NEW YORK — After 35 years in business, Susan Bristol is ready to shake things up.

The Boston-based sportswear firm that became known for its better assortment of novelty knitwear does more than $100 million in wholesale volume, selling to about 1,000 better specialty and department store retailers nationwide including Dillard’s, Parisian and Nordstrom. Now, said Art Henkens, Susan Bristol’s vice chairman, it’s time to expand.

Joining the company about a year ago working on special projects, Henkens took over day-to-day operations in March. He came to Susan Bristol with experience as president and chief executive officer of Red Light Inc., Fredrick & Nelson and Great Clothes. He also brings more than 10 years of experience from Meier & Frank, a division of May Co., where he served as executive vice president, and has worked as a consultant in retail, financial, investment and acquisitions strategy.

Licensing the Susan Bristol name is a key part of the expansion program.

The first licensed category, intimates, will launch for holiday selling and includes loungewear, robes and sleepwear. Produced by the Los Angeles-based Pacific Continental Apparel Inc., the initial collection includes velour lounge sets and silk sleepwear in rich, colorful prints. The line wholesales between $40 and $90, which is in line with the sportswear collection that ranges from $40 for a simple knit top to $120 for a coat.

“This first license is the first part of our brand enhancement strategy,” proclaimed Henkens from the company’s showroom here at 1411 Broadway. “I think it will be a great place to start. There’s a real opportunity in sleepwear for the better market and I think what we can create will be unique in the market. It will be real quality, with our signature embellishments and quality fabrics.”

Henkens said he has begun exploring licensees for more products such as shoes, handbags and other accessories.

In addition to the new licensing strategy, Henkens said he plans to launch a sportswear division called Bristol Inc., which will be sold only in department stores. The division will launch for spring 2006 retailing; further details will be revealed in early fall.

This story first appeared in the June 8, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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