SUN RESETS OLDHAM JEANS

Byline: Scott Malone

NEW YORK — Having concluded that department stores are not the right venues to reach fashion-driven junior shoppers, Sun Apparel Co. is reconfiguring the Todd Oldham jeans business, which hit the market two years ago.
The company has made three major changes to the line, set to bow for the fall selling season: It has cut the core price to below $40, increased the focus on denim and dropped the TO2 label in favor of the clearer Todd Oldham Jeans name.
Since bowing to the trade in February 1998, the TO2 line has undergone steady tweaking. First it targeted specialty stores; then, the line became a department store resource. Last fall, the company stepped up that effort, opening a handful of shops-in-shops and saying it planned to put 100 in place.
In an interview at the company’s showroom here, Chris Nicola, executive vice president for the brand, explained that the TO2 line hadn’t met Sun’s expectations, partly because it had been most heavily represented at department stores.
“We really pushed the envelope at the department store level to see how much fashion they are really selling,” he said, admitting that while brands like Mudd and Mavi connect with junior shoppers in that channel, the fashion-driven consumer didn’t appear to be shopping there.
With that in mind, the Todd Oldham Jeans line will target specialty stores, he said, because “we want to reach this audience exactly where she’s shopping.”
Eric Rothfield, chairman of Sun, which is owned by Jones Apparel Group, said, “Department stores get a more established customer, while the specialty store gets a customer that is less focused on established brands.”
To better fit the specialty store mode, Sun has cut the average price of the line about 30 percent, Nicola said. Core jeans styles will carry a suggested retail of $38 and the line will include a more promotional group at $29.99. Previously, the TO2 line retailed for $45 to $78.
“We want kids to be able to afford a couple of pair,” he said.
Rothfield said that because the new line would continue to be produced in Sun’s wholly owned Mexican plants, the company would be able to keep control of quality levels at the new price. Sun will continue to manufacture the jeans from North American denim — and some high-end European and Japanese fabrics — he noted.
The new line is much more focused on jeans than TO2 had been. While it includes what Nicola described as a “tight package” of nondenim sportswear, denim jeans now make up 70 to 80 percent of the assortment, compared with 10 percent.
“The previous line was a broad sportswear collection,” said Rothfield. “Now, we have a lot more denim and a lot less other things.”
The line includes about 100 styles of jeans, as well as some T-shirts, knitted tops and twill bottoms. In addition to the five basic fabrics and five washes of jeans in the line, Todd Oldham Jeans includes a variety of embellished denim, including gold and silver looks, and prints.
The jeans come in fit-to-flare, boot-cut and hip-hugger styles. The hip-hugger comes with or without pockets.
Nicola explained that having a variety of denim washes and treatments would allow the line to appeal to “beach-oriented” retailers as well as urban chains.
Overall, the line is smaller than TO2 had been, Rothfield said, which should allow the company to focus on bringing trendy items to market more quickly.
“The concept here is not a collection. It’s to drive the business with what’s right as soon as it’s available,” he said, noting that Todd Oldham Jeans expects to deliver new merchandise at least as often as every six weeks and probably every four.
Keeping up with the mercurial junior market is tough, and to simplify the job, the company plans to forget about the complications of shops-in-shops and other perks demanded by department stores and concentrate on turning merchandise quickly.
“We’re anticollection; we’re anti-shop-in-shop,” said Rothfield. “That’s what the junior customer is telling us.”
Nicola said the company decided to drop the TO2 label because it appeared that few consumers knew what it meant. He said more shoppers know the Todd Oldham name, and added, “If you don’t know him yet, you will. But you can recognize that this is a designer’s name.”
In October 1998, Todd Oldham surprised the fashion world by announcing he would shut his women’s collection business, which had received high recognition in its eight-year history. In February 1999, Jones bought the Todd Oldham name, and that company’s efforts are now Oldham’s only presence in apparel. Oldham himself remains involved in the jeans business, although he is also pursuing nondesign projects, including photography for US magazine.
Gianna Clement, contemporary buyer at Lilly Dodson/Escada, a high-end Dallas boutique, said the decision to use the Todd Oldham name was a good one.
“Label recognition is very important,” she said.
While she had not seen the new collection, Clement said the TO2 line had done very well for her store.
“That is a great resource for us,” she said. “I had over 60 percent sell-throughs, for sure.”
However, she noted that active-inspired fleece bottoms, which do not figure in the new line, had been among her bestsellers.
Sun executives offered no details on its sales targets for the new line because they said predicting the behavior of the ever-changing junior market was a tricky business.
“We’re not projecting volume,” Rothfield said. “We’re worried about connecting with that consumer.”
A financial source said the TO2 line, which began retailing for fall 1998, achieved annual sales only in the single-digit millions, well below the company’s plan.
As reported, when Jones released its fourth-quarter results last month, it said the Todd Oldham repositioning reduced its earnings per share by 4 cents, to 22 cents.
Net income for the quarter was $27.1 million on sales of $914.5 million.
Sun began showing the collection to specialty stores this week. Rothfield noted that the company would continue to sell the line to a handful of department stores.
Most deliveries of fall goods are planned for June, although some merchandise will ship as early as April to stores that have continued to carry the TO2 line. While some TO2 spring merchandise shipped to stores, the company did not produce a summer season.
The company is also using the relaunch to introduce young men’s Todd Oldham Jeans.
Nicola was promoted from national sales manager to his current post in January, succeeding Jan Croatt, who had been president of the business. Croatt left the company to pursue a career in the fixturing industry, according to a Sun spokesman.

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