Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — From Nike to the National Football League, sports brands are focused on the huge potential in the women’s outerwear market, and licensed lines are starting to get a piece of it.
Several activewear manufacturers said the move over the past several seasons into jackets bearing their firm’s or team’s logo was a natural expansion of their product lines — one they plan to continue to build upon.
Women’s increasingly active lifestyles and a growing demand for novelty looks in outerwear are key factors driving sports leagues and companies to break into outerwear manufacturing or develop specific women’s products in their existing lines.
Companies such as Danskin and Champion point to outerwear as a category with major potential, and they are testing women’s products in various markets. For now, they are producing the products in-house, representatives of each company said, but they may pursue licensing deals if the category should explode.
At the same time, sports leagues, including the NFL and the National Hockey League, which have licensed professional franchise names to outerwear producers for many years, are now getting into women’s licenses.
“I think many of the sports athletic producers are turning to outerwear because outerwear is no longer seen just as a functional piece of clothing,” said Jeanette Nostra, president of G-III Apparel Group, which produces leather and cloth outerwear for the NFL, NHL and NASCAR. “Rather, women are looking at outerwear as a fashion piece to be bought in relation to an outfit.”
After manufacturing men’s NFL outerwear for the past five years, G-III launched six coats specifically for women with the NFL this season, including cloth jackets bearing the team colors and logos of the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants.
The anoraks, hooded varsity jackets, bombers and stadium jackets landed at retailers, including J.C. Penney, Sears and specialty sporting goods stores, at the beginning of October under the label, Ladies First.
For fall 1998, the company is expanding its women’s offerings to 18 styles, including leather coats and new cloth fabrications such as quilted jackets, said Stephanie Bidlake, director of sales at G-III’s licensing division.
Bidlake projected the women’s business could make up 20 to 25 percent of sales in the sports licensing division at G-III.
The NHL also is completing the terms of its first women’s license in outerwear, also with G-III, as part of an “entire women’s initiative” to launch next spring, said Jim Haskins, director of consumer products marketing for the hockey league. G-III has manufactured men’s NHL coats for two years.
But G-III is not the sole licensee of outerwear for the leagues. In fact, the NFL and NHL each carries dozens of licensees for outerwear that reach beyond the typical categories of leather, wools or active, with separate lines for mass market, moderate and better channels of distribution.
“The licensing business is better segmenting itself by becoming more fashion-oriented as customers are looking for better product,” Haskins said. “Retail buyers also have the sense to recognize that sports fans are becoming more sophisticated and are matching brands in sports with brands in licensing.”
NHL outerwear is also made by Pro Player and Starter Corp. for specialty stores, while Chalk Line and Russell manufacture jackets for the mass market. Other licenses are specific to stadium concessionaires or particular retailers, such as Foot Locker.
“The women’s products will only be done by G-III,” Haskins said. “Part of the reason is to see what goes on in the marketplace. We’re testing the product to see that there is a real segment of women out there who will buy it.”
Haskins is optimistic that the test will be successful and lead other manufacturers to follow suit into outerwear geared to female customers.
Starter, G-III and Champion all are building their own brand recognition with licensed outerwear. Their logos are placed prominently on the sleeves of the products and are often worn by the sports players in action.
Champion recently has expanded its outerwear offerings with nylon windbreakers for its licensed lines and branded apparel. The firm launched women’s products in its fall collegiate line, in which there are a few women’s outerwear pieces. The rest of the company’s fleece and nylon outerwear offerings are unisex, said a spokeswoman.
“Outerwear is definitely an area we’ve targeted for expansion,” the spokeswoman said, noting nylon windbreakers and walking suits have sold equally to men and women. Sales estimates for the 1997-98 season have been pushed up 11 percent from their initial projections, based on the success of outerwear and “windwear” products to date. Windwear is Champion’s nylon category and does not include warm-ups.
Because the product was a logical extension of Champion’s existing fleece sweats, the outerwear pieces have been designed and manufactured internally. The licenses the company has ventured into thus far include deals for socks, underwear, children’s wear and athletic bags — products outside the company’s core manufacturing expertise.
“We see a lot of potential in licensing to build the equity of the brand,” the spokeswoman said, adding that if Champion’s outerwear business should expand substantially, the company would consider licensing the brand to an outerwear manufacturer.
Danskin also has made its outerwear since its first jackets were introduced last fall at wholesale.
“For us, jackets were a natural extension of the product we already had under our cross-training division,” said Marilyn Werner, executive vice president. “There is a natural need for jackets for outdoor activities such as walking, which is one of the most popular exercise and fitness activities right now.”
Danskin’s first outerwear offerings included microfiber pullovers and anoraks that coordinate with sport pants, racing bras and bike shorts. The company is expanding its jacket line to five styles for summer, including water-resistant, Teflon-treated nylon, cropped pullovers and anoraks, as well as a style geared to plus-size customers.
While Danskin licenses its name to Wundies for children’s underwear, the firm keeps most of its design and production in-house. For the outerwear launch, Werner said the company already had the design experience, technical information and manufacturing expertise to extend its product line.
“You are able to control your inventory better, and you are able to turn goods around faster and react better if a product sells particularly well at retail,” Werner said.
The downside is that as Danskin begins to develop more technical outerwear pieces, with such features as mesh ventilation, reflective tape and Velcro closures, the company has to outsource production to offshore manufacturers with more sophisticated sewing skills.
Licensees also offer the production expertise and have stronger influence with buyers and retailers specializing in their category.
One challenge Danskin has faced in launching outerwear internally is that many retailers draw a distinction between activewear and outerwear buyers, and sales representatives often have to pitch the line to more than one buyer per store.
“It’s a double-edged sword. It means more time spent by our sales representatives, so it’s a challenge,” Werner said. “But it’s also an opportunity for more sales.”
Starter has been manufacturing sports league jackets since 1979 as a licensee, but began licensing its own brand in 1993, according to a spokeswoman.
The majority of its branded outerwear is self-manufactured, but certain categories such as children’s and leather outerwear are licensed.
“They are people in other businesses that are connected to ours, but they specialize in one area,” the spokeswoman said. “G-III specializes in leather outerwear, for instance.”
The G-III license was signed in January.
Licensees open more channels of distribution and expand possibilities for Starter branded products in other categories, she said, without draining the company’s corporate resources and staff.
Nike also has manufactured its own outerwear for the past decade, said Ian Yolles, director of marketing for U.S. apparel.
“Where we have chosen to license is where we felt there was an expertise we didn’t have,” Yolles said. “Ultimately, it is a brand management question. Making the product ourselves enables us to manage the brand more closely and manage the quality more closely.”

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