Taking Big Steps in Branding

NEW YORK — It’s all about growth.<br><br>Whether it’s opening new stores or expanding into licensing, contemporary sportswear makers know that every step taken can make or break business. With the growing importance of lifestyle...

NEW YORK — It’s all about growth.

This story first appeared in the July 18, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Whether it’s opening new stores or expanding into licensing, contemporary sportswear makers know that every step taken can make or break business. With the growing importance of lifestyle branding, even the smaller companies look to model themselves after the big names, hoping to become lifestyle brands themselves.

New York-based designers Cynthia Steffe and Betsey Johnson continue to reach for that goal by searching for licensees, while Rebecca Taylor will use the next six months to find the perfect location for her New York flagship boutique.

For Walter Baker, president of View Collection, a seven-year-old New York-based vendor, expansion is on tap for the coming months. After launching a successful denim line last season, Baker said he is concentrating on developing more pieces to work with the denim.

Active-inspired tops and mix-and-match career separates to go with jeans continue to grow within the core collection and the search for licensed handbags continues. Baker said he is also in search of locations for company-owned stores.

“If I am going to open stores, it has to be done on a large scale, so it’s very important to find the right locations,” he said. “We hope to run much like Bebe does. If you are able to manage the stores properly, retail can work very well.”

Also on the agenda are plans to launch a junior division. While he wouldn’t discuss specific details, Baker said he is “in negotiations to open that division as soon as possible.”

“Juniors is where the action is,” he said. “Even in the summer, when most people are at the beach, those teens are at the mall.”

Another company finding such success with a denim collection is Bisou Bisou. The Los Angeles-based firm recently launched a separate denim collection and plans to focus its upcoming advertising campaign on just that. The ads, which will be in black and white with a red Bisou Jeans logo, will run as a spread in Elle magazine, on billboards in Los Angeles and New York, as well as in stores and on mailers.

According to designer Michelle Bohbot, this is the largest campaign the business has ever done, so she has chosen to expand it to include logo T-shirts and active-inspired terry cloth and fleece pieces to wear with the denim. Instead of opening any more stores, the company will revamp and refocus the existing 11 units to fit the new look of Bisou Bisou.

“We are planning to create a new jeanswear lifestyle in the stores,” she said. “This will introduce the customer to the line as we see it.”

The company is exploring possible licenses for lingerie and children’s sportswear and jeans.

Andy Oshrin, president of Milly, a two-year-old New York-based vendor, plans to “grow the business organically in the next six months” by strengthening distribution in existing retail accounts.

“We hope to broaden brand awareness through trunk shows, special events with stores and participating in more trade shows, especially in Japan and Europe,” he said. “Growing the business in Europe is very important.”

Betsey Johnson has certainly achieved that success in Europe. The company, which raised it’s distribution and lowered prices at retail in Europe less than a year ago, has doubled its volume to reach $5 million on that continent alone.

According to Chantal Bacon, Johnson’s business partner, more licensing plans are in the works after the success of the newly licensed children’s sportswear line.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to license the name,” Bacon said. “At the moment, we are negotiating with a large beauty company for cosmetics and fragrances.”

Bacon also stressed the brand’s interest in signing licenses for shoes and denim collections, as well as the possibility of opening more stores to add to the existing 42 locations.

Also considering a venture into licensing is Cynthia Steffe.

“I’ve held off until recently, since it is very important to make sure it is with the right partners,” said designer Cynthia Steffe. “The first step would be to launch accessories, things I can show on the runway to complete the looks.”

Overall, Steffe, whose company is a division of The Leslie Fay Co., said she believes the time is right to begin licensing since the core collection continues to thrive.

“We have seen aggressive growth in business over the past year,” she said.

While she doesn’t plan to aggressively advertise until a major campaign releases next year, Steffe said in-store advertising will be in select locations. She declined to comment on the details, but Steffe said opening freestanding signature stores are in the future.

“Retail is very important and we would probably begin with the U.S.,” she said.

Most of all, Steffe said she plans to spend the rest of the year concentrating on broadening the mix of the existing core collection by offering a larger presentation to buyers.

Rebecca Taylor joins the lineup of contemporary sportswear designers who continue to find success in the markets overseas. The New York-based company does not own any stores in the U.S., but operates a flagship store in Tokyo, as well as 13 shop-in-shops across Japan. The big plans in the coming months: more stores — 10 more in Japan, but company executives are not ruling the U.S. out completely.

“We continue to look for the right space and the right timing for our New York flagship store,” said Beth Bugdaycay, co-owner.

While the firm is looking to expand its store count, also on the agenda is a new licensed hosiery and socks line, planned to make its debut in the fall.

“We have recently expanded our collection to include shoes and handbags,” Bugdaycay said. “The shoes have already been in stores for spring-summer 2002 and have sold out completely. We are expanding our shoe line for resort 2002 and spring-summer 2003. The stockings and socks come in special Rebecca Taylor colors, such as ballet-slipper pink and dusty mauve, as well as coordinating prints on the line.”

The company, which generates $10 million in wholesale volume in the U.S., projects a 20 percent increase in sales by spring 2003.