NEW YORK — Long before private label had a name, Carole Wren was making clothes for stores who then put their own label on the sportswear items.
"In those days, there were no labels on the garments, only content labels," said Martin Leff, chairman of Carole Wren Inc., who purchased the company in 1946. Its main client then was Lerner Stores. "We didn’t pre-ticket goods, but we just knew they were retailing for about $4."
Fast-forward to the present, 60 years later, and the majority of Carole Wren’s business is still generated from private label business — 90 percent, to be exact. The company also produces the moderate brand New York Clothing Co., sold at Dress Barn, Sears and Mervyn’s. Today, its separates wholesale from $10 to $20.
Originally a bottoms maker, Carole Wren now makes blouses, sweaters, skirts, pants and jackets. Its items are sold to stores such as J.C. Penney, Sears, Charming Shoppes, Chadwick’s of Boston and Mervyn’s. The company’s volume is about $50 million.
In addition to Martin Leff, the family-owned business includes Norman Wolf, president; Jeffrey Leff, secretary and treasurer, and Robert Mann, vice president.
The consolidating retailing and manufacturing landscape has not left private-label manufacturers unscathed. Wolf said a key to Wren’s success has been its ability to adapt to change. Just four years ago, the firm implemented the necessary computer systems and hired a team to study sourcing opportunities.
"We’re able to grow because we’ve made the necessary moves to fulfill our customers by putting in the high tech equipment for marketing, grading and cutting," Wolf said. "The investments we’ve made are really what’s kept us in business."
Private label, Wolf said, is much more challenging than branded because of the demands placed on companies by retailers.
"If a retailer purchases a brand, they accept the fit and fabric," he said. "Whereas we have to test the fabric and use the customers’ specs. It’s much more difficult."
The company also has four designers that travel Europe looking for the next hot trend and who work in the company’s design warehouse in Long Island City, N.Y. Its showroom here is at 1385 Broadway.Still, there’s no question that the retailing and manufacturing landscape has changed dramatically in the last six decades.
"In the old days, the manufacturers made the product, period," Leff said. "As a retail buyer, I took part in every step to make sure the goods got out overnight. Now we do every single thing for the retailers. The only thing we don’t do is sell the items."
In a world of retail consolidation, it is survival of the fittest, even for private-label manufacturers.
"Years ago, one could go to a buyer with a little resource," said Wolf. "The problem today is the challenges are so great to meet the needs of the retailer. Sourcing is also a challenge; we went from being a domestic manufacturer to being completely global, and we are producing goods all over the world."
The company resisted the move to source abroad for as long as it could, said Leff, but inevitably went offshore seven years ago. Today, about 85 percent of its goods are sourced in places like Guatemala, China, Indonesia and the Ukraine.
"We were one of the last to go," Leff said. "We tried as long as we could to be domestic."
My character, Dinah Madani, is just the coolest, [most] badass woman imaginable," says @amberroserevah. The actress stars in @marvel's newest series on @netflix, @thepunisher. To prepare for her role, Revah sat down with Homeland agents to get a real sense of with Dinah's day-to-day life is really like. Read our full interview on WWD.com. #wwdeye (📷: @jilliansollazzo)
A scene from the 91st annual @macys Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade, which boasts 50 million TV viewers and 3.5 million on-site spectators, is considered one of the largest and most watched parades in the world. (📷: Jason Szenes/EPA-REX)
The circus came to @bloomingdales 59th Street on Tuesday night and lit up Lexington Avenue with acrobatic dancers, death-defying knife throwing, sword swallowing and aerial acts with no net. The 45 minutes of theatrics built up to unveiling the holiday windows depicting @swarovski crystal-encrusted circus pieces and scenes from “The Greatest Showman” – songs from the soundtrack included. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: Joshua Scott)
The psychedelic fashion that pervaded the ’60s is back with an exhibit at the @museumofcityny. “Mode New York: Fashion Takes a Trip” chronicles the changing styles from 1960 through 1973 and features designers such as @ysl, @oscardelarenta and more. The exhibition, which is on display through April 1, is organized into four periods: First Lady Fasion, Youthquake, New Bohemia and New Nonchalance. Pictured here is model Pat Bardonella during the Garvey Day Parade in 1968. (📷: @kwamebphoto) #wwdeye #wwdfashion
“People should be a lot more honest in expressing both the dark and light of themselves. We need to give each other the space to do that because it’s the only way we can grow and evolve,” says @noelwells of her new film “Mr. Roosevelt,” which is largely based on her own struggles. Unexpectedly leaving @nbcsnl in 2014 after just one season, Wells felt set back in her self-esteem and career trajectory. She quickly refocused her energy to more personal projects, which led to the completion of “Mr. Roosevelt.” Read the rest of WWD’s interview with the “Master of None” actress on WWD.com #wwdeye (📷: @jilliansollazzo)
@barbrastreisand is giving fans a chance to see her perform up close in a new concert series, which makes its debut on @Netflix today. From behind-the-scenes takes to her concert performance in Miami last December, the two-hour streaming special captures Streisand in her element. Pictured here is the singer/actress photographed for WWD in 1963. (📷: Palmieri Tony) #wwdeye #wwdarchive
@chanel and @pharrell dropped what’s being dubbed as the world’s most exclusive sneakers yesterday. The Adidas Originals NMD Hu, which Williams designed in collaboration with Chanel and @adidasoriginals, has a waiting list of over 120K people who pre-registered online at chanelatcolette.fr –– and only 500 pairs are on sale. The singer predicted the resale value of the shoes could reach $40K. Read the full interview on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdfashion (📷: Dominique Maître)
@imanshumpert is diving deeper into his creative endeavors and relaunching his clothing line, Post 90s, and is helping to raise money for the hurricane victims in St. Maarten with a jersey he’s designed with his brother. The Cleveland Cavaliers player talked to WWD about kneeling during the national anthem, working with fashion brands and how he wants to be more than an @nba player. Read the interview on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: George Chinese)