By  on June 4, 2007

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. — Marc Ecko’s long-standing retail dream has turned into a reality.

The founder and creative director of Marc Ecko Enterprises has taken the first step of an elaborate retail rollout with the introduction of two Marc Ecko Cut & Sew stores. The company estimates that the Cut & Sew shops, along with additional vertical retail concepts planned for many of MEE’s apparel brands—including Ecko unlimited and Zoo York— will help boost its current $1.5 billion volume to $3 billion by 2010.

“Now that we have this stable of brands, we’ve got to continue to grow,” said Kent Chapman, senior vice-president of retail development and environmental marketing at MEE. “Retail is part of our long-term growth plan.”

Cut & Sew’s first two shops—at the Roosevelt Field mall here, and the Fashion Show Mall in Las Vegas—will be followed by two more Cut & Sew locations this fall: one on Eighth Avenue in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood and another in the Houston Galleria mall. Next year, MEE plans to open 10 to 15 more Cut & Sew doors.

Like the fashion-forward contemporary men’s wear line, the Cut & Sew stores’ decor is an homage to Marc Ecko himself. Averaging 2,500 square feet, the intimate shops combine the conventions of a traditional men’s store with the eclecticism of the line’s founder.

Dark wood floors, cozy leather chairs and wrought-iron fixtures evoke a sense of old New York City, while funky copper ceiling tiles and a graffiti-style, cast-metal desk—a replica of Marc Ecko’s own desk from his New York City office—convey the edgy aesthetic of the Cut & Sew line.

And since no men’s store would be complete without a tasteful touch of sex, naked female forms (wearing headphones, of course) adorn everything from fixtures to door handles.

In addition to the complete Cut & Sew apparel collection, which ranges from $24 T-shirts to $185 blazers, the new shops carry the brand’s recently added accessories lines, including Cut & Sew watches, licensed to Callanen International. For spring 2008, the label will launch a shoe line, licensed to Skechers USA, as well as bags and hats, which are being developed internally.

“We see the Cut & Sew brand as a huge retail growth vehicle,” said Chapman. “Retail in general is the company’s biggest growth vehicle right now.”

MEE’s second stage of its retail plan may be even more ambitious than its Cut & Sew rollout; the company is set to unveil an Ecko Enterprises store in the Mall of America in Minneapolis by the end of this month.

The 5,000-square-foot, multi-brand retail concept, which will showcase the company’s young men’s Ecko Unltd. line, Cut & Sew and the Ecko Red juniors’ line, could eventually reach a store count of “a couple hundred,” said Naumann Idrees, MEE’s director of real estate and retail. “We don’t see any reason why we can’t be as successful as other vertical retailers like A&F.”

In fact, MEE’s retail plan in many ways echoes that of Abercrombie, whose umbrella of brands—including Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister and Ruehl—are ubiquitous in malls throughout the country. At this year’s end, there will be 11 Ecko Enterprises stores with another 40 scheduled to open next year, in malls from the New York metro area to Florida, Texas and California.

By fall 2008 the company hopes to also launch stand-alone shops for other MEE brands, including the flight-themed Avirex label and the skater-influenced Zoo York brand. Both are slated to open their own outlets this fall, part of the 52 total outlet doors that MEE will operate by the end of 2007.

But unlike Abercrombie, MEE sells its brands to its mall-based competition, from specialty chains such as Dr. Jay’s and demo to department stores including Macy’s and Dillard’s. In fact, Ecko Unltd. is an all-door resource for both of those department stores, which means the brand is already present in nearly every mall in America.

Chapman insisted that the duplication of the labels won’t create competition, but will instead foster more brand awareness. “We’re already in multiple channels of distribution, from department stores to specialty stores to outlets,” he said. “They’re not cannibalizing each other.”

And to help alleviate the repetition of merchandise, Idrees promises that the company’s stores will consist of at least 15 percent unique product.

Reacting to the Cut & Sew and Ecko Enterprises openings, a Macy’s spokesman reiterated its commitment to the brand. “Ecko has been, and remains, a very important partner with Macy’s,” he said.

MEE certainly isn’t alone in establishing its own retail network. In the past year many of Ecko’s contemporaries in the young men’s market, from Rocawear to Quiksilver, have announced plans to focus on vertical shops.

Still, Chapman contends that his company’s retail rollout is simply a way to take control of its own destiny. “We’re still focused on our wholesale accounts, but we think retail is the next step for continued growth.”

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