to make a deal.It happened between Earl Jean and Nautica, Lucky Brand Dungarees and Liz Claiborne Inc. In Los Angeles, the denim central for manufacturing and brands, the buzz is on for who’s next.

This story first appeared in the December 31, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“In the denim market, where barriers to entry are quite low, there are scores of emerging companies in California,” said Brien Rowe, managing director at Santa Monica, Calif.,-based Sage Group, which brokered the acquisition of Earl by Nautica last year. “Many produce a great product, but fewer actually manage to gain traction and rise above the fray of small players. As far as acquisition attractiveness, a product needs to have become a true brand.”

Among the brands observers (including Sage) believe are reaching true blue status: Los Angeles-based Juicy Jeans and Joie; and the high-end line owned by New York-based Mudd Inc., Paper, Denim and Cloth.