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HOW I MADE IT: JEFFREY LUBELL

His True Religion jeans are a cult classic

Jeffrey Lubell's brand didn't catch on with shoppers at first. But when he began giving away pairs of his premium denim, including to sales associates -- that's when a turnaround began.

February 01, 2009|Andrea Chang

The gig: Chairman and chief executive of True Religion Apparel Inc., a Vernon-based clothing company best known for its premium denim. True Religion Brand Jeans retail for $172 to nearly $500 a pair and can be found at upscale department stores, specialty boutiques, the company's own retail locations and online. True Religion went public in 2003 and is expecting last year's revenue to total about $265 million.

Background: Grew up on Long Island and in Brooklyn, N.Y., and moved to Los Angeles when he was 21. After more than two decades working in the textile industry and at various denim brands, financial records show, he incorporated the business that became True Religion in 2002.

Personal: Divorced with three sons, ages 15, 14 and 11.

First job: Lifeguard at a hotel swimming pool in Catskill, N.Y., when he was 15.

Got the idea: Wanted to launch his own brand of jeans that were comfortable, stylish and looked different from other premium denim labels. "I didn't want to follow the trend, I wanted to create my own trend," Lubell, 52, said. True Religion jeans are often made with flaps on the pockets, twisted seams and large, multicolored stitching.

Getting started: Shipped 24 pairs of men's jeans to the Fred Segal boutique on Melrose Avenue after persuading the store's vice president of menswear to carry his product. When only two pairs sold in the first month, he gave sales associates his jeans for free and asked them to wear the clothes in the store. "I went back a few days later, and my 22 pairs of jeans weren't there anymore," Lubell said. He continued giving away his jeans to people around the world.

The name game: The self-described hippie considered several names for his company, including Cost of Freedom, Revolution and Relic, before settling on True Religion. "To me it meant there's many religions in the world, but there's only one real religion -- and that's people. And all the people in the world wear jeans."

Most surreal moment: Seeing photos of Kate Hudson wearing True Religion jeans in an issue of Vogue. Soon, several other celebrities, including Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Lopez, were spotted wearing the jeans.

First big purchase: A house in Malibu.

Any apologies for high price tags? "My brand has almost been like the success of Studio 54, where it's not for everybody, even though I would love it to be. It's like being in the club."

Retail in a recession: "I see opportunity in times like this," he said. "When other people are failing, I'm filling the void, so to speak. I'm not sitting on my hands and saying, 'I have a great brand -- great.' I'm always constantly evolving, innovating and looking ahead. . . . Times like this will pass."

Best way to tell a knockoff pair of True Religion jeans: "You buy it on the street or EBay or any of these websites for an inexpensive price, 9 out of 10 times it's a counterfeit," he said.

Daydream job: Stand-up comedian. "I love accents, so when I go to Italy, I love to talk Italiano and I speak to everyone in their accents so they understand," Lubell joked. "All I do is put an '-a' at the end of everything."

Advice: "Don't follow my footsteps. Follow what drives you from the inside, follow your passion, follow your dreams. Work hard seven days a week, 24/7, and never take no for an answer."

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andrea.chang@latimes.com

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