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Men'sWeek issue 03/11/2011

Serial denim entrepreneur Scott Morrison is back in the jeans business with a new company, called 3×1. The label will launch with an unusual manufacturing and retail concept: a 7,300-square-foot SoHo space at 15 Mercer Street that will serve as both a production facility and high-end flagship. Shoppers will be able to custom-order men’s and women’s jeans from an extensive range of fabric and hardware options, while observing the production process from behind glass.

This story first appeared in the March 11, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“I didn’t just want to do another jeans line. I wanted to do something unique and special,” said Morrison, who previously co-founded both Earnest Sewn and Paper Denim & Cloth. Most recently, Morrison exited his post as chief executive officer and creative director of Evisu last August when the company’s parent company shuttered the U.S. business and moved the brand’s headquarters to Hong Kong.

In his newest venture, Morrison has partnered with Eric Rothfeld, the former ceo of Sun Apparel Inc. Rothfeld is largely financing 3×1 — the name is a reference to a type of denim weave — via his family investment vehicle, REI Capital. The duo met in November through a mutual friend and quickly hammered out a deal to launch the brand.

“I’ve been looking for an opportunity in jeans for the last number of years and, candidly, I did not find anything that was unusual and different,” said Rothfeld, who ran the Polo Jeans Co. business when that label was licensed to Sun Apparel. “This is fresh and different on so many levels. I think a denim brand based in New York is exciting. And I think using manufacturing as the essence of the retail environment is novel and exceptional. There are many denim aficionados out there and seeing the process will be a fascinating experience for them.”

Rothfeld said the company is “very well financed” and he has the cash to back it up — he was majority owner of Sun Apparel when he sold it to Jones Apparel Group in 1998 for $212 million, plus the assumption of $232 million in debt. Following the acquisition, Rothfeld served as president and ceo of the Sun Apparel division of Jones until the end of 2001, when he exited to focus on investing. In the apparel space, he is a co-owner of Yummy Tummy shapewear and Winston Retail Solutions, a creative services and merchandising firm, both of which he financed at launch.

The 15 Mercer Street retail concept, which is under construction and slated to open in May, is spread out over 3,800 square feet on the ground floor and 3,500 square feet on a lower level. It was previously occupied by a L’Oréal professional training academy.

The ground floor will be home to 22 sewing stations, including 11 single-needle machines, as well as an area for applying grinding and finishes. The lower level will contain washing facilities, offices and a showroom for wholesale sales, which will begin in the fall to a select group of top specialty retailers. Morrison’s first appointment is with Barneys New York.

Morrison is highly regarded by retailers and known for his brand-building skills, but his stints at the helms of his previous ventures have yielded some mixed results. Morrison exited Earnest Sewn after disagreements with his financial backers, while Evisu’s owners pulled the plug on the U.S. after giving Morrison just 15 months of running the company.

In the 3×1 store, customers will have various buying options and levels of bespoke services. Basic off-the-shelf jeans will retail for $295, with all jeans hemmed to size on the spot and a wide selection of different hardware buttons available — with the finished product ready in 10 to 15 minutes, said Morrison. Shoppers with more time, interest and money can choose a greater level of customization, choosing their own selvedge fabrics from all over the world, hardware and other details, along with a custom fit process that could drive the price of the jeans north of $800.

Rothfeld likened the retail experience to the approach Apple takes in educating and entertaining customers in its stores, not just selling product. “We’re not going to rush you to buy a jean. We want you to spend as much time as possible in the store,” he explained.

Apart from launching a wholesale business in the fall, the partners are planning to open additional stores down the road, with Europe and Japan being potential target markets. “The business will grow in an intelligent and organic way,” said Rothfeld. “We are both used to larger businesses and we think that what we are doing here can definitely be larger than a single store.”

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