NEW YORK — In an East 75th Street town house far from the frenzy of the garment district, Winter Hodges, president of Bumi Sirotka, is ushering in two relatively unknown ready-to-wear labels with the guile of a Southern gentleman.
This story first appeared in the July 13, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Most Seventh Avenue types don’t call their offices “our home,” greet visitors with “y’all,” or offer them midafternoon cocktails, as Hodges does in his well-appointed space. All the charm adds up, as Hodges hails from Tennessee and still spends half of each month in the South.
This year he became president of Bumi Sirotka, an athletic-inspired brand that is offering office-appropriate clothes. This fall, Hodges launches Winter & Miggs, a more upscale ready-to-wear collection.
During an interview last week, Hodges, leaning on a handmade harvest table, said, “This is our home. We’re taking a different approach. It’s not traditional. We want people to be comfortable here.”
When Bumi Sirotka, the designer behind the brand that bears her name, asks him to put on one of her polo shirts for a photograph, Hodges steps into the hallway to retrieve one from the dryer. “Our home” isn’t a complete stretch considering Hodges lives in the upper level of the 2,500-square-foot space when he is in New York. The rest of his time is spent in Roanoke, Atlanta, Charlotte, S.C., and Tennessee, where he has other business obligations.
Hodges owns Westwin, a Trenton, Tenn.-based five-store operation that sells women’s, men’s and children’s apparel, and Nick Nack Patty Wack children’s clothing. He claims to have “grown up on a cutting table,” since his parents owned and ran Greenfield Manufacturing, before selling to Kellwood in 1961. Founded in 1947, Greenfield supplied coats, parkas and field jackets to the U.S. armed forces during the Korean War. The company later made women’s apparel for Sears, Roebuck and Co., and employed almost 700 people at its peak.
For Bumi Sirotka and Winter & Miggs, sales representatives have been hired to cover Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, New England and the mid-Atlantic states. Both collections will be focused on better specialty stores. Bumi Sirotka will continue to be sold to resort shops, but is expanding beyond New York and Florida. Sirotka has traded in her Wilhemina modeling career to focus full time on her business.
Winter & Miggs is projected to generate $5 million in first-year wholesale volume, and this year, Bumi Sirotka should ring up about $3 million in wholesale volume — tripling last year’s sales, Hodges said. At this point, the main concern is retail placement rather than expansion, he said.
“We want to get it right,’’ Hodges said. “What’s different is we’re about the retailer. It’s tough to be a retailer today.”
Until recently, Hodges handled the buying for his Westwin stores.
To try to make the collections, and the stores that carry them, more distinctive, Winter & Miggs will be heavy on prints and Bumi Sirotka has broadened its color palette beyond tennis whites. With financial backing from Hodges and a silent investor, Bumi Sirotka is expected to be sold in 70 specialty stores. Winter & Miggs aims for 700 specialty stores.
Sara Rotman, founder of MODCo Creative (which stands for My Own Damn Company), is designing the prints for Winter & Miggs and is helping with the creative side. Leslie Gordon Johnson has been hired as designer for Winter & Miggs. Coincidentally, she was voted “Miss Ole Miss” at the University of Mississippi when Hodges was president of the student body in 1986. They plan to offer some Southern hospitality this fall for the collection’s launch. They will have cocktail parties in friends’ homes in Houston, Dallas, Charlotte, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
“We want to go, but not sell them,’’ Johnson said. “We’ll just let them know this can be picked up at their local specialty store. I hate it when you go to people’s homes for one of those events and you feel like you have to buy something.”
The welcome mat is also out at the Upper East Side town house, where the kitchen is stocked and fires will be set in the fireplace this winter to encourage buyers to linger. But generosity has its drawbacks. Buyers are becoming more inclined to make their midafternoon visits the last stop of the day, said Sirotka, laughing. “I tell them, ‘I bet you planned it that way.’”
— Rosemary Feitelberg