NEW YORK — Postcard prints of sun-drenched places like the south of France and Hawaii make Lynn Ritchie’s colorful T-shirts conversation starters.
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With the resort season kicking in, the better-priced sportswear firm, known for its bright and vivid silk and cotton printed knit tops, is gearing up for what has become a major component of its business.
“The [T-shirts] are packable, not super expensive. You can put it on, wear it out and even wear it to the beach,” said Lynn Ritchie, designer and chief executive officer of the 12-year-old namesake firm, at her New York showroom on West 39th Street.
Ritchie started doing a resort collection about four years ago when the company expanded from shipping two seasonal lines a year to five. This year, the resort season is expected to generate the same amount as the other four seasonal collections. Its projections are set at $2 million, while the company’s annual volume is projected at $10 million.
Still, the company has not been immune to price inflation, but Ritchie said she’s been able to maintain her prices. She has achieved this by sourcing her fabrics domestically and in China, the same locales where her products are manufactured. In 2005, more possibilities are expected to open for product development in China as all quotas are lifted.
“It’s very challenging given the competitive environment,” said Ritchie, a 37-year industry veteran who used to work for Macy’s as a private label design administrator. “We’re trying to broaden our market base by selling more people. The way we achieve this is by introducing new fabrics and design, and not just doing the same old, same old.”
Ritchie said she finds inspiration for prints from sources as diverse as Picasso to tie-dye shirts in Woodstock, N.Y., where she lives. Even her dog Pumpkin, a Terrier that is a spitting image of Toto, has found its way onto T-shirts, as well as marketing materials. For more inspiration, she and others from the company travel to Paris twice a year to shop for trends and color direction, and she regularly visits art galleries looking for new ideas.
“I’ve even copied the old masters of art,” she said. “When you’re out there, prints just start popping up all over the place.”
Because of the economy, Ritchie said she doubts her steady resort business means her customers are actually taking more cruises. Rather, she said, this woman is simply looking for more fun, trend-driven tops and bottoms that can easily pack and go — anytime of the year.
“Many stores today are so homogenized and I don’t get the sense they’re showcasing fashion,” said Ritchie, sporting a pair of Roberto Cavalli embroidered pants that have also inspired a print. “But when times are tough, people will always have money to buy that one item and we try to do prints that no one else has.”
For resort, the knit-based collection features prints inspired by maps, magazine covers and antique posters, dogs and cats, and new twists on animal prints. In total, there are 140 pieces in the resort collection, which includes bottoms, wholesaling from $24 to $65. Sizes range from XS to XL, or from 2 to 16.
Perhaps because prints and novelty items are enjoying a renaissance in fashion, it seems the Lynn Ritchie business is growing faster than its T-shirts can stretch. Over the last four years, the business has seen consistent 30 percent increases, and last spring, the specialty store-driven company broke into Nordstrom, Parisian and Bloomingdale’s, and most recently secured Macy’s East.
Miya Ota, who owns the boutique Mio in San Francisco, has carried the line for 10 years.
“Her things are very comfortable and her pants are like the most comfortable things to put on,” Ota said. “They fit well, they’re well priced and they hold up well.”
Ritchie expanded her team this year to include Tracy Geller, director of sales and marketing, to spearhead those initiatives, and Liz Weinmann, vice president of design. Geller formerly ran her own public relations firm called Brave New World, which represented young contemporary clients like Josephine Loka, A. Crispen and Love Amour, while Weinmann previously owned a better sportswear company called En Route.
The company doesn’t do any advertising, but three times a year, it sends a catalog to its specialty and department store accounts.