By  on October 1, 2008

LOS ANGELES — After 13 years in the fashion business, contemporary designer Trina Turk is finally ready for a growth spurt.

Flush with an investment from private equity firm KarpReilly LLC, Turk is adding two shops in Newport Beach and Burlingame, Calif., to her string of five stores stretching from Palm Springs, Calif., to New York. She’s also moved her vivid signature prints from her classic sportswear to plush pillows, sleek Lucite chairs and other home furnishings. In the spring, she’ll expand to the pool through a collaboration with F. Schumacher & Co. to produce outdoor upholstery fabrics that are resistant to fading, water and stains. Also on the agenda is a plan to wholesale the six-year-old men’s line, which is sold only in her namesake stores, as a subbrand called Mr. Turk.

And the designer is undertaking all these ventures while looking to hire a chief financial officer and a director of retail stores.

“In this economy, there’s something to be said for controlling your own destiny,” Turk said at her boutique here on West 3rd Street. “With our new partners, we’re definitely looking to open more retail stores. At some point, we want to increase the percentage of retail [sales] to wholesale [sales].”

Considering wholesale accounts for 95 percent of the Alhambra, Calif.-based company’s annual revenues of $45 million, Turk and KarpReilly have a way to go in expanding the retail footprint. But the strategy they’re taking illustrates how a medium-size company can expand in a challenging economy. Both partners, who own the company along with Turk’s husband, photographer Jonathan Skow, are pacing themselves to open between two and four stores each year, mainly in high-end malls and outdoor shopping centers. Turk’s list of the top six locations for future units includes Las Vegas; Miami; Honolulu; Santa Barbara, Calif.; Scottsdale, Ariz., and San Diego.

KarpReilly revealed in July that it had acquired the stake previously owned by Lyne Lee, Turk’s former partner of 12 years, who had supervised production at the company. Since then, Trina Turk signed a showroom in the U.K. to start selling its clothing there.

“It’s overdue for us to have this growth,” said Adam Burgoon, a partner at KarpReilly, based in Greenwich, Conn. He sits on the Trina Turk board along with Turk, who serves as creative director and chief executive officer of her 90-person company; Skow, and KarpReilly founder Allan Karp. While Trina Turk represents the first fashion play by KarpReilly, the principals in the venture firm previously invested in apparel brands including Tommy Bahama and Charlotte Russe through other funds.

Despite the fact that the U.S. economy is teetering, Burgoon said KarpReilly has a sound base because it anticipated the economic downturn.

“We have capital for growth and we’re not constrained,” he said. “The [economic] environment has affected customers and their thought process on overall buying, but it has not affected the sell-through of Trina. Trina has sold very well and been productive in her top accounts.”

The brand can realize its goal of increasing sales by 20 percent this year thanks to the loyalty of Turk’s customers. Retailers include Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus and specialty shops such as C. Orrico in Palm Beach, Fla. Retail prices run from $90 to $198 for swimwear, $218 to $318 for dresses, $198 to $268 for pants, $376 to $428 for jackets and $428 to $698 for outerwear.

Turk’s also signed partnerships with Hue to electrify hosiery in a coral tint and zigzag stripes, and another with Nordstrom and Clinique to extend her brand into makeup bags.

“Because she’s been around, people know her name and they know her quality. That’s very important,” said Ayda Nahorai, a buyer at Sara, a contemporary clothing boutique that carries Trina Turk in Los Angeles. “Fit is also important. A lot of new designers don’t have the fit down.…The target audience [for Trina Turk] is women in their 30s to 50s and her clothes fit very well. You can wear them to the office and you can wear them during the day when you’re running about.”

With the exception of the two-year-old swim line, which is produced under license by Apparel Ventures Inc.’s Blue Water Design Group, Trina Turk designs and makes all of its products. Though it launched sunglasses in 2004 and followed with bags a year later, the company isn’t producing either for fall. Instead, it’s looking for licensees to handle both categories.

“We want to complete this beach and resort lifestyle collection [with] beach towels, shoes [and] sunglasses,” Turk said.

The designer became a maven of the leisurely lifestyle after moving to Los Angeles in 1985 with a degree in apparel design from the University of Washington. She introduced her line for the holiday season in 1995. Three years later, she and her husband bought a house in Palm Springs, which had become a favorite stop of the fashion crowd for photo shoots and vacations. Noticing that shopping was limited to outlet centers or the conservative aesthetics of stores in nearby Palm Desert, Turk opened a 2,000-square-foot boutique designed by Kelly Wearstler on Palm Springs’ main drag in March 2002. Wearstler again splashed her bold classic patterns as a backdrop for Turk’s clothing in a 3,300-square-foot boutique that opened in November 2003 in Los Angeles and in a 2,500-square-foot shop slated to debut Nov. 1 at Fashion Island Mall in Newport Beach.

Turk branched out to New York’s Meatpacking District in December 2006 with a 2,500-square-foot shop designed by Jonathan Adler. Architect Barbara Bestor will help bring Turk’s vision to Burlingame, Calif., which is 15 miles south of San Francisco, in a 2,000-square-foot store set to bow in December. In Turk’s retail portfolio, her smallest outpost is a 360-square-foot outlet store sequestered within her headquarters in Alhambra, followed by a home products shop, measuring less than 900 square feet, that is built next to the Palm Springs boutique.

While individualistic visionaries, Wearstler, Adler and Bestor share an aesthetic sensibility for the stores that focuses on white walls and reflective surfaces.

“We wanted a lot of natural light coming into the stores,” Turk added, noting the Adler-designed shop in New York takes advantage of a skylight while the boutiques created by Wearstler in Los Angeles and Palm Springs contain windows in the front and back. Making the most of the limitations of a shopping center — albeit a high-end one — at Fashion Island Mall, Wearstler will create the illusion of light without windows and skylights, and Bestor will attempt the same in Burlingame.

“They’re all fresh and modern-looking,” Turk said of the stores.

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