THE BRAIN BEHIND DICKIES GIRLS

Byline: Katherine Bowers

LOS ANGELES — As the six-foot-tall, spray-painted depiction of The Brain, an irascible, genius cartoon mouse, on his office wall indicates, Apparel Limited Inc. chief executive officer Masud Sarshar is a man hatching a plan.
Sarshar is plotting a big future for Dickies Girls, a two-year-old junior collection licensed from the venerable workwear brand known primarily for stiff-kneed pants and tool belts.
Prior to Sarshar, Dickies needed pastel pink like the proverbial fish needed a bicycle. Now, Dickies Girls is laden with girlie touches and is making a splash in national specialty chains.
Industry sources said Dickies Girls, only on the market for two years, will double its revenues to roughly $30 million this year.
At trade shows, buyers cram into the booth to take notes on the stiffish, low-rise pants, knee-length tomboy shorts and poplin camp shirts. Framed on Sarshar’s desk, a December sales report from Macy’s West shows sell-throughs ranging from 27 to 44 percent (the industry average is 12 to 15 percent per week). Leading specialty retailers such as Tilly’s, Hot Topic, Anchor Blue and Urban Outfitters also carry the brand.
Although seemingly an overnight success, Sarshar’s association with Dickies began in 1997 when he redyed and reworked a pair of Dickies overalls for a girlfriend. Strolling on Melrose, a trendy shopping street here, the couple was stopped five times by people wondering where to buy the overalls.
Sarshar pounced on the opportunity, parlaying casual interest into an overalls business that at its height was reworking 4,000 Dickies overalls each month.
But when he asked Williamson-Dickies Mfg. Co. for a license to create a collection, Sarshar said, “They laughed at me. Then, they gave me one year.” Terms have since been extended.
Dickies corporate was “a bit incredulous at first,” admitted John Ragsdale, vice president of merchandising for the Fort Worth, Tex.-based company. “We weren’t aware of how much potential there was for us in this category.”
The company got an important clue, however, when Madonna wore customized black Dickies for her appearance at the 2001 Grammy Awards.
The firm has since endorsed Sarshar, trusting him with a second new license, for Dickies Genuine, a women’s uniform line, which launched in February. The line aims to provide duds with some flair for waitresses, bartenders and supermarket cashiers.
But his main focus right now is building the sportswear business. In youth marketing terms, Sarshar clearly “gets it” — he commands a stylist to “let the tattoos show” during a recent photo shoot and he won’t let the Dickies Girls customer be pigeonholed.
“The tattoo girl is into it,” he said. “The clean-cut Roxy girl is wearing it and the wannabe poseur is loving it.”
Rob Smith, vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Macy’s West, said the line has drawn an edgier customer into Macy’s.
“It’s been incredible,” Smith said, confirming that the store plans to increase its buy.
It’s not only attracting girls, but fashion-minded men, as well. At Fred Segal Flair in Santa Monica, Calif., freelance stylist Jorge Tort sported a striped pair of Dickies Girls low-rise pants.
“There are a couple of guys in this building wearing it,” he said. “They have the ‘I went to Cavalli and spent $800 on them look.’ I walk into a party and become ‘the guys with the pants.”‘
The label does the bulk of its business in a low-rise version of the signature pant. The warehouse is piled with every color and interpretation, from engineer stripe to sugar pink to houndstooth. Bottoms are priced $16.50 to $22 and tops range from $7 to $22. A recently launched Web site, dickiesgirls.com, does $2,000 a day in online sales.
According to Sarshar, part of the brand’s success thus far is quick delivery and replenishment. He said 90 percent of goods are produced within a five-mile radius of Apparel Limited’s offices, located in a battered 1917 building, formerly a May Co. store but now housing about 50 sewing contractors.
Sarshar said contractors like these have been a key in the label’s growth.
“People have been leaving L.A. and leaving all these beautiful contractors behind,” he said. “But they’re the reason I can react to a retailer in three weeks and not three months.”
He said he’s turned orders as large as $800,000 in three weeks.
Besides the licensee for junior sportswear, the company also has a license for bags, held by Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Yak Pak. As reported, branded bags performed well last year. According to Yak Pak president Stephen Holt, the company sold 125,000 units of a $7 wholesale branded pouch bag to specialty stores last year.

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