Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK — How does a new collection without the cachet of a designer get the attention of retail buyers and start selling the stores?
Slowly, and by latching onto a niche that’s underserved, according to the partners of Penta Group Ltd. Penta, a bridge label now in its second fall season, is creeping into better specialty stores, including six locations of Neiman Marcus and Lester Melnick fine specialty stores in Texas.
“We had a customer in mind and know exactly who we are fitting — the average customer, who is misproportioned,” said Wendy Gray, one of the five partners of Penta Group. “Knowing your customer is half the battle.”
Added Laura Payne, another partner: “We’re updated, but more for [a misses’] customer. In our category, there are plenty of updated looks, but when the styling is updated, the cut is always too small for the average customer. She’s a size 12, and not tall. But that customer wants contemporary, so our pants are cut a little roomier in the hip. They just give a generous ease, which isn’t out there. A lot of companies think young-looking is small fitting. They are afraid of being quoted as ‘missy.’ “
Penta appeals to 35-and-older executive women and socialites and for fall emphasizes microfibers, novelty blouses, leather and fur trim jackets. Generally, the items and outfits are designed to be worn from fall to spring. Novelty blouses wholesale for $59 to $89; jackets, $139 to $179; pants, $69 to $99; skirts, $129 to $159, and leather blazers, $229 to $279. The company has a wholesale volume of $4 million, and all the production is done domestically, which helps speed reordering. With certain elements of the line, such as leather grouping, “We can provide a recut in 2 1/2 weeks,” Gray said.
At a trunk show in February at Lester Melnick stores in Dallas and Fort Worth, Penta in three days sold 43 items and took 103 special orders, representing $25,000 in revenues. Other stores that do well with the line are Hartly in Westwood, N.J.; Bernstein’s in Highland Park, N.J., and Farmer’s Daughter on Madison Avenue here. Neiman’s sells the line at its Short Hills, N.J.; Tysons, Va.; Troy, Mich., and Dallas stores.
Payne and Gray worked for 13 years at PSI, a former suit company, where they said they did everything from sourcing to sales, including selling Neiman’s. They acknowledged their past dealings with Neiman’s helped the start-up Penta get noticed.
At Penta, the two partners continue to do just about everything, including design, production, sourcing and selling, while the other investors are silent partners. Penta has a small staff that includes an illustrator, three regional reps and a salesperson. The showroom is at 214 West 39th Street.
“It’s a modern, seasonless look,” said Payne.

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