WWD Milestones: Southpole’s Licensing Machine

About 10 percent of the brand's wholesale volume is generated through licenses in categories including headwear, eyewear and footwear.

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Southpole’s licensing machine might not be the biggest engine in the ‘hood, but it’s a key revenue driver because the brand’s partners have remained true to its aesthetic, even as it has evolved over time.

This story first appeared in the August 22, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

With eight licenses currently in operation, Southpole executives continue to scout for more opportunities, according to Jean Luc Rim, director of licensing, but he acknowledged that connecting with the right licensee can be difficult in these turbulent economic times.

That’s because licensing agreements require certain minimum guarantees, and given the concerns over consumer spending, companies are less willing to make those commitments, he explained.

“We want partners who are capable of developing the business and pushing the category, rather than riding our coattails,” Rim said.

About 10 percent of Southpole’s wholesale volume is generated through licensing, he said.

Concept One Accessories, founded in 1999 by brothers Sam and Bernie Hafif, produces headwear and cold-weather items for young men and boys under the Southpole brand. Concept One holds more than 60 licenses for such brands as Batman, Budweiser, Disney, Ecko Unltd., Enyce, Levi’s Red Tab, Rocawear, Sean John and Zoo York.

Sam Hafif, chief executive officer, said, “What’s really genius about Southpole and the Khym family is that they went after what was at the time the hottest segment of the apparel market — streetwear — but at a [value] price point. While most brands such as Rocawear, Phat Farm and Sean Jean focused on the upper-tier distribution, the Khyms went after the midtier, but they did it without taking anything out of the product.”

Hafif explained that the product still featured embellishments that in some ways were “better than that found in the top-tier products.” He said Southpole is a big performer at J.C. Penney and Sears.

“This is still a very aspirational brand for [some] kids to buy,” Hafif said.

Over the years, the licensed product for headwear and cold-weather items has changed as the Southpole brand has evolved.

“When we signed the license, the brand was big on the oversize T with big graphics, so we had the big baseball cap. The product line has evolved from Ts to woven tops, and for [hats] we now have more fedoras and bombers. The headwear has evolved into fashion pieces. We work very closely with their product development team from a color, graphic and fabrics perspective,” Hafif said.

Besides midtier stores like Penney’s and Sears, the brand is also sold at independent specialty retailers, like Dr. Jays.

“Even after 20 years, this is still a great brand. It has stood the test of time, whereas others have come and gone,” Hafif concluded.

Eyewear is licensed to Colors in Optics Ltd. Founded in 1978, the firm is known for its use of vibrant colors in its frames, especially cherry red, cobalt blue and violet.

The Southpole Sun Collection for men and women features embellishments in rhinestones, a prominent Southpole logo placement and intricate detail work. The collection is sold in department stores and specialty retailers.

Rhona Hutton, vice president and head of design for the eyewear maker, said, “The Southpole customer loves identification. They like bling and they like color.”

The collections — one each for men and women — feature 24 pairs of sunglasses and coordinate with the Southpole color scheme and theme for each season.

“Southpole is different from the other brands that we have. This is a fun brand that has taken off,” Hutton said.

The brand’s biggest (and longest-running) licensed category is in footwear, which is produced by Vida Shoes International Inc. and covers young men’s, juniors and kids’.

Southpole is searching for a new licensee for junior intimates. Because it never has had a deal for young men’s and boys’ underwear, it could either enter a licensing agreement just for junior innerwear or sign on with a manufacturer that can also produce underwear for young men and boys, Rim said.

The company also recently ended its handbag license for the junior category, although it is in discussions with a potential new licensee.

In hosiery, Berkshire Hosiery had held the license for juniors, but that has now been expanded to include young men’s and kids’ as well, said Rim.

Other categories are leather accessories, including small leather goods like wallets and belts with RGA Leatherworks, and infants’ and toddlers’ are manufactured by Adjmi Apparel Group.

The brand’s apparel is sold in Europe through Jungbold & Moreno-Stolz Distribution, in specialty stores in Germany, the U.K., France and Spain, according to Rim. JMSD markets the regular line and the basic athletic program under the SP Pure Collection moniker.

The company also has had a distribution license with Wise Harvest since 2003 to market apparel and accessories throughout Japan, and Rim said the company is also eyeing expansion in Latin America.

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