A Big Star Reborn

With a new U.S. licensee, Big Star hopes to rise again.

Along with competitors such as Diesel and Replay, the European brand blazed a trail in the Nineties, introducing the idea of super-premium $100-and-up jeans to American consumers. However, as the competitive arena filled with newer entrants, the brand began to stumble, losing sales and trying unsuccessfully to reposition itself in new niches.

The Swiss company on Feb. 15 signed a deal naming Los Angeles-based Koos Manufacturing as its licensee for the U.S. and Mexico, with options to extend into Canada and eventually Asia over the 24-year term. Yul Ku, owner of Koos, said he plans to relaunch the brand in the U.S. this fall, with retail prices of $60 to $99.

That’s basically the same price niche the brand occupies in Europe, and fills in Koos’ current portfolio, which on the high end includes AG Adriano Goldschmied jeans at over $100 and on the low end includes private label jeans for major U.S. specialty chains.

"They do over $350 million [at retail] in Europe, so this brand is going to be easy to build in the States," Ku said.

He said he thinks the brand will generate $5 million to $7 million in sales its first year out, but grow quickly to $50 million to $70 million in its second year and reach $150 million its third year. The line will follow the same design inspiration in the U.S. as in Europe. Ku said he expects to present Big Star styles to the market in the next two months.

The $60 to $90 price zone has been a tougher one in the jeans market in recent years. Only a handful of lines, including Lucky Brand Dungarees, has found room in the niche between status and super-premium. Ku said the key to selling jeans at that price point will be making the features clear to the consumer.

"People have to recognize" why the jeans cost as much as they do, he explained. His goal will be to incorporate design elements like premium washes, high-end fabrics and hand-finishes commonly found in over-$100 styles into lower-price models.The jeans will be produced in Ku’s 500,000-square-foot Los Angeles factory, which employs about 1,700 workers. Koos also operates a comparably sized factory with 1,500 workers in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

Koos is in the process of building a staff to design and sell the new line, according to Tom Brenner, vice president of marketing and sales.

Big Star Holding AG is publicly traded in Switzerland and recorded revenues of $49.2 million for the first half of its fiscal year, which ends in mid-March. It had previously sold its brand in the U.S. through a company-owned venture.

Gerhard Mollenkopf, chief operating officer of the Swiss company, said the new price positioning was part of a global branding effort.

"Our price point in Europe is from 60 to 100 euros, which is more or less the same," he said. "We are looking for a global standard."

He said he wasn’t concerned about trying to reposition the brand at a time when the U.S. denim market is slowing down.

"There is never a good time and it’s never easy," he said. "It’s the same in Europe. There was a big peak in the last two seasons, but we still think there is a huge market for denim, especially in the U.S."— Scott Malone

Not Just for Kids

At 108 years old, OshKosh B’Gosh is finally growing up.

The Oshkosh, Wis.-based brand, known primarily for its children’s wear, is repositioning itself this year as a family brand. Building around the classic denim overalls the company is known for, OshKosh B’Gosh Inc. plans to launch a men’s and women’s workwear line to be sold exclusively at OshKosh stores, scheduled to open in fall of 2003.

The company will drop the "B’Gosh" from the label for adult garments.

OshKosh is working with the New York-based brand development and licensing firm Graj & Gustavsen, which will aid with the brand positioning, retail design, design of adult clothing, advertising, corporate identity and packaging. While exact locations for the freestanding stores have yet to be finalized, Barbara Widder, senior vice president of product development for OshKosh, said the company plans to open between eight and 11 stores throughout the Midwest."We are staying true to our roots by offering the American family what they need everyday," Widder explained. "We are focusing on the traditional young family." Widder said OshKosh, which last year reported sales of $437 million, will eventually launch a home collection to be sold in the stores, but is now focusing on the adult clothing collections.

"The OshKosh archives have been a very inspirational resource," said Steven Sicular, executive vice president of creative development and management at Graj & Gustavsen. "The company began in 1895 by outfitting the working man and we plan to take a modern approach to outfitting the modern family."— Julee Greenberg

Polo Association Inks Japan Deal

The association that governs the sport of polo in the U.S. said last week that it has signed a deal with Mitsubishi Corp. of Japan to be its new licensee in that country.

U.S. Polo Association Properties Inc. had been in talks with the conglomerate for about 18 months, said Merle Jenkins, chairman of USPA Properties. Mitsubishi’s first shipment of the line will be for spring-summer 2004.

USPA product has been sold in Japan since 1988, but Jenkins said the new deal is part of an effort to reposition the brand. Mitsubishi also has the right to sublicense the name in Japan in categories other than apparel.

"Economic conditions in Japan have not been great for some time and the line had gone down-market a little bit," he explained. "What we’re planning to do is come out with a large, more complete line, and put it back up-market, aiming at a demographic that is a little bit older."

He said he wants the line to target consumers in their 30s, rather than early twentysomethings.

In recent years, sales by licensee K.K. Wave had slipped to about $2 million a year, Jenkins said. Mitsubishi aims to bring sales up to the $50 million level over the next five years.

Katsumi Shiyaka, manager of the apparel business at Mitsubishi, said in a statement: "We see great potential for sales growth over the next two years based on the size of the sportswear market in Japan."While the sport of polo is not widely practiced in Japan, Jenkins said the association last week brought Mitsubishi representatives to its West Palm Beach, Fla., headquarters, to bring them to a match and introduce them to the finer points of the game.— S.M.

On the Hunt

Let the scouting begin.

Diesel is sponsoring the second annual International Talent Support competition, a search for skilled young designers. The contest begins when representatives of the organization, which calls itself ITS#TWO, fan out to prestigious design schools around the world looking for the best young fashion designers.

Submissions will be accepted until March 31, and Barbara Franchin, director and project supervisor for the contest, said the competition is open to graphic artists of all kinds, not just fashion designers. The organization plans to select 25 finalists, who will attend a final round of competition July 10-13 in Trieste, Italy.

Last year, 460 students and young independent designers from 42 countries applied for the competition. Thirty-three finalists were selected to head to Trieste last July. Four winners were chosen by a jury of magazine editors and fashion designers. Last year’s winners were Daniele Controversio of Belgium, who took $10,000 for top collection; Erik Jan Frenken of Holland won $5,000 for his women’s wear collection; Vishvajeet Dhir of India won $5,000 for men’s wear, and Einav Zucker of Israel won the Diesel Award, which allowed her to design a capsule collection for Diesel, to be sold in select Diesel stores beginning in April.

Wilbert Das, head designer and creative director for Diesel products, liked Controversio’s designs so much that he was recently named women’s wear designer for Diesel Style Lab. Zucker has also been added to the Diesel design team.

"It’s so hard since there is so much talent out there, there could be more than 800 applicants this time," Franchin said. "But it will be so much easier to have 25 finalists rather than 33."— J.G.

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