By  on April 6, 1994

NEW YORK -- As the son of parents who own a knitwear manufacturing firm, Kenneth Weiss grew up around knits. When it came time to find his own career path, he stuck with what he knew. The result was KSK International, a private-label and branded firm that hit the $10 million volume mark in just two years. In addition to private label, KSK produces the BeauTricot bridge knitwear collection and the recently launched Easel contemporary knit collection.

Weiss's father and stepmother, Neil and Virginia Weiss, own Knitastiks, a 35-year-old knitwear firm that does contract work for private-label manufacturers. Weiss had worked at his parents' firm while attending law school, and after graduating, decided he wanted to stay in the apparel business.

Noting that he saw a need in the private label market for a firm that could offer complete design, merchandising and production of sophisticated knitwear at bridge prices, Weiss decided to concentrate initially on private label. With the help of Linda Trau -- who owned the Madison Avenue Design showroom for eight years -- as head merchandiser, the private label business now claims an account base of about 10 upscale retailers. The head designer is Barbara Lakin.

Within several months after creating KSK in 1991, Weiss and Trau decided to jump into branded knitwear with BeauTricot, focusing on what Trau describes as "a European-feeling collection for the fashion customer." Luxury yarns, such as superfine merino wool, cashmere, marled wool and silk, rayon chenille, super kid mohair, baby alpaca, and wool and nylon used for boucle, are purchased mostly from suppliers in Italy, and manufacturing is mainly in Hong Kong, with a small amount in Italy and the U.S.

With wholesale prices of $70 to $150, BeauTricot is currently available in about 250 stores -- including Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus -- although Trau and Weiss agreed that they would like to cut back distribution slightly for fall. "We want to know the product is being handled carefully," said Trau. KSK decided to test the contemporary knitwear waters this year, with the launch of the Easel collection at the February Fashion Coterie trade show. Designed by Paris-based Sara Gresty, the collection focuses on trendy items -- mostly sweaters, but also some bottoms -- in yarns just slightly less luxurious than those used for BeauTricot.It is, said Trau, a youthful collection that combines yarns such as mohair, cotton tweed and cotton chenille with "surprises," such as satin plackets or the use of ribbons.

"The stores are very hungry for this product, even hungrier than I anticipated," she said. Wholesale prices range between $35 and $85.

KSK's 1993 wholesale volume of about $10 million was evenly split between private label and BeauTricot, said Weiss. He expects sales of the two lines to grow about 20 percent this year. Easel's volume is expected to reach about $1 million in its first year.

Plans for KSK include a men's wear BeauTricot, slated to launch this fall, and a women's bridge-priced, career-oriented line of knits and wovens, which should bow next spring.

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