RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
One of the brands that defined the '80s was Jordache jeans.
(SOUNDBITE OF JORDACHE JEANS AD)
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) You've got the look I want to know better. You've got the look that's all together. Working. Playing...
MONTAGNE: Some among you will remember squeezing into a pair of those skintight jeans and then pulling on a purple velour top.
Reporter Matthew Boyle wondered whatever happened to this now faded brand, which led to his profile in of today's Jordache for Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine.
MATTHEW BOYLE: Good morning, Renee. How are you?
MONTAGNE: All right. So let's start with the basic question, whatever did happen to Jordache?
BOYLE: It is actually pretty fascinating. We had no idea that this brand which, of course, as you say, became iconic and so associated with the '80s, is now this, you know, multibillion-dollar conglomerate spanning the globe. They've got hotels. They've got nightclubs. They own an airline. And it all came, you know, originally from the profits they made from those famous jeans. And, you know, we thought it was a fascinating story and it's really never been told, so we thought it would be a great tale.
MONTAGNE: Tell us a little bit more about the Nakash family, the family that started Jordache.
BOYLE: Sure. Sure. They are Syrian Jews. Joe Nakash, who is sort of the patriarch of the family, he's 69 years old now, but at the age of 19 he left Israel, came to New York. He had just a sixth grade education and he found work, you know, at a retail store and realized he loved the whole process of merchandising and haggling with suppliers and stuff. And over the years, his brothers joined him as well. They pulled all the money they had together, which was only 20,000 bucks and created this partnership to sell jeans out of the storefront in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. They started selling a heck of a lot of jeans and a denim manufacturer started visiting the store to figure out what was in style. And now unfortunately - or actually it had a happy ending - but in 1977, as you'll recall, were the riots in New York City and their store was burnt down. There was a lot of arson at the time around Bushwick. So they took the insurance settlement and Joe said, look, I'm tired of just selling other people's jeans. Let's make our own.
MONTAGNE: And may I ask, are they still around?
BOYLE: They are. You find Jordache jeans in Wal-Mart, of all places. Back in 1995, the designer jeans craze was kind of fading, and so what they decided to do what shift most of their business to Wal-Mart. And at the time, Wal-Mart was trying to get branded jeans, you know, jeans with a following. Levi's basically said to go take a hike. The last thing we want to do is sully our Levi's brand, but the Nakashes were willing to deal with Wal-Mart. And their first order was for $55 million worth of jeans.
They also around this time said, you know, we have all these factories, why not make so-called private label jeans for other brands. So they just started making jeans for Tommy Hilfiger and they've made jeans for Abercrombie and Fitch and they've made jeans for The Gap. So that became another sort of arm of their apparel empire and the next step is that they took this apparel business and then expanded first into real estate, and they bought up resorts. And how do you get to resorts? Well, you have to fly to resorts. So they bought an airline. It's weird how they see an opportunity, they move fast, they grab it, but there isn't much rhyme or reason to the empire.
MONTAGNE: Well, that answered the last question I was going to ask you, which is a unifying business (unintelligible)...
BOYLE: It really is like no business is too small. No business is too weird. They own coin-operated laundromats in the middle of New Jersey, and they're about to own the Versace mansion in Miami. It's just amazing that they were able to add this sort of iconic Miami property to the empire.
MONTAGNE: We do hear quite often about family businesses falling apart; sibling rivalries and other family tensions. Do you have a sense of how this family has stayed together?
BOYLE: I think as long as Joe is alive and kicking, you know, the Nakash family and Jordache Enterprises will do well. And having talked to Steve, the second generation, his cousin Shaul, these guys are pretty smart. I wouldn't bet against the Nakashes anytime soon.
MONTAGNE: Matt, thanks very much for talking with us.
BOYLE: Thanks for having me.
MONTAGNE: Matthew Boyle is a writer for Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine. And his most recent article is "Whatever Happened to Jordache?" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.