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Walter Baker Gets Boost From Samsung

The electronics giant is quietly becoming a player in the contemporary arena.

DALLAS — Samsung may be most visible in American fashion for hiring designers to promote its gadgets and having a presence at New York Fashion Week, but the electronics giant is also quietly becoming a player in the contemporary arena.

Samsung Fashion America, one of five global apparel branches of the Korean electronics titan, has been offering select contemporary brands a complete package of services, including financing, manufacturing and distribution, in exchange for a percentage of sales.

“They’re looking to get involved with more contemporary labels to expand their horizon,” noted Walter Baker, owner of Walter Baker White Label and W118 by Walter Baker. “It seemed like a really good situation for me, and sure enough, it has been. They’ve given me the ability to rock ’n’ roll.”

Since Baker began working with Samsung in August, sales have tripled and are projected at $25 million this year, he said. Two thirds of the business is W118, which typically retails between $100 and $300, and the remainder is White Label, which offers more luxurious fabrics and sells for $400 to $800. Offering coats, dresses and sportswear, W118 is sold by Macy’s, Neiman Marcus Cusp and others.

Baker, who dresses head-to-toe in Rick Owens and entered fashion in 1991 because it was “more fun” than his career in finance and accounting, notes the industry is “a tough business with so many variables.” He’s now planning to add bags, jewelry and, eventually, branded stores.

“Samsung provides financing, factories in the Far East, freight forwarding, warehousing, shipping, accounts receivable — everything,” Baker noted. “They’re really efficient, and it’s very economical because the more companies doing it, the lower the price goes. It saves me an incredible amount of work so I can spend more time on merchandising.”

Over the past five years, Samsung has developed a similar relationship with six other contemporary brands including BB Dakota and hopes to add two or three more this year, according to YooSun Min, manager of Fashion Two at Samsung. She contacted Baker after his coats caught her eye.

“We partner with new or up-and-coming contemporary brands that are in need,” Min said. “Contemporary is not necessarily the only thing we’re looking into, but it’s the fastest-growing in the fashion industry, so we’re looking at it a lot.”

Samsung is also working with about 13 labels in addition to Fashion Two’s seven contemporary brands and “all our business models are the same,” Min said. She declined to reveal the companies.

“We have the manpower to build a better system,” Min asserted. “It’s a lot stronger than if Walter was to be on his own.”

Samsung has a significant apparel business in Korea and Asia led by Bean Pole, a fast-fashion label for men and women launched in 1989 and inspired by classic British style.