HYBRID HEADS ABOVE GROUND

Byline: Melanie Kletter

NEW YORK — While well known in the underground scene, three-year-old streetwear firm Hybrid is ready to break into the mainstream.
The company is in negotiations with Astral Apparel LLC, a New York-based manufacturer, to expand its distribution of branded and private-label apparel, and is planning to introduce a more mass-oriented concept with lower price points.
“Rather than become extinct by becoming very small, we are trying to preserve our integrity and target a wider distribution,” said Aissa Martin, founder and designer at New York-based Hybrid, during a recent interview at the company’s showroom on West 29th Street. “We are not against doing things slightly mass market.”
This attitude may come as a bit of a surprise to those who are familiar with the brand. For the past three years, Hybrid has tapped into the underground world with its offbeat street fashions and grassroots marketing in the club scene and in alternative magazines.
“Our vision is about the combination of fashion and utility,” Martin said. “We want our stuff to be accessible and authentic.”
Martin, who sports multicolored hair and an easygoing demeanor, began working in the apparel industry as a teenager in Washington, D.C., and honed her skills at the Fashion Institute of Technology. After designing apparel for some of Spike Lee’s movies and for brands such as Airwalk and Skechers, the 33-year-old decided to brand out on her own and began Hybrid with her husband and business partner, Jamie Cipriani.
The firm now has annual sales of about $1.5 million, and Martin is aiming for sales of about $5 million within the next three years.
Hybrid is sold in about 300 doors, including small boutiques such as Yellow Rat Bastard in Manhattan’s SoHo district and larger chains such as Hot Topic, the mall retailer that carries music-inspired apparel and gifts for teenagers. Hybrid can also be found in mail-order catalogs such as Delia’s and Alloy, and it’s just starting to sell apparel on its new Web site, hybridnyc.com, which launched about two months ago. The label also has limited international distribution and is now sold in Canada, Europe and Japan.
Although Hybrid is often put in the junior department, the line’s pricing is a bit higher than traditional junior lines, with wholesale prices ranging from about $10 for basic tops to $50, and some jackets and special pieces at about $95.
The firm has developed a concentration on using innovative fabrics. About a year ago, Martin went on a hunt for a new fabric that would fit her utilitarian-inspired fashion sense. She found the perfect solution in an experimental fabric called Tyvek, an anti-static, non-woven material that is basically a coated paper and is also used for industrial purposes, such as home insulation and Federal Express packaging.
Tyvek is crinkly and light and offers more breathability than most woven and stretch materials. Now, about 40 percent of Hybrid’s offerings feature the fabric, including long skirts, parachute-style pants and jackets. The company has also partnered with DuPont’s experimental Nova division to help develop this fabric’s use in apparel.
In addition to Tyvek, Martin uses fabrics such as nylon, wool blends and performance-driven, athletic-inspired textures. Long skirts and parachute pants are key silhouettes, and distressed elements are hallmarks of the line.
While much of the apparel is unisex, Hybrid recently launched a men’s division after finding that many men were trying to squeeze into the women’s offerings.
In addition, the company has built up sales through its private-label business, which now accounts for about 20 percent of volume. Most of the production is now done in the New York area, although Martin said Hybrid will likely move toward offshore production as the company expands.
Another area of growth may come through licensing. While the firm doesn’t have any licensed lines now, Martin said she is interested in getting into footwear and is also exploring possible deals for handbags and eyewear.

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