Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — Earl Jeans is taking off in Europe.
The company was founded in Los Angeles in January 1996 by Suzanne Costas and her husband, Ben Freiwald, but entered the European market only a year ago. Its growth since has been fast-paced, and it now is in about 100 doors in 12 countries. This compares with 150 in the U.S. and about 100 in Japan.
Bonnie Tackhar, who brought the line to Europe and is now the London-based chief executive of Earl Jeans Europe, said she could have flooded the market with the product by going for mass distribution through denim stores. Instead, she adopted a more selective strategy that positioned Earl Jeans as a designer brand.
“From the beginning, our strategy was to go into high-end boutiques that carry such other lines as Giorgio Armani, Prada and Gucci, and sell them three or four pairs of Earl Jeans,” said Tackhar. “We generally are the lowest price point in those shops and give them a denim line that is approachable, since our jeans sell for $150 in every country we are in.”
The result has been incredibly strong sales figures. Earl Jeans has a consistent 96 to 98 percent sell-through at each of its European doors, with shipments tending to sell out within two weeks, Tackhar said. The company’s European reorder business is up 50 percent so far this spring. Best-selling items are its basic 55 jean and the stretch version called 44.
“We ship to Harvey Nichols every week, but they still have 500 people on a waiting list for a pair,” Tackhar said.
Tina Lamb, junior buyer for women’s wear at Harvey Nichols, admitted the store is somewhat surprised at the continuing success of Earl Jeans.
“Initially, we thought it would last maybe one or two seasons, but there is no sign that it’s dying out,” she said of Earl’s performance. “It’s a phenomenon. It has a great cut that’s slim and sexy, and they’ve also developed the collection a lot with leather jeans, dresses, shirts and stretch cord.”
Earl Jeans will sell about 50,000 to 60,000 pairs of jeans in Europe this year, including about 40,000 pairs of the 55 style, Tackhar said. She declined to reveal sales by value, but the unit volume figures indicate sales of about $2.8 million to $3.3 million at wholesale.
The company’s largest single market for spring/summer is the U.K., where it’s carried by such stores as Harvey Nichols, Liberty, Mimi, Shop, The Cross and Whistles. But for fall and winter, Tackhar said Germany will become the company’s largest market, mainly because it is a more populous country than Britain.
While the European strategy is similar to the company’s plan in the U.S., Tackhar said there is a major difference in that Earl Jeans is carried mainly by department stores in America. But most European countries, except for the U.K., don’t have a strong department-store culture, so the only alternative is to work with independent boutiques.
“Every major European city has high-end, exclusive, multibrand stores that generate lots of press for themselves, like Colette and Maria Louisa in Paris, and Shop, Mimi and Koh Samui in London,” she said. “When the customer goes in and sees the brand, it creates a frenzy.”
“The reason Earl has been successful is that it is in every single Harvey Nichols in Europe and we hit them all at the same time, which gave us a splash,” said Tackhar, who previously worked with Nicole Farhi and Donna Karan.
The brand’s success means it can be selective and demanding when it comes to choosing retail partners. Tackhar said she identifies the two or three stores in each major city where she wants to place Earl Jeans and then works with only those stores.
“Our philosophy is to work with retailers to develop our business deeper within those stores and service the hell out of them,” she said. “It’s different from the usual approach in this industry, where everyone is focused on sell, sell, sell.”
But Tackhar plans to expand the company’s distribution gradually from here on. She sees the potential to add another 80 to 100 doors in Europe, but hasn’t set a time limit as to when this has to happen.
To better service reorders, Earl Jeans will begin using a consolidated warehouse in the U.K. later this year. This means it no longer will have to wait for shipments from the U.S. to resupply its stocks.