NEW YORK — The Natori Co. has aggressive plans to strengthen its signature brand and build the franchise this year in the foundations arena.

Josie Natori, president and chief executive officer, said the game plan includes bolstering the lingerie label’s presence in the foundations field with the introduction of an upscale Natori Black Label brand in August, as well as the expansion of the established Natori White Label line in May.

The Natori firm, which generates annual wholesale volume in excess of $40 million, produces, markets and distributes sleepwear, daywear and at-homewear bearing the Natori and Josie names, as well as at-homewear under the Cruz label.

The ambitious new strategy to further grow Natori’s bra business will be implemented through a new licensing agreement with Dana-Co, an independent company that was established as ERO Ltd. in 1991 and began its transformation this year under its new name. The Manhattan-based company, which also does private label and plus-size foundations, is headed by its two owners: Zvi Ertel, ceo, and John Bowman, president.

The pact with Dana-Co will begin Jan. 1 after a previous licensing agreement with the VF Intimates unit of VF Corp. expires. First-year wholesale sales projection under the new alliance is more than $15 million, according to industry estimates.

Distribution is aimed at top-end stores such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom in the U.S., as well as Canada and Mexico, with plans for international expansion down the road. Suggested retail for the White Label line will be $38 to $58, and the Black Label collection will be tagged $55 to $80. Prices for specialty items such as bustiers have not been finalized.

"We don’t look at this venture as a licensee, we look at it as a partnership," said Natori, who will have final approval of product and will work directly with a new "dedicated" design staff to create a cohesive fashion and merchandising theme within the different categories.

"Everything in the design detail, whether it’s a lace, a trim or a color, will be part of a cohesive effort, something that is unique in the sense that other brands are treated as a licensee, not a brand," said Natori. "Also, very important is that John and Zvi are entrepreneurs, and both have extensive experience in this field."She noted the Black Label and White Label foundations will be showcased at a"showroom within a showroom" at the Natori headquarters at 40 East 34th Street here. However, until the new venue is set up, the White Label line will continue to be shown at the VF Intimates showroom on Madison Avenue, she said.

"We believe there is a tremendous opportunity because VF has done a good job with what the goal was in the beginning to develop a Natori foundations brand. And as it relates to the transition, VF has been extremely cooperative," said Bowman, a 30-year veteran of the intimates industry. "The Natori brand has become very successful in top-end stores, not an area that VF focused on. This is a huge opportunity to build the business to an entire new level, as well as develop additional opportunities."

Bowman, who will oversee sales, merchandising and design with Josie Natori, is no stranger to the designer lingerie business. His track record includes the introduction and development of the high-end Wacoal brand, as well as two licensees: Donna Karan Intimates and DKNY Underwear.

Ertel, whose had been president of the Delta Galil USA unit of Israel-based Delta Galil, is Dana-Co’s sourcing and manufacturing specialist.

"We are not tied to any factory and we will source anywhere in the world that is right for the product," said Ertel, noting that Dana-Co currently sources in China, Thailand, Macau and the Philippines, among other countries.

Expanded assortments of seamless Santoni-made microfiber daywear, a classification Ertel is familiar with through his experience at Delta Galil, will eventually be added to the mix, he said.

He noted that the company is looking to hire people in several areas for Natori foundations: high-end designers, production specialists, sales executives and assistants. Dana-Co’s offices are currently located at 1 Penn Plaza.

Addressing marketing plans, Bowman observed: "What I’ve experienced great success with is special events at stores and we plan to expand on that with Natori. As we expand, we’ll be looking for people to help us with the store events."

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