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NEW YORK — XOXO is about to get some major tender loving care.

This story first appeared in the November 20, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The Los Angeles-based junior brand, which turned sportswear, dresses and intimate apparel licenses over to Kellwood Co. from Global Brand Holdings LLC last May, has some big marketing plans. Besides an aggressive advertising strategy in the works, the firm plans to launch more product categories to include girls’ apparel, fragrance, costume and fine jewelry, eyewear and watches. This will add to the company’s current mix of swimwear, handbags, footwear and outerwear. This is sure to up XOXO’s volume in the year ahead, as the sportswear alone generated $80 million in 2002.

But the company still has some fixing to do. Under Aris Industries, the former sportswear licensee, deliveries were slow, which resulted in several department stores cutting ties with the brand. According to Jeff Cohen, owner of Earthbound, the company managing the XOXO brand globally, Kellwood’s solid reputation in the industry will help pump up awareness of the brand, which will in turn get that lost business back.

It seems to be working already. According to Caren Lettiere, division head of XOXO, the brand is back at Dillard’s,,, Dayton Hudson and Rampage stores. She said the company is securing deliveries and items have been shipping 95 percent on time.

“We are already reestablishing relationships with department stores and growing our specialty store business, which is so important,” she said. “Having a beautiful line of samples means nothing when you can’t ship it in time. Getting a firm grip on our shipping is the goal and I am positive we will experience better business because of it.”

Now that the apparel is in place, Lettiere said the company is working closer with licensees in order to pull together a full collection.

“We are set on who this XOXO girl is. She is very sexy, trend driven and highly styled,” she said. “As the trends emerge, we are integrating it into the line, so we are working on better coordination with licensees to pull together a whole look.”

With a strong line of sportswear and dresses under Kellwood, XOXO plans to launch a more sophisticated ad campaign, with an eight-page spread in the March issue of Vogue. Outdoor ads and other fashion magazines will follow. XOXO is working with Peterson Milla Hooks Advertising to develop the campaign.

“Our goal is to capture the trend-forward excitement and energy XOXO delivers to the modern girl,” said Karen Brown Knapp, vice president of client services at PMH Advertising. “We are taking a fresh, high-fashion approach with well-known photographer Michelangelo di Battista, while simultaneously launching a refreshed, contemporary logo look for the XOXO brand.”

It has redesigned its shop in Macy’s Herald Square, where the brand continues to be the number one junior resource, to reflect the new brand image, and other shops will be designed in the Herald Square decor. XOXO also will sponsor retail and mall-based events to connect directly with the consumer.

“Through research that we have conducted, we found that our customer would like to interact with the brand in different ways, whether it’s in the store or at other events they attend,” Cohen said.

There are various ways the brand can represent itself through these events, he said, whether it means participating in a mall fashion show or sponsoring a music concert.

“Based on these studies, the XOXO customer starts at about 14 years old and stays with us through her 30s,” he said. “She is loyal to the brand, which is rare in the junior market. So we can target this customer in a number of ways.”

Kellwood has had plans to expand the brand since it purchased the licenses for XOXO and Aris’ Fragile and Lola brands for $43 million in May.

“We are underdeveloped in the junior sportswear category in terms of Kellwood’s women’s wear,” Stephen Ruzow, president of women’s wear at Kellwood, said at the time of the sale. “Of the $1.6 billion in revenue, we only have $100 million in the junior segment. We have been looking for a vehicle to increase our presence in the junior market.”

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