SAG HARBOR BIDS BON VOYAGE TO SOLOMON
Byline: Shirliey Fung
NEW YORK — When Harvey Solomon, president of Kellwood Co.’s Sag Harbor division, retires from the apparel industry on Feb. 28, he’ll be leaving behind a 53-year legacy in a business that test scores told him he wasn’t meant to pursue.
At Solomon’s retirement party, held at Manhattan’s Bryant Park Grill on Jan. 9, more than 300 colleagues, including Hal Upbin, chairman, chief executive officer and president of Kellwood; Robert Mettler, president and ceo of Macy’s West; Hal Kahn, chairman and ceo of Macy’s East; and Liz Sweney, president of women’s apparel for J.C. Penney Co., gathered to wish the departing executive well.
Upbin said: “He truly understood what the Sag Harbor customer and moderate customer wanted — and gave it to her.”
Solomon has spent the last two decades as president of Sag Harbor, helping to build it into one of the biggest brands and a leader in moderate sportswear. Instead of naming a replacement for Solomon, Upbin said a team of executives will take over his duties.
Solomon began his career in 1947 at the age of 17 in the shipping department of Malbee Blouse, a company co-owned by his father.
A year later, he attended Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., graduating in 1952 with a degree in business. Following an 18-month stint in the army, Solomon dabbled briefly in the insurance industry and then interviewed at Milliken & Co., the huge textile firm, which tested him and told him he should stay away from sales.
Defying the test results, Solomon became a traveling salesman for Darlene Knitwear, selling apparel in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. It was while he was at Darlene Knitwear that he was first introduced to the concept of dyed-to-match sportswear.
“Departments weren’t structured to put sweaters, blouses, skirts and pants together. Everything was separated by sections,” said Solomon about the trend that caught on quickly in the Sixties, which he developed for Sag Harbor into the concept of related separates. “We basically put it all together so that it was easier for a customer to outfit herself and so that the customer would make multiple purchases.”
Following his stint at the knitwear firm, Solomon spent 15 years at Tami Sportswear before joining Parson’s Place in 1981.
The company was bought by Kellwood in 1986 and later renamed Sag Harbor, after its best-known label, in 1994. Under Solomon, who has spearheaded sales and merchandising for the company, and division ceo Marty Brody, the resource has grown from a $40 million business in 1986 to $600 million today.
Solomon said that the biggest industry changes he has seen over the years have come in the form of retail consolidation.
“Business has gone from mom-and-pop stores to a much more management-oriented business between the manufacturer and retailer,” he said.
That shift has its pluses and minuses, Solomon noted.
“It’s eliminated the need for road salesmen and made it easier for vendors because it’s much more centralized,” he said. “But the negative is that you become very dependent on the big stores.”
Over the years, the big department stores have depended on Solomon, as well.
“He always found a solution to any problem,” said Mettler, who has worked with Solomon for some 20 years. “He knew every aspect of his business. He delivered on a consistent basis year after year. I will miss working with him.
“He understood his product, he understood his customer. He understood how to drive an individual customer and he could tailor a program to anyone he did business with.”