Byline: Miles Socha

NEW YORK — As Fruit of the Loom expands from a maker of basic underwear and other staples into a producer of branded fashion-oriented casualwear, its underwear offerings are getting in on the action as well.
To illustrate the metamorphosis, the company staged its first-ever runway show last Thursday as part of Prudential Securities’ textile and apparel conference, which was held at the Millennium Hotel here.
In lieu of the standard financial presentation, male and female models paraded a colorful array of casualwear, including the new Fruit of the Loom Clothing line that will bow at retail next spring, along with several updated underwear looks.
Richard Lappin, president and chief operating officer of the $2.4 billion company, said FTL’s strategy is to build on its strength in basics and introduce “more stylized products that command higher selling prices and margins.”
The underwear segment of the show accented such items as pink high-cut panties, lace-trimmed nylon briefs and ribbed bra tops.
As the company builds its apparel offerings, it has no reservations about its focus on the mass market, pointed out John W. Salisbury, who recently joined the firm as president of packaged goods. Salisbury noted that only about 35 percent of all casual apparel sold in America goes through mass-market channels, up about 3 percent from 1990.
However, he said, about 58 percent of all the underwear and fleece sold in America is sold at mass-market stores, up an impressive 10 percent from 1990.
“That tells us the consumer is willing to buy apparel in the mass channel,” Salisbury said. “We intend to be a driving force in accomplishing this. We’re committed to building market share for Fruit of the Loom and our retail partners.”
After the presentation, Salisbury asserted that Fruit of the Loom, with a consumer-brand awareness rating of about 95 percent, has the ability to transcend a number of categories.
“We have a pretty aggressive new-product plan over the next 12 to 18 months,” he said. “We have to move beyond basic underwear.”
The fashion show demonstrated the progress. The lineup included highlights of the spring Gitano, Wilson Sportswear, Pro Player, Cumberland Bay and Fruit of the Loom Clothing brands and put the spotlight on such trendy items as sleeveless mock turtlenecks, short denim skirts and baby corduroy shirts.
Asked about the company’s plans for marketing FTL’s casualwear, still considered in the development stage, Salisbury said the ad account is up for review.
“We’ve been a little inconsistent with our campaigns,” he said. “We want really integrated consumer marketing.”
Salisbury’s post as president of packaged goods is a new one at FTL, in which he reports to Lappin.
Salisbury is responsible for managing overall business strategy for all packaged apparel and underwear bearing the Fruit of the Loom, BVD, Gitano and Munsingwear labels, and the licensed Wilson name. He also oversees private label business and retail partnerships with major stores.
Before joining FTL, Salisbury was president and chief executive officer of the Aris-Isotoner accessories division of Sara Lee Corp. for three years. As reported, Sara Lee sold a majority stake of Aris-Isotoner to Totes Inc. in August. Earlier, Salisbury was vice president and general manager of the Vanity Fair division of VF Corp. in 1993 and 1994, and before that was with Playtex Apparel for 21 years.

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