Junior Jeans Brands Stand Their Ground

Junior denim vendors are being challenged more than ever to entice customers because of major shifts in the business landscape.

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Junior denim vendors are being challenged more than ever to entice customers because of major shifts in the business landscape.

Teens are heading to the contemporary departments for their jeans, the U.S. economy is weakened and there is heightened competition on the selling floor. Even the roster of the top three junior denim brands in the sector — Mudd, Paris Blues and L.E.I. — has been shaken up by Jones Apparel Group's decision in February to move L.E.I. into Wal-Mart for the back-to-school season after almost five years of falling sales.

That shift will create more room in department and specialty stores, which vendors said gives them a chance to showcase some of what they have to offer to attract teens to the junior floor.

"The junior customer generally looks to the contemporary market for direction and inspiration," said Kevin Monogue, president of DKNY Jeans. "That is the aspirational point, so creating an assortment that reflects those trends and that quality while maintaining your brand identity and a great price is important. It cannot just be any one thing anymore. The brand has to mean something, the clothes have to be right, the price has to be competitive."

To help propel that vision, DKNY Jeans will launch a brand for fall under the design direction of actress Rachel Bilson. The line, Edie Rose for DKNY Jeans, will offer the junior customer the same quality that DKNY Jeans offers, but with a more fashion-forward edge.

"The customer and the environment do not allow you to play it safe," Monogue said. "We must constantly innovate, create ways of connecting to her lifestyle, where she lives, what she loves, what she listens to, etc. Our customer looks to [Rachel] for inspiration and she is providing it through the lens of our brand. It is also in limited edition, which inspires the customer because she wants something special that cannot be had by all."

Jack Gross, chief executive officer of Jones' denim and junior businesses, was responsible for overhauling L.E.I. for the 2007 b-t-s season, but a difficult juniors retail environment hampered sales, which eventually opened up the company to a relationship with Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer.
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