Merriam-based Lee Jeans is a proud maker of “mom jeans” 

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Part of Moley's job is figuring out whether the timing is right for some styles. "It's saying, is our customer ready for a skinny jean? Is our customer going to wear a wide-leg trouser? So that's the key to my job. All these things are out there, but what is right for our customer?"

Moley grew up in Lawrence, where her parents owned a kids' clothing store called Before and After. "Being in a clothing store influenced me a lot, knowing that clothing was a business — not only could you sell it, but someone had to design it," she says.

After graduating from Lawrence High School, she headed to the University of Kansas, where she studied industrial design. During her second year, she saw that the seniors had to design a vacuum cleaner for a class project. That's when she realized that she didn't want to design electronic equipment. She applied to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and switched to apparel design, with an emphasis in children's wear.

At FIT, she learned how to make a garment from scratch, from sketching the design to making the pattern and knowing what fabric to use. "When you get out of school, you know how to make a three-piece tailored suit," she says.

She graduated at the top of her class, then moved to Los Angeles to design clothes for a small line for children called Uh-Oh Clothing. From there, she moved to Guess Boys, Bugle Boy, and a newly resurgent Ocean Pacific where she designed swimwear, board shorts and woven shorts for men.

The frenetic pace of Los Angeles eventually got to her, though. "I wanted a family. I had Midwestern family values, and living in L.A. was a little hard for me," she says. She returned to Kansas in 2000 and looked into working at Lee. The company wasn't hiring — people there tended to stay — so she got into the advertising business. Six years later, something finally opened up at Lee. Since then, she has been the eyes and ears of the design team.

At the beginning of a season, she looks at the high-end collections to see the new trends, which trickle down to the Lee customer about a year to 18 months later. She peruses industry publications and fashion magazines, and she shops and travels to find new ideas. For one recent project, she went to stores and took about 200 pictures of pockets.


After the design teams in Kansas come up with an idea, they'll make a prototype in-house. Then they put the jeans through wet processing, washing the denim to alter its texture and color. After that, they test the jeans on an array of models to make sure that they fit well on different body types. If the prototypes look good, they're sent to the manufacturing plants. Most of Lee's clothes are made in Mexico, but the company also uses plants in China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia and Nicaragua.

From there, the jeans go to distribution centers around the United States, and then to stores.

A couple of hours before the Denim Day lunch, Angela Primavera unwraps a sample shipment of jeans for the fall 2009 line that just arrived from a factory in Hong Kong. Primavera inspects how some of the designs came out. She and her assistant, Jennifer (who asked that her last name not be used), look at the prototypes for the trendier One True Fit.

"Here's the purple wash. It looks incredible," Primavera says to Jennifer, pulling out a cool-looking pair of jeans with a faint purple tint.

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