Byline: Kristi Ellis

IRVINE, Calif. — It’s the second time around for Ocean Pacific Apparel Corp., and this time the company believes it has the right formula.
With a new licensee and design group president, the beach lifestyle brand is relaunching its junior and girls’ sportswear collections for back-to-school. A preview is being shown at WWDMAGIC in Las Vegas this week and the full collection will launch in New York next month.
OP has signed on Tag Apparel Group to produce the lines. The Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based sportswear manufacturer also produces Body Code and private label collections for department and specialty stores.
Newly named president of the OP design group, Mary Wilberding, will head the divisions, overseeing design, marketing and merchandising. Wilberding most recently was president of DKNY Jeans and DKNY Active and prior to that had overseen the junior, girls’ and Sergio Valente jeans divisions of Unionbay.
OP and its former licensee, Trends Clothing Inc., terminated a three-year agreement at the end of last year due, in part, to soft sales in OP juniors.
With the new deal, OP chief executive officer Richard Baker is approaching the category with a strategy to modernize the brand, give it broader customer identity and widen its customer base.
The current saturation of the surf/beach category — particularly in the young women’s arena — and a challenging junior business are considered in the refocused approach.
“The category of surf in juniors had a difficult 2000,” said Baker. “There was so many bad versions of board shorts and screen tees, and private label flooded the market in those categories.”
Baker had one prerequisite in mind when he searched for a new licensee: it had to have a foundation in denim and woven bottoms.
Other brands in surf category, including Roxy, Hurley Girlie and Billabong Girl, have successfully managed to mix surf with denim and woven bottom staples.
“If we can mix the right element of board shorts and Ts from our surf heritage into a thoroughly modern product that 14- to 18-year-olds want, we’ll have a killer name,” he said.
That’s where Wilberding steps in.
Baker credits Wilberding with building Unionbay’s junior sportswear business for most of the Nineties, and establishing it as a significant junior brand.
“She is a product expert in this category and she touches all aspects of this business,” he said.
For her part, Wilberding said, “OP has brand awareness, so half of the job is already done. It is difficult to create a cool factor with a brand if it doesn’t already exist.”
Denim will be the driving factor in OP’s first b-t-s junior sportswear collection. The line will offer four key silhouettes, including low-rise, boot-cut, basic and so-called extreme flares.
“When we do denim we have to play off of the OP trademark with a little irreverence and a nod to the athleticism in extreme sports in beach and surf,” she said.
To that end, she plans to keep the bodies sexy and fitted and mix them with key beach elements and irreverent prints and screens. Stone-wash treatments will receive the most emphasis, she noted, though darker rinses and dirty washes will remain key.
The new collection will focus on corduroy bottoms in a variety of widths and washes. Wholesale prices range from $18 to $26. The company also will pay homage to its roots.
Tops, playing a secondary role, feature retro floral prints, rainbows and athletic sports logos. Sexy silhouettes and novelty treatments are also important. At press time, top wholesale prices had not been determined.
“We’ve been so homogenized with twills, khakis and black, but there is such an explosion of color now that comes from beach and surf,” she said. “We were too basic in sportswear and too narrow and the junior customers told us to go a lot broader.”
Baker expects the junior and girls’ line to easily pull in $10 million in sales by yearend, targeted are specialty chains and department stores. Some $4 million to $5 million is slated for advertising to support all divisions.
OP’s worldwide volume hit $175 million last year, compared with $120 million in 1999. Baker expects worldwide sales to reach $250 million this year, fueled largely by young men’s and children’s, which are expected to reach a combined volume of $125 million.
U.S. volume accounted for about $130 million. In the U.S., sales this year should hit about $200 million, with $40 million from the girls’ line, junior sportswear, swimwear and fragrances, Baker said.
Overall, the company now has about 20 licensing agreements and also sells products over its Web site at Opstore.com.

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