Novel Bangs African Drum
Two months after the U.S. government approved the customs system of Mauritius, allowing factories there to begin taking advantage of the trade benefits granted by the African Growth and Opportunity Act, it has given the nod to South Africa and Madagascar.
Hong Kong-based Novel Denim Holdings Ltd., which operates plants in all three countries, was quick to point out its new advantage.
“We are now able to ship our garments into the U.S. on a duty-free basis from all our manufacturing facilities,” said K.C. Chao, president and chief executive officer of the jeans maker. “We see an enormous opportunity to further develop our business with existing, as well as new, customers in the U.S.”
Duties on the company’s jeans had averaged about 17 percent. The company sells about half of its production to U.S. customers.
The African Growth and Opportunity Act was a component of the legislative package that granted duty-free and quota-free benefits to garments made in the Caribbean Basin of U.S. fabric and yarn. While the extension of trade parity to South Africa and Mauritius was made on those terms, underdeveloped Madagascar has been given a four-year exemption from the U.S. fabric and yarn rule, allowing garments made there — of fabrics imported from elsewhere in the world — to qualify for trade parity.

Nagler: Kmart Focused on Denim
The members of Jeanswear Communications last week descended on Smith & Wollensky’s restaurant in Manhattan for their annual Newsmaker of the Year award luncheon.
While many of them arrived in a sober mood, given the worries about consumer spending and softening retail results, the honoree, Kmart Corp.’s Lorna Nagler, gave them reason for confidence.
“At Kmart, the denim business is truly our foundation. Our goal is to be the denim destination for the family,” said the senior vice president and general merchandise manager of apparel and jewelry. Citing the strength of the Troy, Mich.-based chain’s own house brands, including Route 66, she continued: “We love the fact that our consumer loves to find chic looks at a bargain.”
Nagler said that as the baby-boom generation continues to age, she sees no sign of its members moving away from jeans.
“For my generation of baby boomers, life without denim would be unthinkable,” she said. Nagler — one of the few people in the room not wearing jeans — got a laugh for predicting “there will be no polyester pants” for people of her generation in retirement.
Still, looking at current market conditions, denim executives saw no reason for exuberance.
Asked to assess the current state of the denim business, Burlington Casual Wear president Dutch Leonard responded: “The best thing you’ll hear in this room is OK.”
Still, Leonard said he believes long-term outlook for the business is sound.
“There is no fabric category more favored by people here and around the world than denim,” the mill executive said.
Nagler offered a similar outlook.
“The future of denim is extremely strong,” she said. “From Main Street to the boardroom, denim is going to play a role in the casualization trend.”

Squeaky Clean Suede
Go ahead, machine wash those suede jeans. While you’re at it, machine dry them, too.
Bisou Bisou by Michele Bohbot’s new washable-suede, three-pocket, low-rise jeans — scheduled for a July ship date, with a follow-up delivery of a skirt and flat-front trousers in August — are treated with chemicals that enable the garments to be machine washed and dried.
“This is real suede that’s washable,” said Rick Spielberg, vice president of Bisou Bisou. “With this product, we’re looking to make suede available to people who usually wouldn’t buy it because of the high cost of cleaning it.”
Bernardo Fashions, a manufacturer that holds the Bisou Bisou license for outerwear, produces the suede, which is chemically treated in tanneries throughout China.
The treatment, neither a laminate nor a finish, is “applied during the suede’s blue stage, before the suede is finished,” explained Stuart Pollack, president of Bernardo. “The chemicals change the molecular content of the suede, which reduces shrinkage to less than one percent and keeps the original color intact.”
The suede is available in 14 colors, said Spielberg, adding, “While we anticipate a strong response to colors such as camel, I’m sure the brights will sell just as well.”
Spielberg said Bisou Bisou will be using hangtags and point-of-sale displays to emphasize the fact that the suede is washable. The brand is using Woolite, which it recommends for washing the jeans, in those promotional displays.
“Each display will feature a plastic bag filled with water, a Woolite sample and the pants to show consumers that the product is washable,” he said.
In addition to the 20 Bisou Bisou stores nationwide, with a $198 retail price, the company is expecting to sell the jeans through department stores as well.

Jeans Brands in the House
The hip dance-music crowd is expected to descend on Miami this weekend for the 16th Annual Winter Music Conference, which starts Saturday. Not missing a beat, a few apparel companies are planning parties over the five-day event, in an effort to boost their profile with the 6,500 or so expected trendy attendees.
DKNY Jeans, Levi Strauss & Co. and A|X Armani Exchange officials said a lot of the the event’s appeal is what some described as its “underground” feel. Indeed, the event is so underground that a spokesman for the event declined to comment on corporate sponsorship.
“These are the consumers that we need to reach with our new product messages,” said Sheri Timmons, director of sponsorship at San Francisco-based Levi’s. “We feel that they are very receptive to our more fashion-forward look.”
The conference consists of deejay and musician performances at venues throughout the Miami area, seminars and the International Dance Music Awards.
The apparel shindigs start Sunday night, with Levi’s and A|X Armani Exchange hosting separate events.
For the third year, Levi’s is cosponsoring Sunday the “Winter Oasis 5 Decadence” party, with New York record label and club promoter Giant Step, at Club Space in downtown Miami.
A|X Armani Exchange, a newcomer to the event, and Nervous Records, that night, will celebrate their respective 10th anniversaries at a party in the retailer’s South Beach store. Afterward, A|X Armani Exchange and Nervous Records will cosponsor a party at a nearby Denny’s restaurant from 4 to 6 a.m.
Monday, Levi’s will cosponsor the eight-hour “Astralwerks SPF 2001” party — featuring musicians Fatboy Slim and Basement Jaxx — with record label Astralwerks at Nikki’s Beach Club in South Beach.
That same night, DKNY Jeans, also making its debut at the event, is planning a fashion show at the Raleigh Hotel in South Beach. The company plans to send models across a runway built over the hotel’s pool.