Lisa Rudes-Sandel didn't think of herself as a big woman, but the tight, low-rise jeans that are aimed at teens and 20-somethings didn't quite fit her 41-year-old, size-8 body.
She found herself having to go up a size or more to squeeze into a pair, but even then the fit did not exactly complement her figure.
She didn't buy the jeans and then, Rudes-Sandel went one better. She designed her own.
"A woman like myself wants to be fashionable," said Rudes-Sandel, president of Los Angeles denim company SLL Inc. "I decided to come up with a jean that would not only appeal to me, but my friends who are like me."
The result was the Tummy Tuck Jean, a slightly higher rise denim pants with crisscross paneling in the front pockets that cinch fuller stomachs.
The jeans, which sell from $88 to $120 a pair, have become Nordstrom Inc.'s No. 1 selling item on its Web site and are on pace to generate $6 million in sales this year for SLL, a two-year-old company that sells Not Your Daughter's Jeans. The company's previous pants, which also are aimed at older women's fuller figure, don't have all the girdle-like features of the Tummy Tuck.
Other jeans makers are getting in the act, such as Suddenly Slim'r jeans by Commerce-based City Girl Inc. and Perfection jeans by New York-based FRx Clothing LLC. It's all part of an effort to accommodate older women who have the income and desire to buy expensive stylish jeans, but not their daughters' waistlines.
"Missier companies are going, 'I want a piece of that action,'" said Lori Holliday Banks, an analyst at New York-based fashion and retail consulting firm Tobe Report.
Jamie Ng, a manager at the Carlsbad boutique Moonbeams, said that she is frequently re-ordering the Tummy Tuck because of demand among women in their 50s. "It is nice to find one that has the look of a younger jean, but the fit of a more conservative person," she said.
The jeans also have been a big hit at Slater & Sloane Inc., a San Juan Capistrano women's clothing store. "I happen to have a pair on right now," said owner Irene Himes, who is 66. "It is the best fitting jean I have ever worn. It stretches nicely to the body. It is just a lot more comfortable."
Developing the Tummy Tuck Jean was a labor of love for Rudes-Sandel, but it was not a simple process. A big stumbling block: getting the right mix of materials.
One of the tricks in creating a comfortable jean was adding 4 percent Lycra to the pants leg to give it some stretch. The upper part of the jean had to be more rigid so the Lycra was eliminated there.
The jeans are sold with only an 8-inch and 9-inch rise between the crotch and waist. Anything less and the cinching effect (or tummy tuck) is lost. But just making the upper jean less stretchy with a higher rise did not provide sufficient tuck, so the company's designer experimented with various front pocket placements. They settled on one that also had a panel of extra cloth in a crisscross design along the interior.
A model with the average body of a woman over 30 tried on the jeans dozens of times to make sure it squeezed in the right places. "It is a lot of work, a lot of back and forth. It tucks your tummy in like a girdle would do, but it is not a girdle," said Rudes-Sandel, who has patented the paneling that she claims takes a woman down at least one size.
Holliday Banks said jean companies are always testing new ways to distinguish themselves from the pack and slimming elements are one way to carve out a brand niche even though in the end it might be more about marketing.
"What (SLL) has done is really to play into that need of women of a certain age that would really like to wear hot-looking jeans, but want some control in them," Holliday Banks said.
Like the Tummy Tuck Jeans, City Girl's Suddenly Slim'r jeans, which are a style of the company's Nancy Bolen denim line, have front paneling to trim a women's body. The exact design of the jean is still being refined as City Girl readies the pants for the upcoming spring season.
Olivia Perilman, City Girl's marketing director, said the company noticed high demand for stomach-flattening when one of its products with a slimming feature called the Magic Waist sold well. "Everybody wants to look smaller than they are. There is definitely a market out there," Perilman said.
Guy Kinberg, president of FRx Clothing LLC in New York, took a different approach with his company's Perfection jeans. Instead of smoothing the stomach, the Perfection line addresses a women's backside with internal nylon paneling that goes from the waist to the calf.
"If they are sort of flat in the butt, this will definitely enhance their butt. If they are a little older and they don't work out, there is a tightening effect," explained Kinberg.
Perfection jeans began selling in Bloomingdale's in February for $190, and the company is now expanding the store base.
It's not just slimming jeans that are vying for the older female customer. The hot premium jean market in general has prompted companies such as Liz Claiborne Inc. to get into the higher-price point market.
"There was this perception that once you hit a certain age, you didn't wear jeans anymore unless you were gardening in your backyard," said Holliday Banks. But that's changed as baby boomer women used to dressing in the latest styles get older.
Still, it's only a tiny sliver of the premium denim market, itself only most about 4 percent the nearly $7 billion denim market. And there is concern about a jean glut. But Rudes-Sandel says she isn't worried and notes that her sales figures are the best indicator demand won't slack any time soon. "Women today are so much more vain," she said.
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