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Kmart Focusing on Young Men’s

With its eye on young men, Kmart will launch two new collections for spring '08.

NEW YORK — With its eye on young men, Kmart will launch two new collections for spring ’08: the streetwear-inspired Wckd and the Latino-flavored Limon & Sal.

Wckd will make a mid-February debut at 602 Kmart stores, as well as other value-oriented retailers such as Mervyns and Against All Odds. The line is produced by Wicked Fashions, Inc., parent of the highly successful mid-tier streetwear brand SouthPole

Limon & Sal, aimed at Hispanic young men, will debut exclusively at 157 Kmart locations on April 1, and expand to about 350 locations by the end of the year.

Both Wckd and Limon & Sal, which will be presented as whole sportswear collections, represent a significant shift in Kmart’s merchandising strategy for young men. Like many mass retailers that merchandise by classification, “Kmart is often a destination place for items,” said Mike Sablowski, Kmart’s vice-president and GMM of men’s. “We’re beginning to move in a different direction for young men in creating an entire look. We feel that these collections would be better merchandised if key items come together.”

The brands also expose Kmart to new consumer bases. Wckd, which will also offer juniors’ and children’s collections, speaks to a fashion-forward streetwear consumer who had, until recently, been neglected in the mass market. However, the success of Wal-Mart’s urban-oriented Exsto collection, launched in 2006 and widely praised by Wal-Mart executives, has proven there is a demand for value-priced streetwear products.

David Strumeier, vice-president of licensing, marketing and new product development at Wicked Fashions, described the Wckd line as “opening-price point, demand-right street fashion.” The aesthetic, he said, is much like the brand’s older sibling Southpole, but with retail prices at about 15 to 20 percent lower; T-shirts start at $12.50 and denim will open at $17.99.

Wckd is the first of three new brands to come out of Wicked Fashions this year. The company will launch White Tag, a premium, rock & roll–themed line, as well as SPC Collection, a dressy club-oriented juniors’ label. Both will be aimed at mid-tier retailers, and will launch for back-to-school. Besides SouthPole, Wicked Fashions also owns Lot 29, a premium streetwear line.

Meanwhile, Limon & Sal, produced by Miami-based Orange Clothing Co., will reach out to the rapidly expanding young Latino consumer at Kmart. Orange Clothing already produces a higher-end, Latino-oriented young men’s line, called Revolucion, which retails at Macy’s and other men’s specialty stores.

Orange Clothing president Scott Deutsch said that all Limon & Sal garments are designed by Latino designers, with a Latino young man in mind. In fact, the brand’s hangtags are shaped like tequila bottles and read “Diseñado por latinos para latinos”—in translation: “Designed for Latinos by Latinos.”

As such, the silhouettes are smaller and lengths are shorter than a typical young men’s fit, and the sayings on Limon & Sal’s graphic T-shirts are all in Spanish. “The Hispanic customer is proud of his culture and wants to wear product that shows it off,” Deutsch explained. “They don’t just want a Mexican or Cuban flag on a T-shirt, they want something that is culturally meaningful.”

All Limon & Sal items will retail for $10 to $25.

Kmart has long been focused on the Latino market as part of its multicultural initiative. The retailer, owned by Eddie Lampert’s Sears Holdings Corp., launched the Thalía brand—inspired by Mexian pop star Thalía Sodi—for young women in 2003, and recently reinstated The Blue Light Special, starring a Spanish-speaking “Mr. Bluelight.” The nearly 1,400 store chain also uses Spanish marketing and advertising near designated stores in major Hispanic markets.

The retailer’s efforts have apparently paid off; according to a recent Scarborough Research study, Kmart currently ranks fourth as the most preferred place to shop by Latino consumers.

“This is the first time we’ve tailored our product offering specifically for Hispanic men,” said Kmart’s Sablowski. “Historically, though, the Hispanic community has had a strong affinity for Kmart products. We want our collections to reflect their importance in our stores.”