NEW YORK — With major changes and new demands coming from department stores, junior companies are putting a lot more emphasis on brand-building for back-to-school.

Even with department store consolidations in full swing, the junior market seems to be a healthy one. According to Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group, the Port Washington, N.Y., market research firm, the junior market generated a record $18.5 billion in sales from June 2005 to May 2006, up from $16.5 billion in the same period a year earlier.

To ensure continued growth, junior brands are making some key moves to cater to the increasingly demanding and sophisticated teen customer.

Star City has chosen to completely rebrand its line to gain more recognition in stores. The company used to run three labels — Star City sportswear, A Star by Star City knits and Star Jeans. Now the company will fold everything into the Star City label. In addition, Star City opened a licensing division, which it hopes will take the firm into product categories like outerwear, handbags, socks and children’s wear.

“In most stores, we are selling to three separate departments: sportswear, jeans and knits,” said Robert Klein, president of Star City. “So we think that by combining those under one label, and with new licensing opportunities, we can become a much bigger brand and get better consumer recognition. Having different labels was causing us to lose sight of our own brand. It became confusing.”

Klein said his brand brought in more than $90 million at wholesale last year. He expects that number to grow considerably within the next year.

At Dollhouse, Albert Shehebar, president of the brand, said keeping the customer interested is key. Then the stores will be on board.

“One of the most important changes is that we have been doing a lot more Web and technology-based marketing and advertising, because we have found that a majority of our customer base spends a lot of time on the Internet and text messaging,” he said. “It’s a great alternative to reaching our customer.”

Peter Kossoy, president of Younique, agreed that brand expansion is key to keeping a strong presence in stores.

This story first appeared in the July 27, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“We are going to really pick up on the licensing front, hoping to start with kids, shoes, outerwear,” he said. “But we are also working on enhancing our Web site, where we have seen a lot of consumer interest.”

Kossoy said the company is working on a concept called Younique TV, where consumers can log on and interact with other Younique shoppers.

Ady Gluck-Frankel, founder and president of Necessary Objects, said she thinks there have been a lot of changes at retail, but they have mostly been positive for vendors.

“The department stores are finally coming around to us to find out what’s happening,” she said. “They have been so much more open to what we are providing. This is a very tough business, and I think that the stores are realizing that design is one business and retailing is another. They see that we know what trends will sell.”

That said, Gluck-Frankel said that for b-t-s, there are a variety of trends on the floors: striped tunics, skinny jeans, woven tops, minidresses and cutoff pants, to name a few.

“The looks for the season are really fresh and new. I think it will be a great fall when it comes to new trends,” she said.

Candie’s, which is now sold exclusively at Kohl’s stores, consistently puts trends first.

“The most important thing is to be focused on trends,” said Lanie Pilnock, vice president of trend and design for the Candie’s brand. Pilnock also works with Iconix’s other labels, like Rampage, to make sure they follow the important trends of the season. “With any retail relationship, you have to show them the key things. With Candie’s, all our eggs are in one basket, so we have to stay focused and offer them the best of the best.”

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