STILL HAVING FUN
A REP’S PHILOSOPHY OF BUILDING HER BUSINESS SLOWLY HAS KEPT HER IN A POSITIVE FRAME OF MIND.
Byline: Marcy Medina
“After 20 years in the business, I can’t believe I’m still in a good mood,” mused sales rep Kathy Walker.
The thrill now comes from developing new talent in her signature New Mart showroom. Her two-year-old, 1,600-square-foot space carries 10 contemporary lines.”
Alice and Trixie, her only New York line, is a bold-printed line of tops and dresses. “They were doing printed chiffon blouses before they were hip,” boasted Walker.
Church Girl by Ta-Ning is a line of mesh and cashmere tops colored in a five-step dye process that results in a camouflage-like design.
Buzz 18, a hip bottoms line Walker picked up recently, already sells in Ad Hoc and Barneys New York in Japan. Cross-stitching, peekaboo slits to the knee lined in prints and low-rise styles are offered in stretch twill, leather, linen, denim, suede and “whatever the trend is,” said Walker.
She is particularly fond of t-bags. Co-owner Su-Lyn Tay worked in her showroom for six months until Walker persuaded her to start her own line. Tay and Shadi Askari collaborate on tops and shirtdresses.
In her previous life, Walker co-founded the 525 Made in America brand and worked at Easel, which provided the knit know-how she now extends to her sweater lines.
Salad Days is a line of trendy, 14-gauge cotton sweaters as light as a T-shirt. Silhouettes are off-the-shoulder, ruffled and asymmetrical. The year-old line is designed by Amy Liu, formerly of Jane Doe and William B. “I think anyone who would buy Gucci and Dolce would buy this. It’s nice to buy something that’s quality that retails under $200.”
Other lines include Vert Rouge, forgiving, fitted tanks and cardigans; Icon, founded by Linda Trout of Easel, fashion-forward, henleys, johnny collars and camisoles; Jill Michelle specializes in feminine, vintage looks in floral prints and lace. The line hits on trends Walker believes will be big for fall 2001.
“There’s a Forties influence and lots of prints. We will see a lot of vintage ski influence and motorcycle jackets. Instead of the ruffles and embellishments, the kick will be in the lowness of the pant or the back slit of a skirt.”
The single accessories line: Austyn Teylor, features trendy flip-flops and sandals in raffia, python and paillettes with matching handbags.
“Less is more” is Walker’s philosophy. “Instead of selling a little to a thousand stores, I’m selling fewer stores more, and that’s how I am growing my business,” she said. Barneys, Fred Segal, Theodore, Nordstrom and Anthropologie are regulars.
With retail dollars increasingly hard-won, Walker is growing her private label business, which she sees as the next wave in sales. She founded Bardot Girlie Tees last April with a former client, dress manufacturer Dennis Goldsmith.
Fine-gauge cotton baby T-shirts sparkle glitter or brandish dragons. “I can call Dennis tomorrow and tell him that mermaids are happening and I’ll have a mermaid T-shirt next week.”
Designer Angela George partnered with Walker in New York showroom Walker George. “I do a lot of private label with them,” said George. “She can design her own prints.”
But Walker also helps manufacturers’ lines become more marketable. “You have to be such a liaison between the retailer and the designer, because not everyone is going to wear a bat-winged top with holes going down the side from the runways of Europe. The lines that succeed are the ones…willing to change with time.”
It’s a formula that works. Walker’s total sales were close to $3 million her first year, and doubled the second. This year, she’s on track to increase by 25 percent. “I’d like to be a nice, profitable company that stays around for a long time,” she said. “I don’t want to grow to be a $50 million company and not have a life.”