Byline: Patricia Lowell

Say the words “traditional customer,” and most designers think dusty old matrons who will wear anything as long as it’s navy blue and hemmed to the knee.
Designer Sharon Young is moving toward a different concept of the traditional customer. “She’s younger now, more accepting of the appealing and understandable trends.”
By refocusing on the possibilities and not the limitations of the traditional customer, Sharon Young has introduced her loyal clients to a wider range of choices — all centered in tradition, but often updated with trendy flourishes.
“Sharon’s shown her customer stretch denim crop tops with beaded trim and sold $300,000’s [worth] the first season,” said Ed Monaghan, chief executive officer of the company. “She’s found a new balance that incorporates the traditional looks she does best and some of the most popular runway looks.”
After almost 15 years of holding fast in the volatile world of women’s clothing design, Sharon Young has reintroduced tradition to trends.
The Sharon Young Collection and more casual Pine Cove lines appear in more than 1,500 stores nationally, with sales volumes between $20 million and $25 million in 2000, according to Mr. Monaghan.
With 20 to 30 percent increases in delivery each season, this traditional misses’ designer feels confident that her company has found a good formula for filling customers needs and creating a high-quality, well-liked product. And with retailers who receive shipments once a week and sell through almost as quickly, Young seems to know her clients’ wishes as well as she knows her own.
“Our strength has been in sticking with that traditional customer when others left her behind to pursue more contemporary looks,” said Suzy Cox, director of merchandising for Sharon Young. “Now, the market is turning in our direction, and we’re in the right place at the right time with well-developed lines, great store relationships and a very loyal clientele.”
Traditional looks (sizes 2-16) in both the Sharon Young Collection and Sharon Young Dresses lines often incorporate fashion trends that have been tried and tested, then adapted for the misses’ customer. “Our customers definitely want to wear updated clothing, but not if the trends are too outrageous,” said Young. The Pine Cove group takes a slightly more contemporary approach with washed finishes, bright colors, more exotic trims and updated silhouettes.
Sharon Young will show four fall groups and two holiday collections at market that uphold the firm’s longtime emphasis on color. A basic cotton rib-knit mock-turtleneck sweater appears in each group for a total of 19 hues, and a brushed moleskin made of polyester and spandex figures prominently throughout the 180-piece line.
Looks include classic suiting in russet and camel polyester microtwill; geometric oversize dots and stripes in purple, lilac and aqua in tweeds, jacquards and knits; an animal patchwork print in a chocolate and black group, and a Black Watch plaid paired with a midnight-blue herringbone moleskin.
“The mainstay of the traditional missy business is the South and Southeast, and that means color,” said Young.
While color remains a hallmark of the company, conversational prints and appliques are also a Sharon Young staple, as are lots of lightweight, warm-weather knits woven with stripes and decorated with these same conversation motifs.
“In order to sell, a line really has to have some punch,” says Barbara Grubert, buyer for Mel Crews in the Plaza at Preston Center where the line has been available for more than eight years. However, for our customer, the fit is just as important. The clothes may catch the eye because they are cute, but the sale is made because of the fit.”
Although she spends most of her work hours in the company’s corporate offices in Dallas, Young often finds time to visit customers and talk with the sales staff at her boutiques located in Snyder Plaza, Dallas and her hometown of Tyler, Tex. The boutiques are owned and operated by daughter Allison Young.
“The stores are an invaluable and very quick way to get feedback from customers,” said Young. “If we don’t get something quite right, we know it immediately and can fix it quickly.”
In a business where there is usually a rush to grow bigger, faster, Sharon Young is perfectly content staying exactly where it is.
“We’ve often thought about branching out into larger sizes or pursuing department store accounts, but that’s just not the direction we feel is right for the company,” said Young. “Those are whole different markets, and we’d almost need an entirely separate company to run them.”
In the 15 years since this art-student-turned-designer followed her husband, Tom Young, to Dallas so that he could attend theology school, the market has gone through many changes and trends. The Sharon Young line, however, has adapted those trends to fit the needs of an increasingly sophisticated misses’ client — the woman who instantly understood the meaning of the term “business casual.”
In 1986, Young started a small home-based business making detachable cotton collars hand-painted with flowers and watermelons and other motifs that she had seen growing up in her parents’ family-run fabric store. Her first trip to market landed the company $125,000 worth of orders, which she took to the family banker. He soon gave her a loan for $25,000.
Immediately the Sharon Young collection was born, and just a few months later, the designer had 18-wheelers pulling into her driveway to load her popular dresses, sweaters, suits and sportswear.
Although she is now working only about three days each week at the company, Young is far from resting on her accomplishments. She and her husband, Tom, who is also involved in the family business, spend much of their time working to establish and renovate youth camps for a group called Young Life.
“Now I can take the time to do some truly rewarding work while still keeping my creative side happy and involved,” she said. “It’s really a remarkable balance to achieve.”