DENIM DISH

Lee’s New Element
In an effort to target the business-casual market, Lee Co. is launching a sub-line of its Riveted by Lee brand called City Lights for fall.
The line includes more tailored bottoms and tops than the Merriam, Kan.-based jeans maker is generally known for, made in dressier-looking blended fabrics. The goal is a line of moderate-priced clothing that can easily make the jump from the office to casual social occasions.
Gordon Harton, president of Lee, said the idea came out of consumer surveys.
“As we’ve talked to this consumer, she’s definitely looking for items she can wear for several activities, from work all the way through her life,” he said in an interview this week at the company’s Manhattan showroom. “Their life is very complex. They want anything that will make it easy.”
Four styles of pants, a skirt and three tops make up the line. The pants are made of washable fabrics, largely blends of cotton with lyocell or polyester and spandex, with a suggested retail price of $44.
Harton said one thing that made the venture appealing is that it represents an extension for Lee beyond its core business of jeans and more casual cotton pants.
“This is actually a new business for us,” he said. “It’s the same consumer we are targeting with our jeans, but this fills a different need.”
He said he thought the line could do $20 million in retail volume its first season.
Asked if Lee’s consumers were ready for such a dressy product from the company, Kathy Collins, vice president of marketing, pointed out that the new group came under the Riveted by Lee name. The company’s customers for that line, “know we are more than just jeans,” she said.
But, she admitted, “Do we think we can go much further? Probably not.”
Another of the company’s recent ventures outside its core business is Diva Doll, a fashion-forward jeans line targeted at juniors.
That brand, which launched for holiday retailing, has underperformed Lee’s initial expectations, Collins said. In light of that development and a recent comeback for the company’s Lee Dungarees juniors business, the company is playing down the Diva Doll brand, though it plans to continue to ship products under that name.

Guess Takes A Bow Wow
Thirteen-year-old rapper Lil’ Bow Wow is scheduled to perform Jan. 19 at Macy’s Herald Square in Manhattan, at an event hosted by Guess Jeans and Teen People.
Lil’ Bow Wow, whose “Beware of Dog” album went platinum in November, will perform outside of the Guess junior department. Fans will have the chance after the event to meet the rapper and receive an autographed photograph.
A Guess spokeswoman said Lil’ Bow Wow’s persona meshes well with the company’s image.
“Bringing fashion and music together as a natural union, he projects the young and modern spirit that is the foundation of Guess,” she said. “Guess is about self-confidence, individuality and style, and we feel that he represents this image.”

Avondale Earnings Drop
High energy costs and a competitive pricing environment dented Avondale Inc.’s first-quarter results, leaving profits off 23 percent.
In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Monroe, Ga.-based denim mill reported net income for the three months ended Nov. 26 came to $4.8 million, down from $6.2 million a year earlier. Sales eased 2.3 percent, to $200.5 million.
The declines came despite a rise in fabric sales, which the company attributed to the continuing strong demand for denim late in the year. Fabric sales were up 3.4 percent, to $153.2 million; however, that growth was more than offset by a 14.2 percent drop in the mill’s yarn sales, to $44.7 million.
The company also noted that fabric margins were hurt by lower selling prices, which were down 0.7 percent from the year-ago period. Fabric-segment income slipped 0.5 percent, to $21.8 million.
While Avondale, along with the U.S.’s other major denim mills, succeeded in imposing a modest price increase last summer after denim demand firmed, most executives and observers acknowledged that the increases were not enough to erase the price declines denim mills have seen over the past few years.
In the filing, Avondale said it “expects adverse pricing conditions to continue into the second quarter of fiscal 2001.”

A Cool Spring
Coolwear, a New York-based junior sportswear firm, is launching a line of denim bottoms to complement its tops for spring.
The company’s offerings include flare, boot-cut, lace-up and no-waist jeans — which retail from $35 to $50 — as well as denim skirts and a stretch denim jumpsuit.
Stuart Adler, president of the company’s newly created jeans division, said the launch of a jeans line is long overdue for the 16-year-old top-driven brand.
“The complement would be jeans because that’s what the tops are worn with,” he said. “Why do we want to put a Coolwear top with another brand? Why not have our own brand of jeans and have the buyer look at it as a coordinated package.”
Adler said Coolwear’s new “coordinated package” will benefit retailers’ in-store displays. He said for its first season, it will ship to 30 stores.
“We’re trying to coordinate some of the trim on the jeans to the trim on the tops and we’re trying to coordinate the color variations,” he said. “It gives the retailer a much broader picture of presentation.”

Smith Redux
Federal Jeans, a five-year-old manufacturer of private-label goods based in New York, is relaunching the Smith brand of jeans for the juniors market this spring.
In December, the company signed a license for the brand, which is owned by Smith Apparel Corp. Federal will produce the jeans at its Hong Kong factory.
The Smith juniors line hasn’t been produced in several seasons, according to the company.
Shelley Epstein, sales manager for Smith Jeans, said one of Federal Jeans’ goals is to expand the jeans line’s fashion offerings.
“There will many different fabrications, such as cross-hatch, vintage stretch and dark denims,” she said. “These are beautiful fabrications for the junior and hopefully she’ll accept them.”
Epstein said Federal Jeans is also lowering the price points in order to better establish the Smith Jeans brand in the competitive moderate junior marketplace. She said the jeans will range in price from $36 to $42, as opposed to the previous $40 to $48 price point range.
“Before it was in limbo and it didn’t compete with anyone – it certainly couldn’t compete with designer and it couldn’t compete with Union Bay, which was at a lower price,” she said. “So for me to compete in juniors, it has to be at this price point.”

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