By  on September 13, 2011

MALIBU, Calif. — With the return this month of its original designer and a rededication to a heritage steeped in vintage Americana, premium jeans brand Earnest Sewn is looking to achieve ambitious goals for the future while borrowing from what’s worked for it in the past.

The New York-based company has brought back Benjamin Talley Smith, who served as its designer from 2005 to 2009, as creative director. It also has a new principal investor and chief executive officer, Benoit Briere, focused on stabilizing the wholesale business and increasing its retail presence.

“We can take it to the next level,” Smith said during a visit to the brand’s store at the Country Mart here.

Earnest Sewn expects to generate $15 million to $18 million in wholesale sales this year, with total revenues, including stores, expected to reach between $20 million and $25 million. It aims to grow total sales by 20 to 30 percent next year. Women’s makes up 40 percent of Earnest Sewn’s volume, a figure the company aims to raise to 50 percent.

After leaving Earnest Sewn in 2009, Smith worked at Rag & Bone and Helmut Lang and reteamed with Earnest Sewn co-founder Scott Morrison to revive Evisu and help launch Morrison’s current venture, 3x1. Since rejoining Earnest Sewn on Sept. 1, he’s been quick to develop new styles, including women’s skinny jeans in sateen denim, for the spring collection. Taking advantage of the company’s Los Angeles production base, he also wants to fast-track quick-turn styles such as $198 skinny jeans with a waxed resin coating and 3-D whiskers slated to ship as early as Oct. 30.

“Over the past couple of years [at Earnest Sewn], they haven’t evolved as quickly as the market has,” said Smith, who oversees denim designer Kearstin Nuckles. “The Earnest Sewn aesthetic is going to stay the same, as an Americana brand. I want to update it.”

Smith also wants to revisit some earlier successes. To complement the main line that sells for $178 to $198, he’s keen on adapting a former premium concept called AEC&S for women, with retail prices running between $198 and $250. Next fall, the company plans to relaunch its custom-design business in certain stores, allowing customers to tweak rivets, thread colors and fits to their liking for jeans priced at $500 to $800. The custom designs were last offered in spring 2010.

Briere said, “It makes the shopping experience more interesting for our customers.”

A private equity investor whose past enterprises have included telecom and artificial turf, Briere bought a 50 percent stake in Earnest Sewn a year ago and became ceo later in the year. Marred in the past by late deliveries to retailers, the company hired a new production manager. Briere also made a point to visit key retailers such as Nordstrom, Barneys New York and Bloomingdale’s for presentations and beef up its system for replenishing best-selling styles.

“The company needed to provide a very relevant product line for the marketplace [and] needed to be very diligent in the way it produced and shipped its product,” said Briere.

New branded stores are also in the works with a target of 10 by the end of next year. In addition to its current roster of three stores — in Malibu and in the Meatpacking District and Lower East Side of New York — it’s opening another in Fashion Island Mall in Newport Beach, Calif., at the end of this month and hopes for a unit on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood by year’s end. It hopes to bring its Americana approach to stores in Chicago, Miami and London in 2012.

“We believe expanding retail for Earnest Sewn is a key component to its success,” Briere said. “We feel a growth opportunity.”

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