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.
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
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.
Schools Started Banning JNCOs In Fear That Students Might Hide Weapons In Them
JNCO jeans weren’t just catching the attention of teens across the US. Parents, schoolteachers, and law enforcement alike all began to develop their own opinions of the increasingly popular jeans for a range of reasons, though they were all focused on one thing: safety.
Aside from their rather unique visual appeal, the jeans weren't considered especially practical. Teens fitted in these oversized garments were prone to tripping, which served as a hazard for themselves and those around them. Plus, schools around the nation began to grow concerned by how roomy the pants were and suspected they could easily be used to conceal various types of weapons. To add to the concerns, school administrators also began to suspect associations between the brand and organized delinquent activity.
As a result, schools steadily began banning JNCO jeans under the pretense of safety.
Sales Dropped Sharply By The Turn Of The Century
Leaving behind its distribution partnership with Merry-Go-Round at first worked wonders for the JNCO brand. But by the end of 1998, JNCO had become inundated with orders from new and existing customers to the point that it began falling behind on its fulfillment - and fast.
Before the company could adjust its strategies, it had already missed a number of shipping deadlines for the autumn back-to-school seasonal push. This in turn led to the product being marked down as soon as it hit shelves, since JNCO had missed the mad rush for school clothes shopping. To make matters worse, wide-leg jeans were also working their way out of consumers' systems, and the demand just wasn't there anymore.
Essentially from that moment on, JNCO's trajectory was in a financial and cultural downward spiral.