NEW YORK--Sara Lee Corp. is bullish about its branded women's activewear and bodywear businesses under the Champion Jogbra, Hanes Her Way, Just My Size and Body Force labels. Women's active looks--easy, casual tops; jackets and bottoms of cotton knit, which are softly layered over a core of stretch items such as leotards; bra tops, and bike shorts--are an area that retailers nationwide are targeting for major growth this year. Retail budgets--primarily department stores'--are up between 25 percent and 30 percent for women's dual-purpose athletic apparel, according to a number of buyers and vendors. And Sara Lee is out to get its piece of the action. Sara Lee has indeed been busy developing its women's activewear and bodywear businesses over the past several years. Early in 1994, the corporation acquired Scotch Maid, a maker of private label bodywear and bodywear under the Body Force label that reportedly generated annual sales in excess of $100 million. A year ago, Scotch Maid introduced a line of Hanes Her Way bodywear and active looks, with distribution aimed at mass merchants. In 1990, under the name JBI, Jogbra became a division of Playtex Apparel, which was acquired by Sara Lee in 1991. Sara Lee consolidated its Champion Jogbra label into a newly formed Sara Lee Bodywear Group on Feb. 1. Gary Dembart, chief executive officer of the bodywear group, noted that WWD/MAGIC "could be a great opportunity" to showcase Sara Lee activewear and bodywear brands. "It's our hope that we will be able to see retailers we haven't seen before and hopefully get the commitments we have never had before," said Dembart. Dembart singled out plus-sizes under the Just My Size label as a key area Sara Lee will be targeting at WWD/ MAGIC. "Lately, it's been interesting," said Dembart, "because mass merchants have really started to get interested in plus-sizes, a category that department stores have been addressing." On a broader scope, one way Sara Lee hopes to garner a larger consumer base of women for its active and bodywear brands is through licensing deals with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG). As part of the licensing agreement with ACOG, Sara Lee's bodywear brands will have exclusive licensing rights for the women's bodywear category at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Under the Olympics tie-in, Champion Jogbra will offer a full line of performance body wear, including sports bras, sports tops and sports bottoms, as well as new styles of ankle pants and unitards. The licensed styles will be distributed to department stores and sporting goods outlets nationwide. Hinda Miller, chief executive officer and co-founder of Jogbra, commented, "The activewear and bodywear category is heating up like crazy, and the timing is perfect to promote the Champion Jogbra name right now, especially with the upcoming Olympics and the growing number of women exercising." Miller said product expansions for spring 1996 will include more printed T-shirts and coverups of fleece and jersey. Miller further noted that the line's active and bodywear sales have registered "double-digit' growth at sporting goods outlets over the past year. That's when the product line was expanded to include more athletic items of fleece and jersey, and Supplex and Lycra spandex lined in CoolMax. Regarding department store distribution, Miller noted that she expects distribution to grow an additional 200 outlets, totaling 700 doors this spring. "We now have the support of Playtex representatives and merchandisers for Champion Jogbra at department stores," said Miller, noting that a video has just been completed to show sales associates at stores how to sell a sports bra. "We've made a huge impact, and brought an authentic athletic brand into intimate apparel." Among the new Champion Jogbra items for fall 1995 to be shown at WWD/MAGIC will be a scuba-inspired group of stretch styles of Supplex nylon and Lycra in black and brights with exposed stitching. Styles include a 7-inch bike pant and a sport top with mesh back treatment. The Supplex group was previewed at the Super Show in Atlanta earlier this month and got "excellent" reaction, said Miller. There also will be a group of basic looks of cotton and Lycra in solid black, white, gray and navy. Coordinating printed T-shirts will feature a center-front Champion logo. Regarding active looks and bodywear by Hanes Her Way and Body Force, Richard Waxman, vice president of sales at Scotch Maid, said a group of control items under both labels has been a "major hit." In addition to a bike short that gives tummy control and a push-up sports bra, additional control styles for fall will include a leotard, a bikeatard, a unitard and more tops. Sara Lee would not disclose the volume of its bodywear business, but it's obviously an important segment of the firm's personal products business, which also consists of key players in intimate apparel, hosiery, fleecewear and accessories. Overall sales for personal products hit $6.4 billion in the fiscal year ended July 2, 1994. For the most recent six months, sales rose 12.6 percent to $3.7 billion from $3.3 billion.
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