WOO GEAR HITS THE LINKS
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — While working as an investment banker for 12 years, Patty Woo played more than her share of golf. Now, she’s traded in her business suits for golfwear.
After exiting Goldman Sachs in January, where she handled personal accounts in the $200 million range, Woo started her own business called Woo Gear. Seven years earlier, she’d picked up golf, thanks to the numerous work-related golf outings, and quickly noticed the frumpy duds women wore to play.
“They looked like miniature men in pleated shorts and golf shirts,” she said. “We wanted to design for our friends — women on the Upper West Side who like to play golf and who have made a lot of money, or people who have had a couple of kids and want to get back into it.”
That’s where Woo Gear’s sheer black jacket, ripstop nylon skirt, cargo shorts, wrap shirt with a collar, sleeveless tapered golf dress, water-resistant V-neck wind shirt and capri pants with side zippers come into play. There’s also a sleeveless black viscose jersey dress with a drawstring waistband with toggles, so women can cinch it after playing golf for a more stylish look to wear to the country club for dinner.
While the clothes don’t look like a beginner’s, there have been other hints of a startup. Last month, at the PGA International Golf show in Las Vegas, Woo worked the show with a few friends who had taken time off from their jobs to pitch in. Unaware that some companies splurge on their booth’s decor, Woo Gear took a simpler approach.
“We had no idea,” said Kimberly Mounts, a friend of Woo’s from her days at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, who has helped Woo with spring selling. “I mean, we walked in carrying posters — I’m not kidding — and there were booths that cost a few hundred thousand dollars to make.”
“But they were nice posters,” Woo added.
The six-foot boards were imprinted with the same shots of models that are used for the company’s point-of-purchase material, hang tags and Web site. Woo Gear’s temporary sales team borrowed sheets from their hotel to cover the table at their booth.
The display caught the attention of many attendees, including Mary Bayless, resort shop buyer and manager at the Quail Lodge Resort and Golf Club in Carmel, Calif., who said she has bought “several thousand” dollars worth of spring merchandise. She liked the lightweight long-sleeve tops that provide more protection from the sun — a concern for many women.
“It’s very fashion forward, yet still sport outfits,” Bayless said. “There are a lot of cute shapes in the line.”
Every item in Woo Gear’s 30-piece collection has functional aspects, such as a Velcro glove grab on the waistband, deep pockets for golf balls or tees, zippers for greater flexibility and rear pockets for score cards.
“Every zipper has a purpose,” Woo said. “They’re not there because it’s cool to have a lot of zippers.”
All Woo Gear’s fabrics are sourced from Europe, but the collection is made in Manhattan. In February, Woo Gear ships to 15 better resorts and golf specialty stores.
Wholesale prices range from $55 to $75 for tops, $110 for dresses, $75 to $105 for shorts, pants and skorts, and outerwear wholesales from $120 to $155. Spring sales are expected to generate $200,000 in wholesale volume, Woo said. For now, Woo’s Upper West Side apartment at 2000 Broadway serves as an office and showroom.
As corporate dress codes relaxed at investment banks, Woo noticed that many men could be appropriately dressed down in their golf wear — khakis and a polo shirt. That, however, was not an option for female professionals, she said.
Helaine Strauss, owner of The Nines, a specialty store in Manhassett, N.Y., said her customers look for the “newest, most stylish golf wear” they can wear on or off the course, and Woo Gear fits the bills. The brand’s shorts, capri pants, shirts, sweaters and vests were among her favorite looks.
While many female golfers in Middle America favor boxy styles with printed shorts that match a printed collar, shoppers at The Nines are looking for something else, she said.
“My customer only wears designer clothes off the golf course and she wants to bring that level of quality to the golf course,” Strauss said.
The plan is to focus on specialty stores at key resorts and private country clubs in New York, Florida, Arizona, California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. Last month, Vince Nicholson, a former Dockers sales rep, joined Woo Gear as its California sales rep.
“It would be easy to hire 10 salespeople, but we want to be real selective about who carries it,” Mounts said.
With her business moving ahead, Woo is getting more acclimated with the garment industry, even though people periodically recognize her as a rookie.
During a recent shoot, the model looked at her and said, “You’re new at this aren’t you?”