By  on June 15, 1994

NEW YORK -- Jim Huntington, who took over as president of the Gitano subsidiary of Fruit of the Loom in April, is busy mobilizing the Gitano brand's remaining assets.

"As much as this brand has been internally abused, the consumer hasn't seen it," asserted Huntington. "Outside surveys show that the Gitano name still has a 96 percent awareness in female consumers and 75 percent in male consumers."

Huntington was referring to market studies by KSA/Leo J. Shapiro in 1993.

Gitano's assets were acquired by Fruit of the Loom in March for $100 million, after three years in which Gitano's fortunes spiraled down.

Weighed down by a series of losses, Gitano Group announced last November that it would become a marketing service rather than a manufacturer, offering licensing opportunities and services to its retail accounts.

Robert E. Gregory Jr., who was chairman of Gitano at the time, predicted this would result in a return to profitability by the beginning of this year, and projected a $500 million retail volume for Gitano products in 1994, considerably down from the $807 million corporate volume Gitano racked up at its peak in 1990.

But soon after, the company pleaded guilty to Customs fraud, and its biggest account, Wal-Mart, dropped the brand. Gitano was forced to put itself on the block, with FTL emerging as the winner.

Huntington -- who earlier was a consultant to Gitano and before that, an executive vice president of Lee Apparel -- is mapping plans to capitalize on the Gitano brand name recognition in the mass market. Huntington plans to eliminate many of Gitano's product categories -- an effort that was started under former Gitano managements -- and put the focus solely on misses' and men's denim-based casual apparel areas. Gitano will also refine its advertising, he said, moving away from trendy or loud images. "We used to think we could be all things to all people," he said. "We had virtually every product category, from infants' to men's big and tall. We have abdicated those categories, and won't return to them. For now, we will focus on core products."

A more targeted advertising and marketing campaign, created with Gitano's agency, Mullen, will be key to addressing that misses' customer."This is us," says Huntington, as he flips through some of Gitano's 1993 ads, pointing to a shot of a woman in a neutral-toned outfit. But the next image, a younger woman in a trendier look, elicits: "Is this us? I don't know. Our customer is saying, 'Yes, I want something fun and trendy, but I don't want to look like my teenage daughter."'

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