By  on June 12, 2009

NEW YORK — Undaunted by the difficult retail climate, AVA Design has launched the Madison Hill better sportswear label.

Founder and chairman Ludwig Kuttner said at the West 38th Street showroom that the company spent a year developing the travel-friendly styles, such as microfiber pants, a lined fancy twill jacket, quilted vest, boiled-wool sweater jacket and tie-front Tencel blouse, as well as a team, which includes AVA Design president Jonathan Ozdemir and Madison Hill New York sales director Marion Pietrowski.

After a soft launch for fall that resulted in $2 million in wholesale orders, the spring collection has been picked up by 400 stores, with an emphasis on specialty shops. Madison Hill is expected to generate $5 million to $6 million in wholesale business next year.

Kuttner, who had been president and chief executive officer of the Hampshire Group, said specialty stores are looking for labels with a narrow distribution. In addition, after several seasons of bulking up their contemporary sportswear offerings, many stores need clothes that aren’t so trendy or skimpy, he said. Wholesale prices range from $16 for a tank to $98 for an embroidered nylon jacket.

Madison Hill, which also will be sold to select department stores, aims to work closely with specialty shops that may be struggling in the recession, even occasionally holding off on cashing checks if stores’ credit lines are temporarily stretched.

“Our goal in the specialty store business is really to have relevant strengths,” Kuttner said. “We would rather have 10 niches or 10 different labels that serve a certain business or need than do one big rollout nationwide. That’s when everything becomes a price competition.”

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