By  on February 25, 2009

It’s a new era for Linda Lundstrom.

The Toronto-based sportswear designer was rescued from bankruptcy last March by a silent investor who bought her company and is financing a relaunch of the bridge brand in the U.S. and Canada.

Lundström’s more fashionable look will be spotlighted next month when she presents the first runway show of her 35-year career at Toronto Fashion Week.

“I feel like I’ve been reborn,” said Lundström, who was previously self-financed and is now chief creative officer. “After all those years of having to report to a bank, manage the company and have the responsibility for up to 150 people, which I took very seriously, it was a lot of pressure to do that and also design. This is the next phase of my career.”

Lundström is well known in Canada for her Laparka, a two-layer coat with removable fur trim that is a staple of her line.She was also one of the pioneers in using sustainable fabrics and offers organic and recycled cotton, bamboo, Sorona polyester made from corn, and a tightly knit duffel made of recycled plastic.

But Lundström was also closely associated with voluminous styles for older women — a hard truth she learned last year by watching a focus group of women through a two-way mirror.

“I realized I had to try and stay in a body-skimming silhouette that is not superfitted but not voluminous either,” the designer said. “The fall line is all about imagining an empty closet and starting over again with the essential pieces.”

It is also about making things easier for time-deprived women — many of the 220 looks are machine washable. The bestseller is a group of dresses and separates made of black and nude stretch polyester chiffon with a woven satin stripe. They are paired with a black taffeta belted cocoon coat made of corn polyester that reverses to a nude and black jacquard.

Wholesale prices are $89 to $225 for dresses; $69 to $109 for pants, and $133 to $400 for coats. Everything is made at Lundström’s computerized factory in Toronto.

“We’re going after a younger demographic,” said Karen Spisak, vice president of Eleventh Floor Apparel Ltd., the corporate holding company in Toronto.

Another goal is to increase distribution in the U.S., which accounted for only 25 percent of Lundström’s sales at their 2004 peak of $12 million wholesale. The company hopes to reach $12 million within three years via 13 agents with sample lines in the U.S. and Canada.

“One of the things we’re known for is customer service,” Spisak noted. “We are flexible with exchanges of product,” she said.

She’s also offering an unusual perk: when a retailer places an order of $2,500 or more, they are invited to select free merchandise valued at 10 percent of the order.

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