NEW YORK — Young designers Jennifer Buckley and Scott French of Betty Wear Inc. have come a long way since starting their innerwear firm in 1991.

Buckley and French, each 28 years old, and their independent backer, David Rothberg, plan to open the first of what they hope will be a series of Betty Wear specialty shops.

The freestanding 400-square-foot shop, which opens May 5 at 293 Essex St. in Millburn, N.J., will carry the firm’s two daywear and sleepwear labels — Betty Wear and Every Wear — as well as a line of men’s sleepwear called Wally Wear.

“We will be targeting affluent, suburban areas that will pose no conflict with existing retail accounts,” said Rothberg, noting that the innerwear lines are distributed to major specialty and department stores, primarily in urban areas.

Rothberg said that if the shop generates first-year sales of between $100,000 and $200,000, additional shops will be opened in other upscale suburbs around the country. Startup costs for fixturing and a year’s rent for each shop should total between $40,000 and $60,000, he said.

Rothberg, who also is owner and president of Leslee Knits Inc., a men’s sweater contractor, started backing Buckley and French 2 1/2 years ago.

“I think we’ll be able to get a really good handle in this store on what sells in suburbia,” said Buckley, who handles merchandising and design. “We’ll be able to test new styles and see what works at retail, and it will be an opportunity to merchandise the collections the way we want.”

French, whose forte is finance and operation, noted that the shop will also be a “perfect vehicle” for newly introduced groups of silk and laces, as well as a line of basic daywear and sleepwear items under the Betty Wear label, all with an innerwear/outerwear flavor. Until now, the Betty Wear signature has been mix-and-match patchworks of woven cotton.

Rothberg, whose company handles production for Betty Wear, added, “Hopefully, we’ll catch a lot of the vacation crowd, but the real push will be for fall. That’s when we’ll get an indication of how business will fare.”

Meanwhile, wholesale volume has been pushing ahead for Betty Wear. Buckley and French project total company sales this year will double to about $2.5 million. This is a far cry from the firm’s first-year sales volume of a little over $150,000. At the time, the design duo kept overhead down by working out of a small apartment they shared that doubled as a studio.

In October, they moved into 2,500-square-foot offices at 37 West 17th St. that serve as design studio, warehouse and sales showroom. They employ a staff of five, and this line is handled by sales representatives in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Miami.

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