Brooklyn-made designer jeans are taking on the big-name competition

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Pillaged warehouses and windowless brownstones line the streets of the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. But in the midst of this urban desert is an oasis -- a modest one-story factory humming with activity.

And with every cross-stitch, the Tale-Lord jean factory is moving closer to a goal that might be summed up in the phrase "buy American."

Tale-Lord is the only manufacturer of designer jeans in the United States. And while the company's advertising features none of the blatant sexual overtones for which the overseas competition has been highly critized, business is booming.

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In just the last year, Tale-Lord's work force jumped from 40 to 280 people -- and will go to 320 shortly. Many, like Felipe Cruz, who served a prison sentence for robbery and couldn't get a job anywhere, live in the neighborhood and have had trouble with the law. Most are from minority groups.

Some of the employees worked for owner Ira Boshnack's father, and one started working for his grandfather.

"Our pants are just as good, maybe better, than the imported pants," says Claire Mantione, who started working for the company in 1946.

And consumers seem to agree that Tale- Lord's product is worth the price. Company sales rose from $700,000 in 1979 to $5 million last year, and Mr. Boshnack says they are expected to top $18 million this year. The company markets jeans in nine states and claims to be the third largest seller in New York.

he big-name competitors, such as Calvin Klein, Jordache, and Gloria Vanderbilt, each sell many more designer jeans than Tale- Lord -- but manufacture them in the Far East, where labor is less expensive.

"It's killing our country," says Boshnack. "Every penny generated goes back into Hong Kong and Asia. Every penny I make goes right back into the business and the streets of New York.

"I love this city. I was born here. I have a responsibility to its people and I'm creating jobs for them," he adds.

In an accutely job-poor area, Boshnack, whose grandfather started his own garment business in 1919, pays an average wage of $4.50 an hour. The minimum wage is $3.35, and the most unskilled worker gets at least $4.00 to start.

Young Mr. Cruz has made as much as $300 a week with overtime. This is more than enough, he says, to support his wife and baby. But a Tale-Lord, the workers are apparently getting a lot more than money.

"I try and give them pride in themselves and in America," says Boshnack. "I cannot build this business myself. My employees respect me and know that I know the business completely [Boshnack started in it at age 16]. But they know that I need them, and I give them pride, prestige, and morale."

One employee who has benefited from Boshnack's approach is William (Willie) Davis, who came to NEw York two years ago from Atlanta but couldn't find a shred or work until he was referred to Tale-Lord.

"This is the only place I came to that gave me a chance to let me show them what I Can do," says Mr. Davis. "I believe that Tale- Lord jeans are better than Jordache or whatever. . . . They are made in America. Ira is giving people in the US a chance to make money."

But for all his "buy America" spirit, even Boshnack has had to turn to the Orient -- for his computerized stitching machines. He says he looked high and low in the US for the technology, but and all he could find was foreign made machines.

Boshnack's newly produced television commericials emphasize the Americana theme so prevalent in his factory here. As they end, the tale-Lord log is superimposed over several pocket designs with a thin outline of the continental US around it.

He anticipates that this kind of advertising will help increase his production volume far beyond the current rate of 20,000 pair per week. In fact, he has plans to expand his factory. Already, viewers have called to praise both the commercials ' patriotism and lack of sexual innuendo.

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