The Rise, Fall, And Wide-Leg Legacy Of JNCO Jeans

Anyone who happened to grow up in the 1990s will surely remember the sudden rise - and fall - of the JNCO jeans empire. From elementary school yards to high school hallways, JNCO wide-leg jeans rapidly took up more and more space in the world of fashion, acting as both a statement of social status and of subtle angst-driven rebellion. However, after an unanticipated fashion shift and a number of financial panics, JNCO's popularity lost momentum almost as quickly as it rose. So, what happened to JNCO jeans, anyway?

Originally developed in 1985 by two French brothers, Jacques Yaakov Revah and Haim Milo Revah, JNCO ("Journey of the Chosen Ones" or "Judge None, Choose One") started out as a brand aimed at attracting youth subcuture, from skaters to ravers and X-Treme Sports fanatics. But the wider their jeans became, the wider their potential youth market became, too. As if overnight, the brand had grown exponentially, with demand for the jeans hitting the shelves of far more distributers than anticipated. And, like Icarus flying too close to the sun, JNCO plummeted more suddenly than either of the Revah brothers could have anticipated. 

Despite its apparent downfall in the late '90s, the brand has made a few comebacks since, the latest resurgence being as recent as the summer of 2019 with the help of, among other things, celebrity endorsement and nostalgia.

  • The Wide-Leg Jeans Concept Was Inspired By Latino Fashion In East LA
    Photo: JNCO Jeans

    The Wide-Leg Jeans Concept Was Inspired By Latino Fashion In East LA

    The Revah brothers came from a legacy of denim-based entrepreneurship. Their father was a prominent French businessman with a knack for selling denim while the boys were growing up. So, when Jacques and Haim began to set their sights on the US fashion market, they were well prepared. 

    In 1985, the Revah brothers used the $200,000 they had in savings to open up a manufacturing company by the name of Revatex, which primarily produced clothing for a popular teen retailer called Merry-Go-Round. Revatex, which soon became known as JNCO, began to shift its design focus to its now well-known wide-leg style once it established itself in the US market.

    But this design shift wasn't by chance. Haim, who had a particular obsession with Los Angeles streetwear fashion, was first inspired to widen the legs of JNCO jeans when he noticed the fashion preferences of Latino men in East Los Angeles, who wore their jeans much more loosely than was trendy in the mainstream culture at the time. After observing and taking note of the style choices of this cultural demographic, he slowly began to incorporate it into the design cut for JNCO as we know it today.

  • JNCO Hired Graffiti Artists To Design Murals - And Even Its Own Logo
    Photo: JNCO Jeans

    JNCO Hired Graffiti Artists To Design Murals - And Even Its Own Logo

    After establishing its new jean design direction - incorporating a vast range of leg diameter cuts between 26" and 69" -  JNCO had to create a branding style that would attract its target teen audience. By looking into the skater, raver, and X-Treme Sports subcultures, JNCO decided to incorporate another form of street culture into its brand in the form of graffiti art.

    First, the company hired a few graffiti artists to test out the effectiveness of painting murals featuring JNCO jeans nearby places teens were known to congregate. When this turned out to be wildly successful, JNCO began to incorporate more of the graffiti art style into its branding, even hiring an established graffiti artist named Joseph Montalvo, or "Nuke," to create JNCO's now-instantly recognizable crown logo.

    The brand also began to add "graffiti appliqués on the back pockets" and gave jeans individual, taggable names, such as "Mammoth" and "Crime Stealer," in an effort to attract their expanding base of target consumers.

  • Part Of The Logic Was Figuring Out How To Fit Spray Paint Cans Into Jean Pockets
    Photo: JNCO Jeans

    Part Of The Logic Was Figuring Out How To Fit Spray Paint Cans Into Jean Pockets

    When first developing the extra wide-leg pants, Haim took various key cultural fashion trends that were popular in Los Angeles at the time and incorporated them into the designs. In addition to pulling from popular Latino styles from East LA, he also incorporated the styles of graffiti artists from around the city, at one point allegedly asking himself, "How do [the artists] fit their spray cans?"

    Referring, of course, to the classically designed jean pockets, which are far too small to carry anything as large as a spray paint can. Haim determined that there might just be a market for wider-legged jeans with pockets large enough to fit a spray paint can or two. And he was right.

  • JNCOs Initially Caught On With Skaters, Ravers, And X-Treme Sports Crowds
    Photo: JNCO Jeans

    JNCOs Initially Caught On With Skaters, Ravers, And X-Treme Sports Crowds

    When JNCO first released its super wide-leg pants in the early ‘90s, it was almost exclusively via a retail giant called Merry-Go-Round, which was a goal post in the mass-produced teen fashion industry of the time.

    By utilizing exposure through the retailer's nearly 1,500 stores nationwide, JNCO saw a quick uptick in sales among a very specific clientele. Young men, particularly those who were interested in skating, raves, and X-Treme Sports, were drawn to the JNCO brand, embracing its subculture-esque aesthetic and abandoning the tighter, mainstream jean options of the decade.

    This subtle act of fashion rebellion was short-lived, but during its heyday it became a telltale fashion trait for ravers particularly - and, of course, angsty teens.

  • JNCO Aligned With Skate And Surf Brands And Went Full Suburban Mainstream 
    Photo: JNCO Jeans

    JNCO Aligned With Skate And Surf Brands And Went Full Suburban Mainstream 

    Just as JNCO was establishing its footing in the US denim retail market, its primary sales outlet, Merry-Go-Round, hit some severe growing pains. Having piggybacked, at least in part, on the rapid success of the JNCO partnership, Merry-Go-Round ended up opening too many new stores too quickly, resulting in the company falling behind on payments and filing for bankruptcy in January 1994. Even with this last-ditch effort to regain its footing, Merry-Go-Round was forced to close all 1,500 of its retail stores within a few months of filing.

    This left JNCO in hot water, as Merry-Go-Round had been the primary distributor for the majority of the brand's lifecycle. So, before Merry-Go-Round could close the last of its locations, the Revah brothers pulled all of their remaining product and reached out to a man named Steven Sternberg, a well-established retail sales professional, to help change the course of the JNCO brand.

    This course correction changed JNCO's target customer from angsty urban youth to mainstream suburban youth. By 1996, the JNCO brand did an apparent 180-degree turn, no longer targeting the skater-raver crowd that had brought it success, but instead aligning with more traditional, mall-approved brands like Billabong, Quiksilver, PacSun, and Hot Topic. Gone were the days of seeing JNCO jeans sold alongside brands like FUBU and Cross Colours.

  • JNCO’s ’90s Prime Peaked In 1998, With $187M In Sales
    Photo: JNCO Jeans

    JNCO’s ’90s Prime Peaked In 1998, With $187M In Sales

    After breaking ties with their previous retail distributor, the Revah brothers saw a sudden resurgence in popularity for their JNCO jeans brand. The vast availability of these wide-leg fashion statement pieces led more retailers to begin vying for distribution deals with JNCO. As a result, sales began to skyrocket. By 1998, JNCO increased its sales and profit margin, ending the year with around $187 million in sales.

    This huge increase in sales was also due, in part, to the fact that JNCO had opened up a garment factory in Los Angeles. Because of this, the company was able to fill orders far more quickly than its competitors, which relied on garment production abroad.