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Eyeing Hispanic Market, Palomita Line Seeks to Build on Nostalgia

If music is the universal language, nostalgia may be the universal sentiment.

If music is the universal language, nostalgia may be the universal sentiment.

With the February launch of the T-shirt line Palomita, Molly Robbins, president of LicenZing, based in San Rafael, Calif., trusts that Latin youths are not immune. She’s secured the licensing rights to several iconic Mexican brand and television character trademarks to stylize them in junior and girls’ tops and sleepwear.

“I want to keep it nostalgic, but make it fun,” said Robbins, a former director of licensing at Bebe. “It is not just about the brands, it is about the memories they bring to you.”

Obtaining the rights to brand images in her native Mexico was difficult because the practice is not as widespread there as it is in the U.S. At Fabrica de Jabon La Corona, the Mexico City company that manufactures the laundry soap Zote, showing executives T-shirt samples did the trick.

“They loved that someone was coming to them for their brand and their properties, that they actually meant something,” Robbins said.

A recent licensing coup was Topo Gigio, a soft foam mouse that was the lead character in an Italian children’s puppet show that was broadcast throughout Latin America — and familiar to many Americans from TV’s “The Ed Sullivan Show,’’ which ran from 1948 to 1971. Other brands to be featured on Palomita Ts, which range from $4 to $6 wholesale and $10 to $20 retail, include fruit drink Pascual, clothing detergent Roma and the soda Lulu. Sleepwear will go for $7 to $15 wholesale and $15 to $30 retail.

Robbins secured a three-year licensing deal with Wish Licensing to produce Palomita items. When Robbins approached Wish late last year, the Burbank, Calif., firm was searching for a line targeting Hispanics after previous attempts received lukewarm responses.

“We thought that [Palomita] was the perfect opportunity to really have something for those [Hispanic] markets,” said Joel Barnett, vice president of sales, marketing and licensing at Wish. “We also believe that it surpasses being something only for the Hispanic customer.”

Robbins envisions a multi-tiered retail distribution to capture different audiences. T-shirts with more widely recognizable brand trademarks would be for trendy stores such as Kitson and Fred Segal, while chains like Mervyns would be privy to items with strong resonance for Latin customers.

Robbins has spoken with Wal-Mart representatives about Palomita, which means “dove,” “popcorn” and “check mark” in Spanish, but Robbins opted for the “check mark” meaning and uses one in the logo. Robbins and Barnett said they could not estimate first-year sales until they were certain about whether Wal-Mart would pick up the line.

Stephen Palacios, executive vice president of Cheskin, a consumer research firm, said Palomita had the potential to reach beyond Latins with the right marketing. “The Latino sensibility is starting to find itself in the general market entertainment and popular culture experience,” he said.