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NEW YORK — It could probably pass as a fancy bandage, but instead the fabric is credited as the hottest-selling classification at Mary Green, the San Francisco-based designer of silk underwear, daywear, sleepwear and at-homewear.
Green, who started her business 25 years ago by importing slippers and socks from Afghanistan with an initial investment of $5,000, now oversees a specialty business for women and men that generates an estimated annual volume of more than $25 million.
Her silk gauze confections — rendered primarily in soft triangle-shaped bras, camis and chemises, and a range of bottoms including thongs, HotPants and hipster briefs — have been the strongest fashion group for the past year, said Green.
The number-one selling item is a boy-cut brief available in more than 20 colors. The item was introduced in June 2002. Each style features dyed-to-match silk lace or contrasting lace trim in shades such as lilac, fuchsia, Alpine green, sky blue, buttermilk and cobalt blue. A basic style wholesales for $7, while cherry-printed and butterfly-pattern flocked styles are $8. Coordinating triangle bras are $7.50.
“We doubled the amount of boy-cut pants in silk gauze the first three months of this year, compared to six months last year,” said Green. “I estimate we’ll sell 25,000 to 30,000 pieces this year.”
Green said she is expanding the classification to include more at-homewear items, another area that has been a longtime favorite in lightweight silk knits. Current at-homewear pieces in solid silk gauze include a long and short chemise with adjustable straps, which wholesale for $18 and $16.50, respectively, and two tops: a short-sleeve blouse for $16 and a three-quarter-sleeve blouse for $18.75. A printed or flocked spaghetti-strap cami sells for $13.
Green sources and produces her specialty silks in China, where she began contracting work in 1978. She said the idea of doing undergarments of silk knit surfaced during a stay in Hong Kong.
“I was on my way to Kyoto and I heard that it was extremely cold there,” Green recalled. “I went shopping for long johns. Then I saw this wonderful fabric on a blouse and thought, ‘Oh my God. This is the quality of silk knit that Pucci uses.’ I asked an agent to find out who made that silk knit and he sent me little cuttings from Shanghai.”
Green said her first customer for women’s silk knit long johns was Bloomingdale’s, which placed a $50,000 order. The idea of designing men’s silk knit underwear soon followed, and ManSilk by Mary Green was created.
In addition to several department stores, mail-order houses and a retail Web site at marygreen.com., Green’s products are now distributed at about 2,000 specialty stores in the U.S., Canada and Japan. The firm has 22 employees in the U.S., the majority of whom are from countries as diverse as her travels.
“We’ve taken in people globally, from the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Colombia and Vietnam,” said Green. “Some came to the U.S. seeking political asylum and they brought with them a tremendous amount of knowledge. We are like a global family.”