RUBIN SEES MIDEAST QUANDARY
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — As a leader in the international activewear business, Stephen Rubin is looking at such spots as the Mideast as a potential for further development of the women’s business. But that route faces a tough challenge, he said.
Rubin, chairman and chief executive officer of the British-based Pentland Group, was interviewed here Tuesday evening at the Rainbow Room, where he received the 1997 International Entrepreneur Award presented by the American Committee for Shenkar College in Israel. About 260 people turned out for the black-tie dinner dance.
Rubin, who is also president of the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry, pointed out that officials of the International Olympic Committee have said that women in religious fundamentalist countries are not happy with the options for activewear.
“One interesting query we are going to have to face is, ‘Does the activewear business become more modest or does it remain as it is?” he said. “At the Olympic procession in Atlanta, there were few women in various delegations from such countries as Iran.”
Deciding ways to address the women’s activewear markets in Muslim countries as well as activewear for Jewish orthodox women will be key to developing business in such areas, Rubin said.
“Now we need to design clothing that is not offensive to anyone. Yet it gives women the freedom of movement they want and need,” he said.
Running apparel and swimwear are categories that need improvement, Rubin said. In certain sections of Iraq, for example, a woman would only wear Speedo swimwear in front of her husband or her female friends.
“In a lot of countries, if a woman wants to run fast she can’t — due to clothing rules. There must be a balance. we want to abide by what fundamentalists believe is OK,” he said. However, he asked, “From a human rights’ point of view, is it right to forbid women from wearing what they want?”
The Pentland Group’s brands include Speedo swimwear, Berghaus outdoor apparel, Pony and KangaRoos athletic footwear, Ellesse activewear and footwear, Reusch ski and soccer gloves and Lacoste footwear. The group’s purchase of Moda Prima, a San Diego maker of women’s activewear, in February is further evidence of the company’s multibrand philosophy, Rubin said.
The group’s labels are currently sold in 150 countries. For 1996, the company’s wholesale volume — excluding royalties for sales of licensed goods — was $1.5 billion, a 25 percent gain compared to 1995, Rubin said.
Rubin’s investment in Reebok International, which fueled Reebok’s growth has been one of the many high points in Rubin’s career, said John Idol, group president and chief operating officer of product licensing for Polo Ralph Lauren and Ralph Lauren Home collection, who presented Rubin with his award.
In 1981, Rubin invested $77,000 in Reebok and by 1991 that investment had increased to $770 million, Idol said.
In addition to Idol, Jerome A. Chazen, retired chairman of Liz Claiborne; Linda Wachner, chairman and ceo of The Warnaco Group and Authentic Fitness Corp., Speedo’s U.S. maker; Elie Tahari, and Arthur Levine, chairman and ceo of Sassco, were among the industry executives attending the event.
A fashion show featuring apparel designed by 15 students enrolled at Shenkar was one of the evening’s features.
“We want to try to educate our students to go global. Stephen certainly represents the benefits of that,” said Charlotte Fainblatt, executive director of the American Committee for Shenkar College.
The event raised about $500,000 for Shenkar’s capital campaign, said Fainblatt.