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Is the PajamaJeans brand a sleeping giant?

August 14, 2011 |  7:00 am

PajamaJeans

If you’ve been near a television screen in the last 10 months, you’d have been hard-pressed to miss an advertisement for PajamaJeans, a.k.a. “Pajamas you live in, Jeans you sleep in,” an oddball pair of pants that could have escaped from the island of Dr. Moreau and seems to be headed for Snuggie-like pop culture status, with the company on track to crack 2 million pairs sold by year’s end.

First, to be clear: despite the name, these knickers have as much in common with denim blue jeans as a blue bath towel. They’re more like drawstring waistband loungewear with faux five-pocket detailing including contrast stitching, back-pocket embroidery and rivets rendered in a stretchy knit that’s a blend of cotton and Spandex and has the same fleece-like backing you’d find in a pair of standard-issue sweatpants.

At first blush the $39.95 price tag sounds like a deal –- especially when compared with denim -– but seems like a lot less of a bargain stacked up against a pair of sweats. So when my co-worker, Marilyn Ruiz, casually mentioned that her local Wal-Mart in East Palmdale was continually depleted of its allotted stock of PajamaJeans, I felt compelled to peruse a pair up close. After a little bit of searching, I found a dozen or so on the shelves of the Crenshaw Boulevard Wal-Mart (they’re stocked with the other “as seen on TV” products).

After a test wearing around the office by my aforementioned colleague (I’d have taken the bullet for the team but they’re only available for women), Ruiz declared them surprisingly comfortable but “way warmer than jeans or leggings.” Her final verdict? “If I had an extra pair, I’d keep them in my earthquake emergency preparedness kit,” she said. “I think they’d be the perfect pants if you’re going out in a snowstorm.”

It’s funny that she mentioned a snowstorm, since one of the biggest surprises to me was that the
PajamaJeans were invented in -– and are currently distributed out of -– my often snowbound home state of Vermont.

It’s the brainchild of the Shelburne-based Vermont Teddy Bear Co., which introduced them in December 2009 through the PajamaGram mail-order business (which it also owns). Although I’d hoped to PajamaJeansFolded1 track down the inventor of this chimera of clothing, PajamaJeans’ representative, marketing consultant Sonia Makurdsik, said that no one individual at that company deserved the credit (or blame) for the concept.

Another Vermont company,  Williston-based Hampton Direct (the folks who brought us other “as seen on TV” marvels like the Wonder Hanger and Total Pillow), took over the marketing and distribution of PajamaJeans and is the company responsible for that ubiquitous TV ad that started airing in late October of last year.

Makurdsik said that as of February 2011, 400,000 pairs of PajamaJeans had been sold -– all of them online or by phone. In May 2011, Wal-Mart became the first bricks-and-mortar retailer to start carrying them and since then, distribution has expanded to some 79,000 stores nationwide including chain retailers like Target, CVS and Walgreens. According to Makurdsik, sales have been so brisk, the company expects to close in on 2 million units moved by year-end.

At the same time, the PajamaJeans posse is also working on expanding its styles beyond the single boot-cut version it now offers. Makurdsik said that plans are to roll a skinny jean style in black in early 2012, and  a handful of other garments are being offered on a test basis through PajamaGram’s website –- including a sleeveless pullover PajamaJeans A-line dress with a flounce hem ($59.95).

Ultimately, says Makurdsik, the goal is to move the PajamaJeans brand from an “as seen on TV” novelty into what she calls the “hanging brands” sections of stores. “That’s what [distributor] Hampton Direct tries to do –- and did with the Wonder Hanger at Wal-Mart for example,” she said.”It’s not just a one-shot deal, it’s got longevity.”

And she’s confident, buoyed by the responses she says she’s seen on social media and heard from famous fans, that the PajamaJean is destined to be the next Wonder Hanger.

“It’s captivated celebrities like Kathy Griffin and Holly Madison,” Makurdsik said. “And Sherri Shepherd. We’re thinking of creating a customized version for her. She says she wears them four times a week.”

A line of celebrity PajamaJeans? The idea feels so wrong and so right at the same time –- kind of like the PajamaJeans themselves.

-- Adam Tschorn

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Photos: PajamaJeans, shown packaged (top left), and as worn by a model (top right) may sell as many as 2 million pairs by the end of 2011, according to a company representative. At bottom, the lounge wear's faux-denim details include rivets and back-pocket stitching. Credit: PajamaJeans.

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