BEYOND TOPS: Known for its printed novelty tops, Ritchie Corp. is taking the plunge with its Lynn Ritchie line and rolling out a sportswear collection replete with printed skirts, pinstriped pants and jackets. It’s an effort to garner more space in the line’s 1,000 specialty store accounts and produce an enhanced branded presence.

“We want to grow the business,” said president and chief executive officer Lynn Ritchie. “This is the fashion direction. This is the business direction.” Sizes range from 0 to 18 and the more contemporary styling is designed with both the Baby Boomer and her daughter in mind. Tops wholesale for $30 to $40, while sweaters, pants and skirts go for $40 to $50 and jackets are in the $70 range.

NEW OUTLET: Redcats USA, part of luxury giant PPR’s home shopping division, is expanding its catalogue business with the addition of two outlet books, Chadwick’s Catalog Outlet, which was mailed last week, and Brylane Catalog Outlet, set to turn up in mailboxes later this month. Both are accompanied by Web sites, COBoutlet.com and BCOutlet.com.

“We know that customers are not only fashion-savvy, but also cost-conscious,” said Redcats USA chairman and ceo Eric Faintreny. “The outlet catalogues provide a unique opportunity for Redcats USA to offer quality merchandise at significantly reduced prices.”

The catalogues feature a 30 to 80 percent discount on fashions and home merchandise from Redcats’ 10 brands, including Chadwick’s, Jessica London, and La Redoute USA.

TRAFFIC WATCH: J.C. Penney and Kohl’s picked up more sportswear customers last year, while discounters Wal-Mart and Target lost some, according to data from Cambridge-based STS Market Research.

“The discount channel as a whole has had a hard time connecting with the female consumer, who tends to respond better to a more targeted shopping environment,” said STS chairman Art Spar. “Many women don’t see clothing as a commodity, and therefore prefer more fashion-forward stores that offer comfortable surroundings enabling them to enjoy the act of clothes shopping.”

Wal-Mart lost 5 percent of its sportswear shoppers in 2004, compared with 2003, but still managed to top the list with 77 million. Penney’s sportswear shoppers rose 4 percent to 61 million while Kohl’s, aided by store openings, saw its sportswear customers jump 16 percent to 45 million. Target joined Wal-Mart with a loss of 4 percent to 41 million.

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