NEW YORK — Early reorders on summery miniskirts and cropped capris — at a time when the denim business typically slows — has given jeans firms a bullish outlook on the critical back-to-school season.
Demand for the standby fabric makes them confident that when the weather cools, teen shoppers will be out in force seeking jeans.
For fall, trends are shifting in jeans, back to the Eighties, as narrow straight-leg shapes in basic washes, paint-splattered styles and vintage-looking ripped and torn jeans enter the picture. Junior jeans makers are also paying close attention to detail, as more premium denim brands launch — and seem to be after their teen customer.
At stake is a claim on the $4 billion junior apparel market, according to research firm The NPD Group.
“Teens are buying one pair of jeans from a higher-end line when they used to spend that money on three or four pairs of jeans from this market,” said Howard Jacobs, president of Blue Taboo, which is based here and is launching for fall retailing with several of those Eighties flavors, like rips and splatters. “So now we are competing with that.”
Jacobs already has a wide range of experience in the denim market, producing private label for such brands as Ecko Unlimited, Silver Jeans, Alloy and Abercrombie & Fitch. To launch Blue Taboo, Jacobs hired former Jill Stuart Jeans designer Cecelia Anton to design the junior denim collection. For fall, the brand is offering an array of styles, some made in heavier-weight denim weighing 14 oz. a square yard. The collection includes basic five-pocket jeans with pintucked detail on the pockets, several corduroy pants styles, as well as a variety of miniskirts. Blue Taboo is also offering a denim miniskirt with a clear plastic pocket — perfect for a photo of the customer’s boyfriend. Jacobs said he expects to bring in between $2 million and $3 million in the first year.
Los Angeles-based Hot Kiss is also drawing on an Eighties inspiration for fall.
“To us, it’s retro, but a lot of today’s teens were born after the Eighties were over,” said Moshe Tsabag, chief executive of the $48 million Hot Kiss brand. “To them, this is entirely new.”
Tsabag said he is offering new denim styles for the b-t-s season. The look for the season includes straight-leg jeans, made with 12.5-oz. denim. He said because the fabric is thicker than what he had used previously, he is able to experiment with more washes and treatments.
“The heavier fabric creates a whole new look in denim. We are able to blast it and grind it without it ripping,” he explained. “The result is a better quality product that some brands sell for $100 or more, and we are selling for $48 at retail.”
Alden Halpern, president and ceo at L.A.-based Tyte, said his business is up 30 percent over last year, bringing the company’s volume to about $60 million. He said he believes he has had a successful year because he has made his line appear more high end.
“We came up with a strategy to bring fashion denim at lower prices,” he said of his wholesale range, which runs from $10 to $20.
Halpern said cuffed capris and pleated denim miniskirts are selling well. He said the company only offered a limited variety of shorts, however, and he said these have been disappointing. For fall, Halpern expects to do good business with five-pocket basics and cuffed-bottom jeans.
Tyte is also planning an aggressive advertising push for fall, Halpern said.
“We will advertise in trade and consumer magazines and do a lot of giveaway promotions for back-to-school,” he said. “We are really going to push to attach our brand to the consumer.”
Halpern said he will also open a new New York showroom at 1407 Broadway. The space will be 3,800 square feet, which is 2,500 square feet larger than the previous one.
Steve Sorrow, vice president and director of marketing at the junior and young men’s denim firm Plugg, here, said he also sees significant growth in the premium denim business and he, too, hopes to grab a piece of it.
Being in business for eight years, with only the past two years in the junior business, Sorrow said his denim offerings are getting slimmer in fit, with simple washes and styles.
“In the urban business, the customer has always wanted fancier washes and treatments,” he said. “[Urban makers] did and still do sell those embroideries, but even that market seems to be cleaning up its denim.”
Just this year, the $100 million brand began placing ads in magazines, as well as sponsoring activities of interest to teens, like sporting events and concerts.
“The initial campaign really gets our name out there,” he said. “We are anxious for the brand awareness and recognition.”
Hala Jbara, director of marketing at Pepe Jeans, a junior denim firm here, said the company plans to add a higher-end junior collection for holiday selling. Jbara said she is a member of the Jebara family, which owns the company, but spells her last name differently from the rest of the family .
“Growth in the denim business has not stopped at all, it has been consistently growing,” she said of the $175 million brand. “Customers are still looking for the product in the stores, so it’s important that the retailers stay confident.”
For fall, Pepe is offering a range of washes for its basic boot-cut, five-pocket styles. Jbara said the company has always offered a narrow-leg style, but for fall, she sees retailers picking it up more. This season, the company has put a twist on narrow jeans in the form of zipper details.
“The slimmer styles with heels look great…with boots, it’s less fabric to have to tuck in,” she said.
Peter Kossoy, ceo of Younique Jeans, here, said his denim business is looking much stronger than it did at this point last year, largely because of the spurt in capri sales and miniskirts. For fall, he’s selling corduroy pants washed in such denim-like treatments as acid wash. He said he sells $50 million a year in denim garments.
Dollhouse president Albert Shehebar said the denim business is holding up well, with sales up from this time last year. The Manhattan-based maker said jeans have become cleaner, without heavy washing and sanding. Whiskers appear lighter than they used to. He’s also offering dark denim jeans, left in their natural state, without any treatments or washes.
“Denim is about 80 percent of our business right now,” he said, “and we hope to increase that percentage, since it continues to perform so well.”