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Booty-lifting 'levanta cola' jeans go mainstream

In recent months, the Boyle Heights-based clothing manufacturer YMI Jeans Inc. has peppered the city with billboards and bus benches featuring ads with the slogan, "Wanna Betta Butt?"

The billboards typically feature an illustration of a jeans-clad woman with an ample derriere.

The company's advertising push marks a milestone of sorts. That's because YMI Jeans and other U.S. companies are expanding the market for pants-that-enhance, from Latino communities into the mainstream.

The jeans have roots in South America. Some say they were invented in Colombia, others say they originated in Brazil.

They're commonly referred to in Spanish as "jeans Colombianos," or Colombian jeans. They also have a more prosaic name: "levanta cola," which quite literally means "butt lifter."

“It just gives you the best shape any jean can give you," said Richard Candamil, who along with his father, Ricardo, manages the Colombia y su Moda clothing store in Huntington Park.

Colombia y su Moda, which is a chain, imports its own line of jeans from South America. In the U.S. Latino market, these and other "levanta cola"-style jeans have been around for several years.

Walk into a women's clothing shop in places like Huntington Park or East L.A. and ask for "jeans Colombianos," and you're bound to get some version of a "levanta cola."

But more recently, the so-called "butt lifter" jean has emerged from what's been largely a niche market.

YMI Jeans began selling its "Wanna Betta Butt?" line in 2012. The company recently expanded its outreach, investing in a big outdoor media push. Marketing director Evelyn Jimenez said the lifting jeans the company sells were inspired by the Latin American fit.

“Colombia, Brazil, Puerto Rico – we saw that it was kind of becoming a trend for girls that want to accentuate…their butt," Jimenez said with a giggle.

How the "levanta cola" works is a marvel of engineering.

While the fit varies among manufacturers, the pants are typically made of stretchy denim. The body-hugging jeans are cut and stitched in a way that fits snugly, but allows extra breathing space for the nalgas — the buttocks — to sit relatively uncompressed.

While most styles have a skinny-jean leg, they don't flatten the rear in the same way.

"Tight-fitting skinny jeans before, they kind of flattened a bit, because they are so tight," Jimenez said. "So we came up with this construction to come up with not only having a skinny jean, but to embrace the curves and to kind of make the butt stand out."

Richard Candamil said the ideal effect isn't just a lift, but a more toned look.

"Someone might be a nine-to-five, might have a work schedule that keeps you too busy, or you naturally don’t have that body type," he said. "We adapted a jean that can give you that shape you desire without having to have that natural physique."

In the dozen or so years since their store began selling its imported Colombian "levanta cola" jeans, selling retail online for roughly $70, the Candamils said they've seen a myriad of knockoffs around L.A. Now, they said, it seems everybody is making them. 

"A lot of companies that were more concentrated on regular jeans are now starting to include a division in their company that is a lifting or shaping jean," Candamil said.

These include not only U.S. companies like YMI Jeans, which has trademarked "Wanna Betta Butt?," but also the jeans behemoth Levi's, which now has its own line of "shaping jeans."

One way that U.S. manufacturers marketing lifting jeans to English-speaking consumer have adapted them is by making them less flashy, without the sparkles and metallic trims found in the Latin American market.

"The South American jeans are a lot more blingy," said David Vered, president of YMI Jeans. "It's very unique to South America. In order to bring it to the U.S. and make it mainstream, we kind [of] got away from that blingy look, and we mainstreamed it by just making them a great pair of jeans."

If the jeans being sold at Colombia y su Moda are any indication, loyal customers do just fine with a little sparkle. But Richard Candamil said the company has created some plainer-looking jeans to compete in what's now a cross-cultural market.

"The Latino market is usually a little more expressive, more colorful," Candamil said. "We've seen with the American market that there's a little more of the classics, more of the basics ... now we include some basics as well."