By  on January 26, 1994

SAN FRANCISCO -- The turnaround of Esprit de Corp.'s embattled junior sportswear division, which has seen sales deterioration of roughly 50 percent in the last four years, is gaining momentum. A new slate of executives -- most of whom were hired in the last half of 1993 -- is radically changing the way the company operates. The new players hope to rebuild the former junior powerhouse by slashing prices, dramatically reducing the number of style offerings and exploring new ventures for the label.

Many of these steps were first implemented in June 1993 by Lynn Miller, then president of Esprit Juniors. Miller now is in charge of special projects for the company and wants to take Esprit into the active sportswear market.

Andy Cohen, who succeeded Miller as president of the juniors division last September, said sales of the current winter collection are 22 percent ahead of the year-ago season.

Late last year, the firm also consolidated some key divisions. Esprit Kids and Esprit Juniors were merged into a division dubbed Esprit Apparel, headed by Cohen.

At the same time, Engle Saez, who had been appointed president of Esprit Footwear in October, became president of Esprit Footwear and Accessories. Dan Danford, president of Esprit Kids since 1988 and president of Kids and Accessories since February 1993, resigned.

David Folkman, president and chief executive officer of the company since March 1993, said the restructuring helps eliminate duplication of efforts.

"I don't understand why support functions for the two divisions -- sourcing, purchasing and manufacturing -- can't be done by the same people," Cohen said. "When we go to deal with a factory or vendor now, we can lay out our whole program and get better deals as a result."

Cohen said there will be no layoffs as a result of the restructuring, and that the two divisions' design staffs and sales staffs will remain separate.

In another move, Cohen hired 27-year-old Claire Ortiz in November as junior design director. She was previously director of product for BWS Brands, a Los Angeles maker of junior, young men's and children's sportswear. Cohen said Ortiz's strong suit was her design experience in the young men's market, which has heavily influenced the junior market in recent years. In her previous post, Ortiz introduced hemp fabric to the young men's industry through BWS's Rag Poets line. She has said that under her direction, Esprit will also eventually offer hemp goods. Ortiz has already overhauled Esprit's April and May 1994 collections, adding knit tops, beefing up the number of short knit dresses, updating denim offerings and eliminating many floral print items in favor of plaids and geometric prints.

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