By  on March 28, 2011

Jessica Simpson and The Jones Group Inc. want a bigger share of shoppers’ closets.

Following the success of its Jessica Simpson jeanswear launch at retail last June, Jones is expanding the licensed brand’s reach into a full sportswear range this fall.

“The response to the jeanswear was so great, from both the retailer and consumer perspectives, that I thought there was another component — to build Jessica Simpson into a full lifestyle brand with sportswear,” said Jack Gross, chief executive officer of the Jones Jeanswear Group within The Jones Group. Gross oversees the brand’s jeanswear and sportswear lines, which are licensed from master licensee Camuto Group.

Jessica Simpson sportswear will launch in 470 doors this fall, including Macy’s, Belk, Dillard’s, Bon-Ton and Von Maur, which all currently carry the brand’s jeanswear, which Jones licensed in 2009 and introduced at retail last year.

Sportswear will be in fewer doors than the 670 that now sell the jeanswear, but Gross said the presentation will be expansive in those launch doors.

“Intensification per door will be greater in sportswear to really give it impact. The retailers are going to give us outstanding positioning,” he explained.

The sportswear will be merchandised adjacent to existing jeanswear installations. About 400 of the existing doors have full in-store shops, featuring the clean, white fixturing and Jessica Simpson visuals that Jones supplies for an attractive, uniform presentation.

Gross expects sportswear and jeanswear combined to ring up $150 million to $200 million at retail annually by next year, evenly split between the two categories. Down the road, sportswear is forecast to outpace jeanswear.

The sportswear offerings are item-driven rather than collection-oriented. Pants, at $69 retail, are a key category and will be available to retailers on a weekly replenishment basis. They come in three key fits: boot cut, wide leg with cuff and skinny.

“The pants are timeless, so we don’t think there is a liability with them,” said Gross, regarding inventory positions.

He said “essential” items will generate 35 to 45 percent of sales, with more fashionable “wow” items comprising the remainder. Pants are expected to account for 20 to 25 percent of “essentials” and tops will be 15 to 20 percent.

Tops will retail for $39 to $79, blazers for $119 to $129, knits for $34 to $59 and sweaters for $49 to $98, with higher-end pieces in fabrics like faux fur.

Dresses are also important, forecast at 7 percent to 8 percent of sales, with a key jersey style at $79. “It’s a tunic dress that can be hiked up or down and worn with tights or jeggings,” said Patricia Kenny, president of sales for sportswear.

Shorts, at $59 to $69, will be included in early fall shipments — unusual for this time of year — in fabrics like men’s tweed or pleather with lace trim. “We want wear-now products at the right time for the customer,” said Gross.

Jessica Simpson sportswear is priced at the top end of the juniors department. “We are pioneers in really going back to that better junior customer from many years ago. Most people left and went to the contemporary or ‘Impulse’ area,” pointed out Gross. “I felt there was a white space in juniors for better quality, more details and better price points.”

Another recent launch in this tier, the Material Girl line from Madonna and Iconix Brand Group mostly sells between $12 and $40, with a few higher-end fashion pieces at $80. That line is sold exclusively at Macy’s in the U.S. and The Bay in Canada in juniors departments.

Apart from the weekly replenishment program for pants, deliveries will take place every four to six weeks. Each delivery will encompass about 15 styles, with up to four colors for each style, or about 60 SKU’s per delivery period. To ensure retail success, each group flows into the next in terms of items and colors. “When the group starts to break, they don’t become liabilities,” said Gross. “We create a constant flow that doesn’t look broken up, which is what happens when people ship collections.”

Simpson is slated to make several appearances at major retailers this fall to support the sportswear rollout. An ad campaign touting the launch will break in August magazines, featuring Simpson wearing the designs.

“Jessica is very involved in the brand. She and her mother really take pride in the brand,” said Gross. “Jessica is here for eight to 12 hours a day during the approval process, and she really looks at everything with a customer’s eyes. If you look at a Jessica Simpson dress or shoe or outerwear piece or sportswear or jeanswear, you can really recognize it as a Jessica Simpson design.”

The sportswear is sourced in Jordan, Egypt, China, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. “We have a very diversified sourcing base, and we are using our best factories because the needle and quality and consistency is very important,” said Gross.

Other denim brands in The Jones Group portfolio under Gross include Gloria Vanderbilt, Nine West Vintage America, Bandolino, Grane, L.e.i. and Glo. He also oversees sportswear labels Bandolino, Gloria Vanderbilt and Pappagallo.

Further expanding the Jessica Simpson brand, The Jones Group will launch activewear at retail in spring 2012. “It will hover between the sportswear and jeanswear and rounds out the other component of the consumer’s life,” said Gross.

Simpson’s star power is a fundamental selling point for all of her licensed product, but Gross hardly sees it as the only, or even most important, factor in the brand’s success.

“The fact that she was a star was not the thing that most intrigued me. The fact that she had a brand and it was already successful was what was interesting,” said Gross. “The fact she was a star was an added value — versus in other situations where the star is the main focus and the product is secondary. This product speaks for itself. You don’t have to be a Jessica Simpson fan to appreciate it. I think with some other celebrity brands, the product lets down the consumer. I’m looking for sustainability, and I think she has sustainability.”

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