HOMEGROWN SWEATERS

Byline: Lisa Lockwood

NEW YORK — In its 10 years in business, Fashion Avenue Knits has grown into a $50 million sweater resource catering to junior and misses’ customers.
The company is entirely domestic and composed of two divisions: It’s Our Time makes updated juniors, and U.S. Sweaters manufactures misses’ sizes.
The juniors business accounts for $38 million in wholesale volume, while the misses’ business generates $12 million, said Mel Weiss, owner of Fashion Avenue Knits.
Weiss says that manufacturing in the United States allows him to maintain total control of his merchandise.
“I tried [going overseas] nine years ago. I did some goods in Taiwan and Korea for one season. It wasn’t my game; I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Weiss. “People specialize in that. I just couldn’t compete with them, and they can’t compete with me here.”
Fashion Avenue Knits produces 30 percent of its merchandise in its own 150,000-square-foot facility in Ridgewood, N.Y.; the remainder is contracted to facilities in Queens and Brooklyn.
The company has 80 to 90 sewing machines on its premises and makes 30 percent of its own fabrics. It also has its own printing department, where prints are heat-transferred onto fabrics. During peak seasons, said Weiss, it runs 24 hours a day.
“For this calendar year, we’ll probably end up doing close to $60 million,” said Weiss, including volume from some new cut-and-sew business, as well as from its Mary McFadden licensed suit collection, which was introduced last fall.
In the junior division, It’s Our Time does 70 percent of its business under that label and 30 percent under private label. Ten percent of the private label business is special requests from stores.
Generally, Weiss noted, he can sell 20,000 dozen of a good sweater each season. He cited a particularly successful sweater he ran two years ago as a thermal stitch banker’s vest. Some 11,000 to 13,000 dozen were sold each week. In total, the company sold 150,000 dozen of that one style, which went at wholesale for $9 to $10.50.
Among the stores that carry It’s Our Time sweaters are J.C. Penney, Macy’s East, May Department Store Co., Dillards and Nordstrom. The U.S. Sweaters are sold to accounts such as May Co. and Federated Department Stores.
The junior sweaters wholesale for $6.50 to $13.50, and include such looks as short-sleeve and zipper-front sweaters, cardigans, twinsets and synthetic knits with surface interest. The misses’ line also wholesales from $6.50 to $13.50, and includes short-sleeved mock-turtle ribs, cotton and rayon blends in short-sleeved sweaters and printed twinsets.
According to Kim Gould, sweater designer for It’s Our Time, the company gets most of its design inspiration from the streets, as well as from Europe.
“There have been a lot of patterns and novelty yarns and a continuation of colorblocking. Stripes are happening again,” said Gould. “For a long time, [the junior customer] was wearing monotone.
“I think going forward we’ll also see a lot of jacquard patterns,” said Gould.
One strong look for spring is 17-inch sweaters, especially since low-slung pants are leading the way in that category, said Gould.
“In addition, tighter, body-conscious silhouettes are selling well, and ‘Kramer’ looks, such as a cardigan with a zipper, are still good,” she added, referring to the character on “Seinfeld.”
Keeping prices down is a key concern at Fashion Avenue Knits.
“The stores are very price-conscious, and they tell us it’s the consumer that’s demanding that,” said Gould. “The whole trend is novelties. The stores want to maintain the same retails in solids as they do with novelties, so we do have to do more business each year to make the same dollars.”
“We’re working on a closer markup,” added Weiss. “The stores are forcing us into using EDI, a computerized replenishment program that tracks goods, receives orders and transmits orders to stores.
“So far, Fashion Avenue Knits has put in $60,000 in computer equipment, and we probably have another $30,000 to go,” said Weiss. “The stores are all demanding it. I don’t know how the small guy stays in business.”

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