KANI GETS INTO SHAPE FOR CASUAL

Byline: Alice Welsh

NEW YORK--Karl Kani, the 26-year-old streetwear and hip-hop fashion designer known for his baggy "homeboy" jeans, is introducing a women's casual line this October for spring delivery.
But, despite plenty of joking about his signature baggy looks, Kani said there's very little of that in the women's line. "We've done research in the women's market and have found that they want more fitted looks," Kani said in a recent interview. "We aren't just taking our baggy jean and putting in a Karl Kani women's label. We are doing fitted and stretch denim, using a lot of spandex, linen, french terry, Tencel and high tech fabrics.
"We tried Tencel in our men's line and it was very strong," Kani said. "We found women were buying the men's shirts, so we'll do a more fitted version for women."
Kani said the line will start with a casual, street-driven style.
"We don't want to do too much too soon, and I think women will expect a casual look from us," he said.
Blouses will wholesale for $25 to $32, jeans from $25 to $30, outerwear from $90 to $120 and sweaters from $45 to $150.
Some of the women's styles will be previewed Monday night at Macy's East flagship at Herald Square in conjunction with the opening of a Karl Kani shop on the young men's floor. One of the models will be Quincy Jones's daughter Kidada Jones.
The Macy's shop is the beginning of a rollout of in-store shops through the rest of the year, including Macy's Brooklyn store (the former A&S flagship), two Marshall Field's shops in Chicago and a Dayton Hudson in Minneapolis, said Jeffrey Tweedy, vice president of Karl Kani.
Karl Kani sells its men's wear to such stores as Macy's, Nordstrom, Dayton Hudson, Marshall Fields and Fred Segal.
Kani, Brooklyn-born and self-taught as a designer, started designing T-shirts and pants for friends and began promoting his fashion through mail order ads in rap magazines.
In 1990, he arranged with Los Angles-based Cross Colours to produce the Karl Kani collection under the corporate umbrella of its Threads 4 Life company.
Kani left Threads 4 Life in October 1993 and formed his own sportswear and licensing company, Karl Kani Infinity, in Los Angeles. He is president and chief executive officer. The business has expanded through licensing that includes deals for his men's wear, shoes, boys' wear and outerwear and leather.
The men's business will do $18 million to $22 million this year and shoes will account for about $28 million, according to Tweedy.
The boys' line started shipping in February and will do about $8 million this year. Outerwear and leather, which begins shipping in August, is expected to do about $5 million, said Tweedy.
Tweedy estimates the women's line will do between $8 million and $10 million in its first year.
Kani is planning to license the women's line "once we get started and get a reaction to it." He is negotiating a lease for a 5,000-square-foot showroom on 40th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues where all the licensed lines will be housed.
He was recently nominated for Inc. magazine's "Entrepreneur of the Year" award and is on Black Enterprises magazine's list of the top 50 companies.

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