If anybody knows about survival, it’s Norma Kamali.
The innovative sportswear designer, who’s been in the business 30 years, has navigated her way through numerous collections, fashion shows, categories, joint ventures and licensing deals, and has managed to keep the integrity of her name intact.
Today, at 51, she’s ready for the next step: big volume.
Kamali is on the verge of licensing a broad range of products, including denim, leather, activewear, gym, swimwear and home furnishings under the Norma Kamali name. She expects the new licensed products to kick in during 1998.
“I’m not in a rush for everyone to bust out of the door,” says Kamali, who will continue to produce her OMO Norma Kamali designer sportswear, eveningwear and wedding gowns in-house.
The designer acknowledges that in the past, becoming a megabrand was never an aim of hers. “My goal hasn’t always been to make the most money in the fashion industry. I know that success is weighed by dollars, so maybe in two years, I will be deemed successful,” she says.
Throughout her career, Kamali’s been at the forefront of many leading sportswear and swimwear trends, with, for example, her innovative use of fleece and polyester jersey in sportswear and activewear; silk parachutes for clothing, and beauty products.
But volume was never her thing.
“I’ve chosen from the very beginning to be very small. I’ve made the right decision because I’m still here. My reputation as a designer and the clothing I did survived. I took different turns depending on what would be best for my career and my longevity. For me, it’s now going from being a manufacturer to a licensor,” she says.
Designer, innovator, manufacturer, licensor…whatever…is particularly relevant right now, as Kamali takes the “be all that you can be” approach to fall. At her Monday show, she dove full speed ahead into a take on army-surplus looks, adding a twist of classic equestrian cool. There was something for everyone, from zipper-ridden nylon jumpsuits to classic riding pants, some great knits and a ton of chic leathers. Those stretchy, sexy basics that her customer loves were all there, as well as her signature sleeping-bag coat, which originally inspired the camping theme.
Kamali’s current business (including swimwear and OMO Gym) generates $4 million at retail. Her accounts include Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Ultimo in Chicago, Joyce Boutique in Hong Kong and Browns in London.
Over the next three years, retail volume for all the new — and upcoming — licensed products is targeted at $100 million, while Kamali is expected to receive $8 million in royalties.
As reported, Kamali signed a deal last year with Marilyn Goldberg, president of Museum Masters International, to negotiate with companies on the designer’s behalf. So far, licenses have been signed for opthalmics and sunglasses (worldwide distribution), children’s wear (U.S. distribution) and watches (Far East distribution).
Most of the future licensees will distribute the Kamali products worldwide. They will also be sold at Kamali’s OMO boutique at 11 West 56th Street.
As part of this overhaul of the business, Kamali says she wants to target baby boomers like herself.
“I’m very clearly a baby boomer. It’s not like ‘Oh my God, I’m 51,’ and I’m upset about it. I like it. There is a baby boomer customer out there who is not being addressed as much as she should be. This woman really likes to spend money on clothes, but there aren’t as many choices for her.”

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