Reflecting a growing national trend, Bugle Boy Industries Inc. has launched an aggressive bid to enter the school uniform market.

The Simi Valley-based sportswear firm has inked a licensing agreement in which New York-based kidswear manufacturer Lollytogs Ltd. will create elementary, middle and high school uniforms bearing the popular Bugle Boy brand name.

"We see it as a large, growing market," said Howard Finelt, Bugle Boy's vice president of licensing. "As school boards begin moving towards (mandating uniforms), we want to be a part of it."

With many of the nation's schools stung by problems of truancy, drugs and vandalism, more and more educators are turning to uniforms as a way of restoring discipline among their students. The idea has been embraced by President Clinton and other national leaders.

In 1994, the Long Beach Unified School District became the first of the country's 16,000 school districts to require uniforms in elementary and middle schools. The following year, school officials reported that school crime had fallen by 36 percent.

Since then, almost half the states have passed laws allowing school districts to require students to wear uniforms. Finelt said all 50 states are expected to have similar laws on the books by the end of the century.

In Los Angeles, about 300 of the L.A. Unified School District's 650 K-12 schools require their students to wear uniforms, according to LAUSD spokesman Pat Spencer.

The increasing popularity of school uniforms is remaking the school uniform industry, which until recently has been the province of small, specialty manufacturers and retailers.

The Bugle Boy deal reflects those changes. Under the company's new licensing agreement, the uniforms will be designed, manufactured and shipped by Lollytogs, and marketed under the Bugle Boy brand name.

The uniforms will be sold in a number of national retail chains, including Mervyns, Sears and Kids 'R' Us.

Bugle Boy will receive royalties on sales. Both firms are privately owned and they declined to state the specific terms of the agreement.

Lollytogs is best known for its French Toast line of children's sportswear, which is sold in mass market, discount retail chains, such as Wal-Mart.

But Lollytogs also has been making school uniforms under the French Toast label for the past decade, and has experienced a doubling of sales every year for the past three years, said Lara Wegard, Lollytogs' marketing coordinator.

The Bugle Boy deal means a significant boost for the company's profile, Wegard said.

"It's a great opportunity to hit the middle tier of retailers in the uniform business," she said.

Under California law, school districts may require uniforms as long as parents are given adequate notification and students who cannot afford the items are assisted in getting them. Even in districts with mandatory policies, parents can have their children exempted from the uniform requirement.

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