By  on March 27, 2006

Sigrid Olsen is celebrating a milestone of her own this year — 20 years in business.

Along the way, the designer, a graduate and now trustee of Montserrat College of Art, has never strayed from her artistic roots. In the early Eighties, she had a co-op crafts gallery, Ten Hands, in Rockport, Mass., where she, two potters, a jeweler and weaver sold their crafts. But when she introduced Segrets Sun Prints apparel in the spring of 1986, it “pretty much took off” and Olsen started selling to small specialty stores along the East Coast and in California. The Golden State continues to be a key market for her brand, as are Florida and New England.

In 1999, in the first of what would be a series of acquisitions, Liz Claiborne Inc. paid a reported $54 million for an 84.5 percent stake in the sportswear firm. At that time, its portfolio included Sigrid Olsen Sport, Sigrid Olsen Collection and So Blue by Sigrid Olsen, and annual sales were said to be about $60 million. Today, the brand consists of the Sigrid Olsen, Sigrid Olsen Collection, So Be It by Sigrid Olsen, Sigrid Olsen Petite and Sigrid Olsen Woman labels. Olsen and Liz Claiborne executives declined to comment on current annual sales.

“My vision wasn’t really as big as it has become,” Olsen said. “That vision really grew over time. I knew I was on the right track. It really felt right and I knew it would pay off.”

With the might of Liz Claiborne behind her business, Olsen is on the expansion trail. This year, she expects to increase the number of freestanding Sigrid Olsen stores to 69 from 44. In addition, last month she opened one with a more distinctive point of view in Tampa, Fla. Designed by Pompeii A.D., that location will serve as a prototype for future stores, since it is more visually interesting, is geared for that specific market and has a social context as well as more of a residential feel, Olsen said.

“Retail expansion is our number-one initiative. For me, it’s very important to be very clear about what this brand is and what it isn’t. We want to make it distinctive,” Olsen said. “There is a huge array of brands. We want consumers and trade to understand the difference between ours and Talbots, Chico’s, Ellen Tracy, Lucky Jeans and Ann Taylor. With the exception of Lucky, most of those brands are competing for the same demographic.”

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