NEW YORK--The Sasson Licensing Co. took a radical turn seven years ago when it dropped out of department stores and went into mass merchants. The denim and sportswear business had just been purchased out of bankruptcy by investment company Trust Co. of the West. At the time, said president Linda Elton, the field for a branded mass market denim line was wide open; Gitano was the only competitor. The move paid off, largely because Sasson has always backed its products with aggressive advertising and marketing campaigns. Print and TV ad campaigns have a current annual budget of about $8 million. Elton mixes major-league sports and rock music into the company's promotions. The firm runs ads in conjunction with the New York Yankees and partially sponsors the Jones Beach concert series. "When we sponsored Aerosmith at Jones Beach, the one question I was asked constantly was, 'Can you get me backstage?"' she said. She keeps up on regional plans, buying time on local TV to tie in with retailers' circulars or promotions. Elton and Stephen Wayne, chief executive officer, said soon after Sasson moved into the mass market, they realized there was as much reason to build brand awareness there as in department stores. That's one reason they are a key resource to most mass retailers. Another is, they don't sell to Wal-Mart, which gives other retail chains a chance to carry a high-profilebrand that isn't carried by the omnipresent Wal-Mart. Sasson hit about $375 million in wholesale volume in 1994, said Wayne, all through its network of approximately 40 licensees in categories ranging from jeanswear to intimate apparel and accessories. Sasson is out to expand its global reach. Already well established in Asia, the company has signed licenses for Canada and Mexico and is "looking into Europe," according to Wayne and Elton. "Globally, we have a very successful business. Our business in Japan is worth about $60 million," Wayne said. "Now, we are working to develop Korea. We also have 50 in-store shops in Taiwan, China, Thailand and India. We have a venture in Canada, where we signed a master license with Fame Jeans Inc. It will be the same thing we're doing in the States, targeted to the mass customer. And we're looking into Europe." Late in 1994, the company announced plans to build its sportswear business, so it wouldn't be classified as just a denim and denim-related resource. Elton said the company would push its new sportswear during the MAGIC show. Recently, Sasson has added to its licensee roster agreements for junior and misses' woven apparel, knitted tops and bottoms, garment-dyed knitwear and activewear.
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