BABE DIDRIKSON TEES OFF

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Babe Didrikson, a signature activewear label inspired by the lifestyle of the late Olympic gold medalist and perhaps the greatest woman athlete of modern times, aims to outfit more women with a new sportswear collection called Millie D.
Didrikson, whose given name was Mildred, won three U.S. Open golf titles and two gold medals for track and field in the 1932 Olympics.
The Millie D. line will be launched at retail for fall 2000, according to Fran Matthews, president and chief executive officer of FranSport International, the maker of Babe Didrikson.
Matthews, who previously worked as a senior executive in the golf divisions of Tommy Hilfiger and Polo Ralph Lauren, founded FranSport in Amelia Island, Fla., in August 1998. The company owns the trademark for the Didrikson name.
“I wanted to use a name that no one had used before,” she said. “Babe had a very active lifestyle. She didn’t just play golf.”
In addition to the Babe Didrikson label, which was launched this spring, FranSport also produces Babe Didrikson 1932, a line of performance-oriented, Italian-made golf wear. The Millie D. line is geared for specialty stores. That area of distribution showed the most growth potential and interest in sportswear-oriented items for the brand’s other labels, Matthews said.
Babe Didrikson’s sportswear-oriented items are a hit with shoppers at Mettler’s, a six-store operation based in Sarasota, Fla., said Julie Wilson, women’s wear buyer. A yellow leather jacket at $875 and coordinating pants at $525 have been recent bestsellers, she said.
“It’s an updated classic line with fashion elements,” Wilson said. “There are cool pieces for older customers between the ages of 35 and 55.”
Less golf-oriented than the company’s other offerings, the 50-piece Millie D. line consists of leather skirts, suede jackets, woven shirts and pants. The company plans to unveil the line in its six-month-old showroom here at 101 West 55th Street in January. Wholesale prices will range from $60 to $450.
Next year, sales of Millie D. are expected to account for 60 percent of Babe Didrikson’s $8 million projected volume, Matthews said. This year’s sales are expected to exceed $6.5 million.
Hangtags for the Millie D. line, like those on all the brand’s apparel, indicate that proceeds will be donated to the Babe Didrikson Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in the athlete’s hometown of Beaumont, Tex. Proceeds are earmarked for cancer research because Didrikson died of colon cancer, Matthews said.

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