By  on July 14, 2009

Swank Inc., the men’s accessories supplier, thinks it has found the platform to get into the women’s belt business — a strategic alliance with Style 365 LLC, a women’s belt resource.

Swank, which designs, sources and distributes men’s belts and other accessories to a range of retailers under a sizable portfolio of licensed and owned brands, will assume responsibility for sourcing, logistics, financing and other backroom functions for Style 365. John Tulin, chairman and chief executive officer of Swank, said his firm had made an investment in the women’s firm but declined to specify its size.

Elisa Grimaldi, ceo of Style 365, and Nicole Jefferson, president, will be based in Swank’s headquarters at 90 Park Avenue in Manhattan and will report to Tulin. Style 365 has a “seven-figure” volume, Tulin noted, but declined to be more specific. Sourcing previously had been handled through a trading company.

“Our retail accounts had asked us why we weren’t in the women’s belt business, and we saw a lot of opportunity in it, but we didn’t want to get into it without someone who’d made a living selling women’s belts,” Tulin said. “These two women have built themselves a pretty substantial women’s belt business selling big specialty chains, and we have not just the backroom capabilities but also the retail and licensing contacts to help them build from where they are.”

Swank’s license portfolio includes names such as Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica, Geoffrey Beene, Claiborne, Guess, Chaps, Tumi, Pierre Cardin and Ted Baker, as well as its most recent addition, Buffalo David Bitton. While licensed products at this point don’t include women’s belts or accessories, Style 365, which produces private label merchandise, could change that.

“We didn’t want to take on a license without the infrastructure to support it,” Tulin said. “We weren’t comfortable going into that wholesale environment without the platform to support it. We spent a year looking for people we could be comfortable with, and who could be comfortable with us, and now feel we’ve found them.”

Tulin acknowledged Swank is in discussions that would move the women’s business into a branded environment, but wouldn’t comment on whether current licensors were among those involved in talks.

Swank has dabbled in the women’s business during its history, which dates to 1897. The brand sold its women’s jewelry business, a $60 million venture which included licenses for Anne Klein and Guess, to K&M Associates in 2001, and had executed special orders for some of its larger retail accounts in the past.

In the first quarter ended March 31, Swank cut its net loss to $279,000 from $411,000 in the prior-year quarter as sales contracted to $24 million from $24.7 million. Sales of nonluxury items increased 13.6 percent despite a 2 percent drop in nonluxury belt volume.

On Monday, shares picked up 35 cents, or 16.7 percent, to close at $2.45 in over-the-counter trading.

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