Keds, the nearly 100-year-old footwear brand owned by Collective Brands Inc., has enlisted the help of sourcing powerhouse Li & Fung to break into the apparel market for spring 2012 with its own take on classic American sportswear.

This story first appeared in the February 24, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The line, which will include a broad range of men’s and women’s looks, will cater to Millennials, who are mostly in their 20s. Under the licensing agreement, Keds and the Regatta team at Li & Fung’s LF USA division will develop the collection. Li & Fung will be responsible for marketing and sales to boutiques and better department stores across the U.S.

The casual line will launch with a limited edition collection and expand into more complete offerings in 2012.

Keds plans to take a measured approach, setting up a business that can last decades.

“This will not be rolled out in some big way — this will be market by market. The right accounts will be chosen to build apparel for what is one of America’s sweetheart brands,” said Matt Rubel, president, chairman and chief executive officer of Collective. “This signals another step for us as a company moving into categories that are next to the core of footwear, but connect to the same consumer.”

Collective extended its Saucony brand into apparel in September 2009. Rubel said apparel and accessories account for about 7 percent of Collective Brands’ sales, which tipped the scales at $3.3 billion in fiscal 2009. Over the next five to seven years, the ceo said, the category could grow to 11 to 12 percent of total turnover.

Kristin Kohler Burrows, president of Keds, described the brand as “democratic.”

“The brand has always really been about accessible fashion, timeless American style,” she said.

The apparel line will cover all of sportswear, including knit and woven shirts, pants, jeans, khakis and dresses. Prices and product will vary depending on the distribution channel.

Burrows said the Millennial target customer has a lot of buying power and is in sync with the Keds brand’s values, which she described as open, optimistic and collaborative.

Rick Darling, president of LF USA, said, “We see tremendous opportunities to build on the strong heritage and spirit of the Keds brand to bring consumers a new, differentiated apparel collection.”

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