Embracing the avant-garde of high tech fabrics, The Lee Co. is introducing nanotechnology-enhanced khaki pants for women and men for fall that are wrinkle-resistant and virtually stain proof.
Called Lee Performance Khakis, the pants rely on fabric treatments developed by Nano-Tex, a Silicon Valley technology-licensing enterprise that is majority-owned by Burlington Industries. The actual khaki fabric is produced by Galey & Lord, which has licensed the rights to the stain-proofing treatment.
The women’s pants are scheduled to hit retail floors in July. The Merriam, Kan.-based division of VF Corp. may ship its men’s product slightly earlier because of Father’s Day.
Gordon Harton, president of Lee, said he hoped the new pants would bring a lift to the khaki business, which has been stagnant lately.
“We just need to be sure the consumer understands,” that the treatment works, he added.
In a market week presentation, Lee’s vice president of marketing, Kathy Collins, dropped red wine on a swatch of the stain-proofed fabric. The wine beaded up and rolled off.
Nano-technology enhancements work by making molecular-level changes to fabrics. They are not coatings and do not wash off. The changes can’t be seen without the aid of a powerful microscope.
That, of course, could make it difficult to show what’s different about the product to consumers. Collins said the company was developing some way to demonstrate that in stores, which would probably involve pouring liquids on a sample of fabric, similar to the types of displays that high-end outdoor-apparel makers use.
The women’s pants will wholesale for about $15, with a suggested retail price of $38 and a promotional price of $24.99. Three styles of pants will be available in five colors.
“That is a very good value,” said Harton. “We’re not passing along all the cost.”
Given the current price pressure in the apparel market, Harton said Lee is trying to avoid dropping its retail price points by building more features into products at its existing prices.
“It’s hard for the retailer to offset price compression,” he said. “This is a way not to take the price points down, but to add more value.”
The company is taking a similar approach to its jeans offering, including belts with selected styles, and offering more complicated washes and treatments at current price points.
Denim Event Confirmed
A new denim trade show, called “To Be Confirmed” is set to bow in New York later this month. The event will run Jan. 27-28 at Milk Studios, 450 West 15 Street, in Manhattan.
It will mark the first U.S. staging of the show, which debuted in London last year, where it ran parallel to the spring and fall editions of 40 Degrees.
Ryan Cross, one of the organizers, said the show floor will be sparse. Exhibitors will not be allowed to use custom booths or special features.
“Everybody has the same rail. There’s no special signage or POP materials,” he said. “The only thing left to help separate a larger brand with years of experience is the product itself.”
That, he said, is the intent: to showcase clothes.
The producers, Brand Progression Ltd., are not totally throwing image to the side, though. With vendors set up around the perimeter of the 10,000-square-foot exhibition space, the center will be set up as a lounge, complete with a deejay, and sofas and tables for writing orders. There will not be tables or chairs in vendors’ booths.
About 50 men’s and women’s brands have signed up to participate in the show, he said.
Sixty’s ‘Killah’ Sister
Sixty USA, which produces the fashion-forward denim lines Miss Sixty and E Jeans X-perience for men is introducing the juniors line Killah into the U.S. market for back-to-school retailing.
Based on low-rise boot cut jeans and other fits, the line also includes T-shirts, jackets, knit tops and skirts, said Andrew Pollard, director of sales and marketing for the U.S.
The Killah line was launched in Europe in 1998, and took its inspiration from Japanese cartoons and Japanese streetwear. Since then, it has become more similar to Miss Sixty, deemphasizing technical-looking fabrics in favor of natural fibers, for instance.
Sixty executives now tout Killah as Miss Sixty’s “little sister” and said they hope it will help raise their company’s U.S. presence.
“We’re obviously trying to raise the awareness [of Sixty] and bring it up to another level,” said Pollard. “Killah is for a 14-to-20-year-old girl, whereas Miss Sixty targets a 22-to-30-year-old girl and over. We foresee Killah as a bridge line to Miss Sixty.”
Retail prices for Killah jeans will be between $70 and $120 versus Miss Sixty’s $100 to $200 price range.
Although both brands have a similar feel under the creative direction of Sixty founder Wicky Hassan — and while both ad campaigns for the European market were shot by Ellen Von Unwerth — Killah has its own design team at the company’s headquarters in the southern Italian town of Chieti.
The company is also targeting a different distribution channel, planning to sell the Killah line to department stores and large specialty chains, Pollard said. Miss Sixty primarily caters to boutiques.
The line is due to start shipping in August.
“Killah is important because Sixty [SpA] is making the U.S. a priority, with new investments in terms of showrooms and stores,” Pollard said. “We expect a good response for the first season, but distribution is the key for us. We want to get into the right store [for fall] and then back it up with marketing and advertising for major growth in 2003.”
Pollard said he hopes Killah will grow to represent 20 percent to 25 percent of Sixty’s U.S. sales by the end of next year.
To grow brand awareness for fall, Pollard said he will tap his company’s relationship with Hollywood, distributing Killah styles to starlets and trendsetters. A fall ad campaign is planned for European teen magazines, but Pollard said he will most likely hold off on U.S. magazines until 2003.
In addition, an accessories line will debut alongside the clothes for fall with Killah shoes slated for the following spring. Sixty SpA plans to reacquire its entire shoe business after the licensing agreement with Italian shoe manufacturer IGI Technology expires later this year.
Levi’s: Looking Large
Levi’s Red is having a rebirth, again.
The label is trading in its futuristic inspiration and looking to the company’s archives for the foundation of the fall collection. Gone are the wrap-around seams and green-blue rinses. Instead, the jeans maker has taken the original elements of the basic five-pocket jeans and enlarged them. The red tab, arcuate pocket stitching, rivets and back patch were all magnified and applied on fits reminiscent of Fifties jeans.
“We’ve iconized all the essential details of the five-pocket jean,” said Rikke Korff, design director for Levi Strauss & Co.’s premium brands. “We felt there was a big move towards authentic things, so we wanted to do something more visually rooted to the original five-pocket because the ultimate jean, and I think I can speak for everyone, is the 501.”
The concentrated collection centers on three core fits: a slim fit based on the 505 model; a straight-leg fit, with elements from a 501, and a boot-cut fit that is a modern version of a 517. Retail prices start at $145.
All three styles have extra room in the seat — a feature Levi’s calls anti-fit — which gives a more versatile fit for men and women.
“It gives you extra fabric in the bum, but even if you don’t fill it out, it still looks okay,” said Korff.
Going against the stretch denim current, Red will feature only rigid denim in a new wash called Turn Up, White Socks, which combines a green tinted fill and a dark indigo warp. The denim is made exclusively for Levi’s from Tokyo-based textile manufacturer Nisshinbo Industries Inc.
Novelty styles include the Greased Rigid, which uses a thick resin that is baked into the fabric, and Flying Fire, with holes made to look like burn marks from welding sparks. Only 25 pairs of Flying Fire jeans will be distributed in the U.S., since the process is done by hand and takes 8 1/2 hours a pair.
“Jeans have become this generic product,” Korff said. “It’s more of a fabric than an attitude or feeling. We’re really trying to bring the essence of what happened when teenagers first started wearing denim when it was really a feeling of rock ‘n’ roll. I think a lot of jeans aficionados are going to appreciate it.”
Levi’s uses its high-end jeans brands as something of a development lab for new styles. When the company last redesigned Red, in the late Nineties, it turned out the details that were eventually adapted into Levi’s Engineered Jeans.
Novel Denim Expects Growth
Things are looking up at Novel Denim Holdings Ltd.
The Hong Kong-based manufacturer, with plants in Mauritius, Madagascar, South Africa and China, said it expects its third and fourth-quarter earnings to come in ahead of last year’s levels.
Chief executive officer K.C. Chao said in a statement: “While sales were weak during the first months of the quarter due to delays in garment production order confirmations, garment sales since late November have greatly improved.”
For the third quarter ended Dec. 31, the company said it expects to post diluted earnings per share of between 44 and 48 cents, compared with 42 cents in the year-ago quarter. Results were boosted by an exchange gain on non-U.S. dollar denominated borrowings of between 15 and 18 cents per share, compared with 11 cents last year.
For the fourth quarter ending March 31, the company expects diluted earnings, before exchange gains, of between 36 and 40 cents. Novel Denim also said it expects net income growth in excess of 10 percent in fiscal 2003.
Novel Denim will report third-quarter earnings on Feb. 4.
Excluding knitwear, garment shipments totaled 1 million pieces in October, 900,000 in November and 1.2 million in December. The company also disclosed that it has not had any order cancellations since Sept. 11. – Scott Malone and Joshua Greene with contributions by Vicki M. Young.