Byline: Kristin Larson

Judy Philips is hoping Americans will be as wowed by Canadian knitwear company Spanner as she was. After just one look at Spanner’s lines, this Michigan boutique owner found herself turning distributor in order to bring the company’s lines Stateside.
After seeing the line at a show in Canada last fall, Philips immediately placed an order for about $40,000. Problem was, because the merchandise is produced in Hong Kong, the order never arrived, thanks to tricky customs regulations. But that didn’t stop Philips, who then began pursuing ways to bring the line into her stores. She succeeded, and now will work with Spanner’s founders, the Lago family, to distribute the line to the states.
“I went from being a retailer to being an importer,” said Philips, who owns 10 specialty boutiques spread out over resort towns in upper Michigan. “But I just fell in love with this line, because of the way it is designed for a woman.”
Spanner’s first big American debut will occur at StyleMax, where fall and holiday collections will be shown, with deliveries available starting in July through September. In total, Philips will bring in eight groups from Spanner’s 20 different lines, with the emphasis on the sport, eveningwear and “collection” — meaning designer — categories. The pieces will retail for about $80 to $120 for sweaters, under $100 for pants and about $170 for hand-knit items. Collection pieces will range from $80 to $170.
In Canada, Spanner merchandise is carried in more than 500 locations. The company began in 1973, when it began as a small importer of Shetland sweaters from England and Italy. During the late Seventies, its focus shifted to the design and production of its own line of 100 percent wool sweaters. The line expanded to include related separates in the early Eighties, offering head-to-toe career looks.
Its lifestyle-focused sportswear collection launched when designer Susan Lee joined the company in 1989. “While the design concept remains true to Spanner’s knitwear origins, the collection has taken a more fashion-forward approach and has a distinctly modern edge,” said Lee.
Philips said she does not plan to drastically alter the line to suit American tastes, but will work with Lee on some modifications after the initial season of selling. Still, Philips is confident the line will sell itself. “American designers are always changing with the trends. Now, they’re coming out with military and camouflage; [before] it was safari. They’ve really been missing the way people dress day in, day out,” she said. “This line addresses how people live in the real world.”
The main reason Spanner is successful, Philips explained, is because it doesn’t chase the latest trends. Instead, it opts for classic looks. “You pick up any magazine and everything is modeled by a 17-year-old with a perfect body,” she said. “This line actually designs for women today — styled and cut for a woman’s body.”
And because Philips knows how retailers must operate in resort towns, she said she’s in a position to deliver merchandise on their time line.
“We’re really trying to pinpoint the availability to resort towns,” she said. “It’s really important when you have to make money in such a short period of time, that you have something unusual to sell.”