In 1998, Fortune magazine declared, "If you can't pronounce 'JNCO,' you're hopelessly out of touch." JNCOs—which today stands for "Judge None, Choose One," according to its website, but at one point stood for "Journey of the Chosen Ones," or maybe even the slightly less rebellious “Jeans Co.”—were quintessentially '90s jeans, worn largely (at least at first) by skaters and nonconformists and known for mega-wide leg openings. Though the clothing line enjoyed only fleeting relevance, the clownish silhouettes have been immortalized through regular nostalgia-fueled posts and Onion punchlines. And did we mention, the brand is back with new investors? Here are a few things you might not have known about JNCOs.
1. THE AMERICAN-INSPIRED BRAND WAS FOUNDED BY TWO FRENCH MEN.
JNCO was founded in 1985 by Haim and Yaakov Revah, two media-shy brothers from France who go by "Milo" and "Jacques," respectively. Together, the two operated Revatex, the Los Angeles parent company which began producing mostly private-label apparel for retail chains before eventually introducing JNCOs to the public in 1993. Los Angeles served as an appropriate location for its launch: According to The Los Angeles Times, JNCO was born out of Milo's love for the city's culture—particularly, that of its wide-pant-wearing Latino population he encountered in east Los Angeles neighborhoods. Though the Revahs were born in Morocco and raised in France, they always expressed an interest in American culture. Milo told The Times that among his favorite pastimes was watching reruns of Starsky and Hutch and Charlie's Angels.
2. JNCO ACTIVELY REJECTED "CONVENTIONALISM" THROUGHOUT THE '90s.
From the start, JNCO's mission, according to its website, was to “Challenge conventionalism. Explore the unfamiliar. Honor individuality.” One could argue that JNCO was unwavering on the first part of its mission throughout the '90s, defining itself in opposition to mainstream brands like Levi's. JNCO's target demographic was made abundantly clear through its sponsorships of extreme-sports events, aiming for surfers and skateboarders between 12 and 20 years old. In a 1998 Fortune article, writer Nina Munk speculated that ads taken out in magazines like Electric Ink and Thrasher were there to bait "cool young (mainly white) men." The article also mentioned that Revatex would often hand out free clothes to '90s tastemakers, including extreme athletes Todd "Wild Man" Lyons and Sean Mallard, as well as members of Limp Bizkit and prominent DJs in the rave scene.
3. FOLLOWING THE BANKRUPTCY OF ITS MAIN RETAILER, JNCO EMBRACED A "SUBURBAN" BRAND.
In 1994, JNCO's main retailer, the Joppa, Maryland-based jeans chain Merry-Go-Round, filed for bankruptcy; two years later, it liquidated all of its stores. The Revahs, who had withdrawn all JNCOs merchandise from Merry-Go-Round before the stores liquidated, recruited Steven Sternberg to help rebrand the jeans. Sternberg, a New York retail guru who had made waves working with B.U.M. Equipment—another Los Angeles-based clothing line popular among mall dwellers—told them that "this is not an urban line." He suggested the company should, instead, align itself with surf and skate brands like Billabong and Quiksilver. "We would not sell to stores that carried FUBU or Cross Colours," Sternberg told Racked. "We retooled JNCO from being an urban line to being strictly a suburban line."
4. IN 1997, 10 PERCENT OF PACSUN'S BUSINESS WAS FROM JNCO JEANS.
Its suburban branding in place, JNCO found a fruitful partner in Anaheim's on-the-rise retailer Pacific Sunwear (PacSun). "This [PacSun] management team has great ability to anticipate what's hot," a Baltimore stock analyst told The Wall Street Journal in 1996. The analyst was, of course, speaking of the retailer's recent partnership with JNCO jeans—a move which a later financial report would show was just as lucrative for JNCO as it was for the Anaheim retailer. ''People can go anywhere to buy Levi's,'' Carl Womack, Pacific Sunwear's chief financial officer, told The New York Times in 1997. ''Fashion-oriented kids don't come to us for that. The only way we can distinguish ourselves is with smaller brands. JNCO has gone from almost none of our business to about 10 percent over a period of a year.''
5. THE SECRET TO JNCO'S (SHORT-LIVED) SUCCESS WAS ITS HANDS-ON PROMOTION.
Asked what the secret to their success was in 1997, Tam Miller, vice president of sales and marketing, told The New York Times that it was all about close contact with the customer base. "We pay very close attention to everything they say. In my neighborhood, there is a skating ramp and I go there and bring samples all the time. When I go home, all the kids run around and ask, 'What's new?'" Other accounts confirm this statement to be true: 30-year-old Joseph Janus, who had joined JNCO as director of advertising and marketing, was spotted at a New York rock club, evangelizing to teens with his seemingly relatable jeans and baseball cap. He'd even asked kids to take off their pants and trade them in for JNCOs, according to Ad Age.
6. THERE WAS A TIME WHEN JNCO'S FUTURE LOOKED FAR BRIGHTER THAN LEVI'S.
In a 1997 New York Times article, 18-year-old college student Sam Norris named Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, and JNCOs as his favorite jeans—and declared Levi's officially uncool. "Levi's are sort of, I don't know, outdated or something," he told the paper. Levi Strauss had announced mass layoffs (around 1000 employees, in the Times' estimation) due to slowly growing sales and rising costs. All the while, JNCO's sales were at an all-time high: In 1997, the privately held company's sales were estimated by Ad Age to be between $40 million and $100 million; by 1998—at its peak—JNCO recorded sales of $186.9 million.
7. THEY WERE BANNED FROM ORANGE COUNTY SCHOOLS.
The Los Angeles Times reported in 1998 that Orange County schools were banning wide-leg jeans, putting JNCO and Kikwear on the list of verboten legwear. Administrators told the newspaper that they were fearful of students tripping over the baggy pants, as well as using the extra "yardage" to hide weapons. Some students at the time of the article being published believed the administrative move had subtext—that the pants signified gang affiliation. "They think it's gangster," one student said. "It doesn't matter what you wear. If you look at someone wrong or they don't like you, they're still going to go after you."
8. COUNTERFEIT JNCO JEANS WERE A HUGE PROBLEM IN CHICAGO.
Revatex and PacSun weren't the only ones profiting off of the rise of wide-legged jeans in the '90s. By the mid-'90s, Chicago counterfeiters were taking advantage of the fad, according to The Chicago Tribune. Revatex executives who had flown to Chicago to expand their JNCO market discovered that many stores were already selling pants claiming to be JNCOs. The company was left with no choice but to hire a private-investigation firm to help them take the fakes off the market. "There are literally times when you can't market your products in some cities because counterfeiters have already marketed it," Karl Manders, a chief executive officer who worked with Revatex in their counterfeit battle, told The Tribune.
9. THE SALES OF JNCO JEANS "SAGGED BADLY" IN 1999.
While JNCO had earned its denim crown from 1995 and 1998—with sales climbing from $36 million to $186.9 million—its numbers suffered in the following year. Racked reports that in 1999, sales dipped to $100 million. Consequently, parent company Revatex shut down its Los Angeles facility, leaving 250 workers jobless.
That same year, The New York Times published the deep-dive "Levi's Blues," an investigation into the many lives of the classic denim company. It featured a 16-year-old from Las Vegas, New Mexico who explained that "JNCO [was] more last year": "Now it's more Polo and Tommy Hilfiger and Boss," he said. The writer Hal Espen went on to note that the sales of JNCO jeans had been "sagging badly":
"As my informants at Villa Linda Mall [in Santa Fe, New Mexico] told me, really baggy, the thuggish thing, is fading out, and boys and girls are embracing more of a preppy look. 'Not really a slim, tapered leg,' one boy told me, 'but not going for humongous, either.' Perhaps it's another paradigm shift. That would be cool, wouldn't it?"
10. HOT TOPIC DEEMED JNCOs "UNCOOL."
Cindy Levitt, merchandise manager for Hot Topic, told The Los Angeles Times in 2000 that JNCOs were a little too mainstream for her store's clientele. "You still see JNCO at raves," she said. "But it's a little uncool for our customer. It's at too many doors in the mall." Levitt was speaking to JNCOs growing presence among "pedestrian" shops like J.C. Penney—where, in 1998, JNCO was the top-selling brand among young men—as well as PacSun, Ron Jon Surf Shop and The Buckle.
11. THE WIDEST LEG OPENING ON A PAIR OF JNCO JEANS IS CURRENTLY LISTED AT 50 INCHES.
One of JNCO's popular styles in the '90s was the outrageously proportioned "Crime Scenes" jean. According to the clothing label's official (revived) website, "wearing less than 50[-inch] leg openings would be a crime against fashion, and we won't let that happen." For comparison, their waist sizes only go up to 47 inches.
12. THEY'RE BACK (AND NOT QUITE HOW YOU REMEMBER THEM).
Thanks to the Chinese trading company Guotai Litian—which bought JNCO for seven figures—as well as the cyclical nature of fashion, JNCOs relaunched as an all-purpose denim company last year. This time around, the "unconventional" line looks a little less ... unconventional. While signature wide-legged jeans are still available through the "Heritage collection" in 20 to 23 inches, the company is cashing in on current trends, too—specifically in athleisure. Also, as Joseph Cohen, director of strategic planning at Guotai USA told TODAY, the new line has a different target demographic in mind: “between 20 and 40 years old."