Byline: Scott Malone / Julee Greenberg
Unionbay Plays Catch Up
Realizing that teen girls ride on a faster fashion cycle than their male counterparts, Unionbay has restructured its approach to that business, in an effort to grow its sales to young women.
The division of Seattle Pacific Industries for the past two decades had run its junior and young men’s businesses the same way, offering new styles twice a year about six months in advance of when they’d reach retail shelves. But after seeing its sales decline for the past two years, according to Connie Maynard, vice president of sales for junior sportswear, the company realized it was time to change.
“It was a liability on our end because fall orders committed to in February were often wrong,” she said in a recent interview at the company’s New York showroom. “The product wasn’t as young and fun, and pretty and feminine as it could be. We lost a lot of business.”
Now, almost two years into Maynard’s tenure at the brand, it has redesigned its entire junior line to give it a stronger fashion focus, lowered its prices and changed its market schedule.
The brand brought down the rise on all its jeans styles to as low as 7 1/2 inches and increased the variety of washes and treatments it’s showing on fall denim. To keep its fashion sharp and improve turnaround time, the brand also has narrowed its assortment of stock-keeping units.
“We changed our focus,” she said. “Where we used to deliver 16 sku’s, now we ship six.”
That allows the company to place bigger production orders at foreign factories, which allows higher delivery priority. Last week, the brand was still booking orders for July deliveries. In previous years, it would have been booked up through Aug. 30 deliveries by February.
The brand also reduced its wholesale and targeted retail prices to be more in line with the competition, and make it easier for retailers to sell the goods at a higher markup. It dropped wholesale prices from around $21 to between $13.75 and $16.50, which is more in line with the typical $30 retail price at which junior jeans sell.
The changes have the company planning to turn its sales trajectory from 5 percent decreases the past two years to a projected increase to 10 to 15 percent this year.
“It’s been a great change for us,” said Maynard, “a badly needed one.”
Dick Gilbert is broadening his sales base beyond the volatile junior market. The president of New York-based Mudd Inc. is resurrecting his former junior brand, Zena, as a misses’ line, targeting moderate shoppers with an eye for style.
“I got this idea that the hot, young, pretty misses’ customer who couldn’t fit into Mudd or LEI still wanted to have attractive jeans,” he said. “There was a big vacuum for a 28-year-old woman who had had a couple of kids, but still looked good and couldn’t fit into Mudd or LEI.”
A small test collection of the jeans, which are produced by licensee W.E. Stevens of Nashville, shipped over the past holiday shopping season, but Gilbert plans fall to be the first big season at retail.
Stylistically, the Zena line contains similar elements to its sister line: low-rises, flared legs and potassium washes. But all are more subtle, to meet the tastes of the misses’ customer.
“It’s not as low a rise, not as big a flare and the potassium blasts are toned down,” he said. “The rise is 1 1/2 inches below the belly button as opposed to 4 1/2.”
The line has had very limited distribution since 1995, when Gilbert decided that selling it in Target stores was a bad idea.
Zena jeans wholesale for $16 to $20. This year, Gilbert expects the line to rack up $12 million in sales, swelling up to $20 million to $25 million next year.
That’s well beyond what the company’s high-end line — Paper, Denim & Cloth — has grown to in its first two years on the market, but Gilbert said he prefers keeping that brand, which retails for up to $200 a pair, in a limited distribution.
“Right now, it’s a prestige thing,” he said of Paper. “I always had a dream to do a better brand. I just wanted to be able to say I had it.”
Hang Ten, the junior label known for its California image, has added denim to its mix for back-to-school retailing.
Led by Dana Sheill, vice president of sales for U.S. licensor Knight Apparel Group, the first collection of jeans consists of 24 pieces in a variety of novelty washes and fabrics. Most jeans styles are low-rise and made of stretch fabrics, with sandblasted and whiskered effects. The collection also includes some denim skirts, both short and long, as well as a couple of dark denim jackets.
“We felt that with the relaunch of the Hang Ten brand about a year ago, that denim would complement the junior line and the men’s line,” Sheill said. “With the denim trend so big right now, we thought this was the right time.”
The jeans wholesale between $12 and $19. Sheill said she plans to do the bulk of her business with stores on the West Coast.
“We are expecting to place the collection in a large number of specialty chains as well as some department stores,” she explained. “The brand, with its California lifestyle, is not for all department stores.”
A national advertising campaign is now under way in the March issues of YM, Alloy, Spin and Seventeen magazines, showcasing both the denim line and full sportswear collection.
Hang Ten was first launched in 1960. It gained strength in the Seventies and became known as a junior tops brand in the Eighties. In the Nineties, Hang Ten was only licensed apparel. Last year, Knight Apparel Group, which also runs the Bug Girl and Palmettos junior labels, relaunched the Hang Ten brand with a junior sportswear and young men’s collection of clothing. There are more than 110 manufacturers licensed to produce and distribute Hang Ten products in 72 countries. Hang Ten also operates about 400 freestanding stores around the world. Total revenue of all Hang Ten products around the world amounts to $710 million.
Bloomingdale’s Fights the Blues
The people at Bloomingdale’s know that finding the perfect fit of jeans can be a daunting task for the denim devotee. So this weekend, they’re holding “Denim Days” at the Manhattan flagship on East 59th Street.
The retailer will move its entire denim assortment — about 50 styles — into an area on the second floor it refers to as the “T zone,” with 17 dressing rooms. According to a spokeswoman, representatives of all its key denim lines, including Seven, Earl Jean, Marc Jacobs, Paper, Denim & Cloth, Guess and Polo Jeans Co., will be on hand to help shoppers find their desired fits. The Third Avenue windows also will feature denim looks.
There also will be blue cocktails and raffles for blue-related events, like tickets to the Blue Man Group and dinner at the Blue Water Grill.
Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction, said it’s part of an effort to use a hot category to burn away memories of last fall’s retail blues.
“Our contemporary business, where our jeans bar is, is going way ahead of plan. It’s the best business at the moment at Bloomingdale’s,” he said. “We want to keep it going. We’re doing everything we can to make our business better because things slowed down a little bit last year.”
Better Quarter for Tarrant
Tarrant Apparel Group’s losses narrowed substantially in the fourth quarter while increasing slightly for the year. The loss for the quarter ended Dec. 31 was $812,000, or 5 cents a share, compared with a $7.8 million loss, or 49 cents, in the year-ago period. Sales were down 12 percent to $71.6 million from $81.4 million.
The narrowing of the loss was helped by improvements in gross profit and a reduction in expenses. Gross profit for the quarter jumped to 17.3 percent of sales, or $12.4 million, compared with just 6.6 percent, or $5.4 million, last year. Selling, general and administrative expenses dropped 40.4 percent to $10.2 million, or 14.2 percent of net sales, compared with $17.1 million, or 21 percent, in last year’s quarter.
Gerard Guez, chairman, said in a statement that 2001 results were impacted by the tough macro-economic environment, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and by retailers’ more aggressive inventory management.
He projected that earnings for 2002 should improve as “retailers begin to bulk up their currently lean inventory levels. In the first quarter, we anticipate a loss per share to range between 6 cents and 8 cents. With our current order backlog, we are confident that the loss in the first quarter will be more than offset by the gains in the second quarter. For the year, we expect top line growth of between 5 and 10 percent and earnings per share to come in at 40 to 50 cents.”
For the year, Tarrant reported a net loss of $2.9 million, or 18 cents a share, versus a $2.5 million loss, or 16 cents, in 2000. Sales dropped 16.5 percent to $330.3 million from $395.2 million.