MEN'S BRANDS ASKED TO TAKE IT EASY

Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK--The crossover of well-known brand names from the men's athletic field to women's active apparel has become a trend, but now there's an increasing call for looser, more relaxed styles.
Women began getting into aerobics and nylon and Lycra spandex exercise wear in a big way in the early Eighties. The move gained momentum in the mid-Eighties with step-aerobics.
Now, vendors say there's still a demand for high-performance fabrics blends such as Supplex nylon and Lycra and Micromattique and Lycra, but there's also a growing desire for easier-fitting bodywear and activewear by women who occasionally exercise.
This has spurred a demand for women's exercise wear bearing established men's brand names, say manufacturers, because brands in men's athletic wear are traditionally done in blends of cotton and Lycra and cotton and fleece.
As a result, a host of licensed names that originated in the men's area--Everlast, Converse, Nautilus and Champion, for example--are cropping up this year in the women's active sport market.
Moreover, the crossover is surfacing in men's athletic apparel, where the popularity of high-performance fabrics is increasing.
"The athletic brands that have been very strong in the men's area are very strong right now in women's athletic apparel," said George Horowitz, president and chief executive officer of Active Apparel Group, a licensee of women's activewear under the Everlast label.
"The Everlast name has universal appeal," he continued. "Active looks are very hot right now, especially with the movement of women getting into boxing to exercise."
Everlast has been around since 1910.
"We also love the 88-year-old Converse name, because it also is a good example of taking a men's athletic brand into the women's arena," said Horowitz. AAG recently signed a licensing agreement with Converse Inc. to manufacture and distribute the first licensed line of women's activewear under that label.
Nick De Marco, president of Nautilus Wear, a division of Delta Woodside Inc., Greenville, S.C., noted, "The big crossover really is occurring in the cotton and fleece area, where traditional men's brands like Champion are seeing more of a need for looks that have a relaxed, ready-to-wear look.
"The trend is going in reverse in the men's field," continued De Marco. "Before, when men wore Lycra blends, they were stereotyped as being too serious about sports. It wasn't considered cool if they weren't wearing their old, loose clothes to work out in."
Nautilus got into women's active apparel last fall. The firm began showing men's cotton T-shirts in 1985. As noted, Nautilus recently signed two licensing agreements--one with Jacques Moret to produce a line of women's bodywear in Lycra blends, and one with Great American Cotton to produce a line of women's and men's cotton and fleece activewear.
Ari Hoffman, president of Devanlay U.S., the U.S. arm of Devanlay SA, which holds the worldwide rights to the Lacoste name, said a group of Lacoste women's classic polo-related products will be introduced at Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York next spring.
Devanlay bought back the rights to the 60-year-old Lacoste name in 1992 from the financially troubled Crystal Brands.
This spring, Devanlay began distributing the men's signature polo with its well-known crocodile label to Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman's. The line of women's polo shirts of piqué cotton knit are being introduced because of "popular demand."
"Many women have been wearing the men's polo shirts," said Hoffman, noting that it has always had strong unisex appeal.
At Champion Jogbra, Hinda Miller, chief executive officer of the Sara Lee Corp. division, said, "I think the key to maintaining a well-known brand is through TV and print advertising."
"We will be leveraging off of the exposure we received during the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, when athletes wore Champion leisurewear," said Miller. "It gave us a lot of credibility, especially with female viewers, who account for over 50 percent of the viewership."
Miller added that Champion and Champion Jogbra will continue to be sponsors of the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996.
Sara Lee acquired the 16-year-old Jogbra name in 1991, when it acquired Playtex Apparel. Champion has been an established name in men's athletic apparel for 88 years.
Miller is credited as being a forerunner of the crossover trend. In 1975, she sewed two men's athletic supporters together and created the first Jogbra for women to wear while jogging.

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