Hudson Aims to Build Premium Lifestyle Brand

Hudson Jeans, led by Peter Kim, is embarking on the next step as the company attempts to build a premium casual lifestyle brand.

LOS ANGELES — Hudson Jeans, fueled by a new majority investment from Fireman Capital Partners and Webster Capital, is embarking on the next step to shore up its core business as it attempts to build a premium casual lifestyle brand in a recession.

This story first appeared in the March 24, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

With the investment from Fireman Capital, the Boston-based private equity firm founded by former Reebok chief executive officer Paul Fireman, and Webster, a Waltham, Mass.-based investment firm that holds interests in apparel companies including Sundance Catalog Co., Hudson will form a new board incorporating representatives from both firms.

Dan Fireman, Paul Fireman’s son who runs the namesake firm as managing general partner, will be Hudson’s chairman and David Lowe, an operating partner at Fireman Capital who was a co-owner of Stacy’s Pita Chip Co., will be a director. Joining the board from Webster are managing partner Don Steiner and Doug Williams, who used to be head of licensing at Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. Peter Kim, Hudson’s ceo and president, also will serve on the board, as will another to-be-determined person from Hudson.

In addition, Hudson will form a branding board that will operate separately from the corporate board to help build the brand. The advisers will include Paul Fireman and David Lipman, the advertising veteran who also serves as an operating partner at Fireman Capital. To round out the remaining four to six positions on the branding board, Fireman Capital floated the names of possible candidates such as former Burberry ceo Rose Marie Bravo.

“The job is to get the customer to see Hudson in a way that we intend it,” said Paul Fireman, noting it’s too early to outline specific plans. “I see certain similarities between Reebok and Hudson.…[It’s an] entrepreneurial company with very instinctive people in the company, focusing on the product more than the sales and competition. The most important thing is that it’s a very competitive market. I love competitive markets.”

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported Fireman was considering investing $33 million in Hudson. In an interview Monday, Fireman said that figure is “close enough” to the total, although he declined to specify the amount.

The fact that Fireman Capital is new to the denim industry didn’t pose a problem with Hudson.

“We are experts in denim,” Kim said. “They do have experience in branding and larger-size companies.…There are some spots that we need more expertise, like financing.”

Kim, 38, is a second generation apparel manufacturer who learned the trade at his parents’ company, Protrend, which produces the missy lines Nicola and E.K. Designs. Before starting Hudson in 2002, he ran a men’s streetwear label called Drunknmunky with Tony Chu, who serves as Hudson’s vice president of marketing and public relations.

Nicole Fry, senior vice president at Imperial Capital, a Los Angeles-based investment banking and research firm that tracks apparel companies, said one of Hudson’s advantages in this challenging economy is its price point. As consumers have been shying away from rivals that sell dungarees for more than $200, they’ve been turning to companies like Hudson, she said.

Even in the direst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression, Paul Fireman continues to have faith in the apparel market.

“When people are deprived of buying expensive things — cars and jewelry — they still want to present themselves with a sense of pride and posture themselves in fashion,” he said. “Jeans are good.”