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In the Jeans

Everyone's mad about premium jeans--and entrepreneurs are making crazy profits.

For some consumers, it's the fashion equivalent of a symphony: a well-packaged derrière, a wash that rivals the night sky after rain, a shape that stops traffic. For others, it's a sign of prosperity that's within reach. For still others, it's an ode to celebs such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Britney Spears and other premium-denim devotees.

The premium jeans market, which includes brands such as Rock & Republic, Serfontaine, and 7 for All Mankind, help to account for 3 percent of the $11 billion jeans market, according to the latest research from the "Lifestyle Monitor," an ongoing survey from Cotton Inc., the Cary, North Carolina-based research and promotion company that supports the cotton industry. Men and women alike aren't thinking twice about plunking down $150 or more for the perfect pair-or in some cases, pairs-of jeans. Even old favorites like Calvin Klein, which will debut a retail line of premium denim this spring, are getting in on the trend.

"Premium jeans are here to stay," says Lukus Eichmann, 21-year-old co-founder of Los Angeles based Saddlelite Jeans Co., one of a number of upscale women and men's denim companies impressing shoppers at Barney's, Fred Segal, Maxfield and 30-plus select stores internationally. "Fit is the primary concern, and quality would follow that."

"These people are willing to spend that because it's something they wear all the time," adds cofounder Daniel Green, also 21, who says he started Saddlelite in 2003 to get the kind of silhouette he could only find in the women's department.

In fact, Cotton Inc.'s research reveals that both men and women alike own an average of eight pairs of jeans apiece, with different looks for different occasions. "Premium denim will stick around for a while," affirms Claire Dupuis, Cotton Inc.'s senior trend forecaster. "What's important about premium denim to the people buying it is the fit."

But as makers of less-expensive denim work to improve the fit of their jeans, to keep premium denim at a premium price, high-end jeans companies need to appeal to consumer tastes without becoming too mainstream. Saddlelite, for one, is focusing on steady growth, developing customer loyalty and being selective about where they sell-and, of course, that ever-important fit. Says Eichmann, "That's one thing any jeans company has to continually work on."

Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.

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This article was originally published in the January 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: In the Jeans.

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