JAX PLAYS IT YOUNG AND EASY

Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio

NEW YORK — With a new owner behind it, West Coast Apparel, one of the largest apparel makers in Canada, based in Vancouver, is doing some fine-tuning.
The company is a division of Koret of California, which produces bridge and better apparel under different derivatives of the Jax label. Koret was purchased by Kellwood Co. last year.
“We are hoping that this will lend us some marketing support and give us credibility in the marketplace,” said Mark D’Angelo, vice president of U.S. sales for the Jax labels.
The main strategy is to further distinguish its three lines: Jax, its signature career line; Jax Studio, a younger, less-expensive career offering, and Jax Country, its better-priced casual line. All the lines are offering more mix-and-match clothing and stepping up offerings in transseasonal fabrics, getting away from wool.
At Jax, prices have increased 10 percent, so jackets now wholesale from $155 to $225. The collection is now being designed by Carol Claffey, who had her own designer business in Montreal. She replaced Carol Souter, who left last fall. Some of the fall looks that have booked well are double-faced stretch jackets and skirts, embossed fake snake jackets and skirts, and leather jackets and pants, as well as a group of suede jackets, long skirts and pants, according to D’Angelo.
Studio and Country have maintained their prices, but the designs have taken a new approach.
The company’s Studio line, which wholesales from $80 to $125, has a younger spin, targeting the 25-to 35-year-old woman. The line had catered to a 30-plus customer.
“The collection has become more urban, more modern,” said D’Angelo, adding that it was too staid and structured.
For fall, key fabrics are chunky knitwear, stretch twill and felted cashmere, D’Angelo noted.
The design duo behind the division is Carrie Armstrong, stylist, and Marie Wong, merchandise manager. Both had worked in different capacities in the company. The collection had been designed by Dorris Good, who left last September.
Jax Country, which targets the 35-plus customer, is becoming more casual driven. Pants wholesale from $60 to $85 and jackets are $90 to $135. The collection continues to be designed by Lyse Spenard. Its most popular styles with buyers are stretch jackets, chunky knitwear and vests, according to D’Angelo.
Jax Country, which is currently in 400 doors, has the biggest growth potential, according to D’Angelo. The other two lines are in 300 to 350 doors each.
Jax is expecting a 15 percent increase in sales this year and Jax Country, a 35 percent rise. Studio is expected to post a 20 percent increase in sales, D’Angelo said.
Overall, Jax’s business in the U.S. should be $8 million this year, but volume could be at least $10 million next year. The Jax labels generate sales of about $25 million in Canada, according to Mustafa Kahn, president and chief executive officer of West Coast Apparel.
The new fashion approach is already earning kudos from Gregor Simmons, who owns a buying office here bearing her name.
“The lines had been very predictable. It was very traditional. But now they have a twist and they also have great price points,” she said. “The new design teams have given each division a new personality.”
She added that with the new infusion of fashion, Gregor Simmons has seen Jax’s existing specialty store clients increase their business. About 20 of her stores have also picked up the line for the first time.
Julie Routenberg, owner of Potpourri, a two-store chain in Atlanta, who has increased her buy by 50 percent, said, “I’ve seen it evolve. It has really turned the corner. The Country collection, in particular, is outstanding. It’s hip, but also fits a regular person.”
She particularly liked the Jax Country’s sweaters, high tech vests and long blanket skirts.