DENIM DISH

PacSun Stepping Up Jeans
Pacific Sunwear, which until recently had a small presence in the jeans business, plans to double its denim offerings for back-to-school, making denim 60 percent of its bottoms business.
The move was prompted by the company’s realization that its limited denim assortment was causing its customers to head to competitors’ stores in search of bottoms, chairman and chief executive officer Greg Weaver said at a recent Banc of America analysts conference in New York.
“We definitely underplanned denim and overplayed tech pants and twill” last year, he explained. “Denim has suffered and is our number one focus right now.”
The Anaheim, Calif.-based retailer, which operates 462 Pacific Sunwear stores, plans to introduce six new private denim brands, which Weaver said will be an “incredibly diverse balance of denim” with an emphasis on surfboarding and skateboarding styles.
The company has been quietly testing the new denim program for about six months and plans to begin shipping it in May. It will be in all units by July 1.
While the jeans initiative will be done through house brands, about 64 percent of PacSun’s assortment is outside brands.
He said the company was using the private label approach to jeans because he believes bottoms are a less brand-sensitive category.
“Tops are more brand-driven than bottoms,” Weaver said.
PacSun is building its presence in the women’s market. Weaver described the chain as “a guy’s retailer with an expanding girl’s presence.” Forty-nine percent of the firm’s business in its PacSun stores is men’s, while 29 percent is women’s with accessories and shoes making up the balance.
The ceo also said that this year the company plans to open another 85 PacSun units. It also plans to boost its number of outlet stores from 27 to 47 and its d.e.m.o. store count from 80 to 100.

Designs Inc. Trims Loss in Quarter
Expense reduction and system improvements helped Designs Inc. dramatically narrow its losses in its fourth quarter and return to profitability for the year.
The Needham, Mass.-based operator of Levi’s and Dockers outlets reported it lost $286,000 for the three months ended Feb. 3. That compares to a loss of $13.8 million in the year-ago quarter.
Last year’s results included a $9.9 million charge related to the impairments of assets, store closings, severance charges and the write-down of certain tax assets.
Sales edged up 0.2 percent, to $52.9 million from $52.7 million.
“Our primary emphasis during the year was on reducing expenses and dramatically improving systems to position the company for improvement in gross margin dollars and better inventory management,” said president and chief executive officer David A. Levin, who joined the company a year ago.
Still, Levin said he expects first-quarter comparable-store sales to experience a mid-teen percentage decline as the chain goes up against prior-year sales that benefited from significant price reductions on inventories, for which reserves were established at the end of the year. In addition, he said, sales have been significantly affected by the liquidation of Bugle Boy’s outlet stores, which sell similar categories of casual apparel.
He said the company expects to see improved results in the second half, since many of the merchandising initiatives, developed in conjunction with Levi Strauss & Co., are set for the fall and holiday selling seasons.
For the year, the company showed a profit of $3.2 million, or 20 cents a share, versus a loss of $12.5 million, or 78 cents, in the year-ago period. Sales rose 1.2 percent, to $194.5 million from $192.2 million.
The company repurchased 2.6 million shares of stock at an average cost of $2.41 a share last year.
Designs Inc. operates 102 Levi’s Outlet by Designs and Dockers Outlet by Designs stores.

A|X Goes Back to Basics
A|X Armani Exchange this fall plans to celebrate its 10-year anniversary with an in-store promotion based on the brand’s first advertising campaign that pays homage to its denim offerings.
The tag line, “Denim Decade: Celebrating Our 10th-Year Anniversary,” will be printed on hang tags, T-shirts and shopping bags. An image of a nut and a bolt, positioned to appear like the number 10, will appear next to the tag line.
The promotion is based on the company’s fall 1991 ad campaign, which included an ad with a photo of a nut and a bolt against a white background with the tag line: “Armani. Store. Clothing. Basics. Period.”
A spokeswoman said the upcoming ad focuses on denim since “a lot of the line was based on denim” when A|X opened its first store, on Broadway in SoHo.
While the first ad campaign used nuts and bolts to emphasize the retailer’s basic offerings, the company is no longer a basics-only denim resource.
“Denim is still a big part of our business and the category has definitely evolved,” the spokeswoman said. “We have basic items, but then we have seasonal fashion items.”
A|X kicked off its 10-year anniversary last month during Miami’s Winter Music Conference with a party at its South Beach store.
A|X this fall also plans to host parties at its stores in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

Paris Blues’s Net Effort
Paris Blues has just launched an e-commerce site with character — make that characters.
The Internet destination, which went live Tuesday at parisblues.com, reflects an effort to ride a rising tide of demand for moderate-priced fashion jeans. It’s also an attempt to convey a fuller flavor of the brand online, in part, by representing all of the cartoon characters Paris Blues has used in its marketing materials, as well as by expanding the offer to 33 items from the T-shirt and single pair of jeans the company previously merchandised on the Web.
Paris Blues signed on e-commerce services provider PrimeLight to design and operate the Web site, carry the goods and fulfill orders. Three-year-old Culver City, Calif.-based PrimeLight has added the jeans label to a portfolio of 14 style-driven names that includes Bisou Bisou, Charles David, Charlotte Russe and Smash Box. These deals are based on an up-front commitment fee and a three- to five-year revenue sharing deal, said PrimeLight vice president Ivan Arnold, who revealed that, for most of its roster, the commitment cost comes to around $25,000.
“Paris Blues came to us to create an experience online that integrates various aspects of the Paris Blues brand — its characters, products, the site’s content — using a clean, modern aesthetic,” Arnold related. “We took each character and made it represent a different element of the site: Shop, Club PB, Store Locator, About PB and Press. The former site had a gothic feel.”

Lee Cooper’s Flashback
Is it back to the future or the last days of disco for the British jeanswear firm Lee Cooper? Its two newest collections indicate a bit of both.
The Diamond line is the product of a collaboration in which Lee Cooper asked three graduates of the Paris fashion school Esmod to reinterpret the brand’s history and image for the year 2001. Founded in 1908, Lee Cooper was famous for making military uniforms during the first and second World Wars and for being the among the first companies to sell zip-front jeans for women.
But the graduates zeroed in on the Seventies, when Lee Cooper was riding the teenage cultural explosion and building a young, dynamic and sexy brand image. The designers said they chose the disco look because it fits in with fashion’s direction toward retro glamour and sexiness.
The 18-piece collection features low-waisted jeans accentuated by wide belts and decorated with sprays of glitter and fitted asymmetrical tops for women.
Meanwhile, Lee Cooper’s Flexease range takes a more futuristic approach, using a “new generation” stretch fabric that is said to be extremely durable and fade resistant due to a special treatment. The 10-piece collection for women and men boasts a range of jeans silhouettes, including wide-leg, low-waist, slim or relaxed fit.
Both collections are in major European department stores at prices ranging from $27 for a T-shirt up to about $85 for a glitter-studded denim jacket.
They’re arriving at a time when Lee Cooper is being cited as a possible acquisition target for major American jeanswear makers, with VF Corp. rumored to be among possible suitors.
A VF spokeswoman this week declined to confirm or deny the possibility, saying that the company has a long-term interest in making acquisitions but adding that “we’re more or less digesting some of the things we have.”

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