Lending Contemporary Brands a Hand

Josh Sparks had a full plate but that didn't stop him from launching a new business.

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Josh Sparks had a full plate but that didn’t stop him from launching a new business.

Sparks, who took Sydney-based contemporary label Sass & Bide from $5 million to $30 million in five years as chief executive officer, purchased the Imitation of Christ brand from former owner and designer Tara Subkoff in October. Sparks also runs the brand’s contemporary diffusion label, Imitation, which is sold in stores such as Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom. The Imitation brand launched in the spring and is on course to reach $4.5 million in wholesale volume for the first year, with projections of $25 million in three to five years, Sparks said.

Now, Sparks, who resides in New York, has opened the Rockwood Management Group, a consultancy for the contemporary and young designer fashion industry with offices at 28 West 36th Street in Manhattan.

“We first came up with the idea for this consultancy to provide the best services possible for Imitation,” Sparks said. “When we were doing this, we began to think about all of these great creative designers out there who have to compromise on support when building their brands simply because they can’t afford it.”

Sparks hired experts in financial planning, production and distribution, marketing, Web design, technology services and graphics. Clients can set up the entire business end of their company with Rockwood, or establish one element. For example, if a company is lacking on the production side, Rockwood can create and manage the firm’s entire production end.

Sparks has enlisted Irine Blyumin, formerly of Ernst & Young, to handle chief financial officer services; Spike Hubbard, who worked at the French design firm M/M (Paris), for graphic design, art direction and creative services, and Christopher Antonelli, who had stops at firms such as Betsey Johnson, Burberry and French Connection, to oversee all production management, operations and logistics services.

Sparks also draws on consultants, as needed. If a client needs help developing its denim business, for instance, Rockwood turns to Mark Wiesmayr, the ex-ceo of Ksubi, former denim director at Sass & Bide and senior designer at Levi Strauss & Co., to work with them.

This story first appeared in the January 3, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

He has just signed his first outside client, Whitley Kros, a new contemporary label based in Los Angeles.

“We have met with a series of very talented designers, but we really only choose those brands that we truly believe in,” Sparks said. “On the business end, we do everything for Whitley Kros….They are simply freed up to be creative, which is what it should be about.”

Sparks said he has a strong desire to work with emerging brands. The firm’s overall mission is to provide “founders of high-potential fashion with expert strategic and tactical services to support the realization of their creative vision, on a flexible and cost-effective basis,” he said.

Rockwood may also consider taking a stake in a particular brand.

“We are open to equity participation after the first 12 months, though our preference is for a cash retainer initially,” Sparks said. “The working relationship between a brand’s founders and the Rockwood team is critical to our decision to take an investment stake in a brand. Working on a retained fee basis allows both sides to enjoy an extensive ‘due diligence’ process, thoroughly understanding the best way to partner together on an ongoing basis. Rockwood would only be interested in an equity stake in those brands where the fit is ideal. Being so particular benefits both sides.”

Meanwhile, Sparks said he wants to grow Imitation of Christ slowly and carefully, investing about $2.5 million over the next few years.

“One of Tara’s major issues with the brand was delivery — it was a real challenge for her and I think that caused a lot of problems with retailers,” Sparks said. “When we purchased the label, it was only being sold on a made-to-order basis at Tracy Ross in Los Angeles….It’s amazing that it’s so well known without having any real distribution.”

Sparks has already put the brand name on a small collection of eyewear, and he sees Imitation as a global brand.

“But I do realize that it will never work in certain parts of the world, like in the Middle East, for example, where some may find the name offensive,” he said.

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