Little Big Looks to U.S.
The Turkish jeans brand Little Big, also known as LTB, is relaunching in the U.S. for fall retailing. The move is part of parent company CAK Textiles USA Inc.’s preparation for an expected surge in competition in the jeans market in 2005, after the 147 nations of the World Trade Organization drop their quotas on textiles and apparel.
The Istanbul-based company was founded in 1948 as a textile maker, said Billie Yagan, vice president of sales and marketing at the firm’s New York office. It has since turned itself into a jeans supplier, and today about 60 percent of its $350 million in sales is of private label jeans merchandise.
But the margin pressure in the business is getting to be overwhelming, Yagan said.
“Everybody is asking us to make it cheaper, to compete with China,” she said. “This is not China.”
In the branded jeans business, she said, “You can do the quality, and I don’t have to compete on price all the time.”
The brand, which focuses on intricately washed and finished jeans styles, is sold in Europe through a chain of 1,500 franchise stores and two company-owned units. It’s also sold in 40 company-owned and 240 franchised stores in Turkey.
The company introduced its brand in the U.S. last year, but closed that office and hired new staff after unsatisfactory initial results, Yagan said. She said CAK’s goal is to build Little Big’s sales to 60 percent of corporate volume this year, as it trims back its private label business.
Referring to the Cakoglu family who own the company, she said, “Their interest is in building a brand, not in competing with the rest of the world” on price.
For most of the past few decades, Turkey’s apparel industry focused on the European retail market, positioning itself as a lower-cost alternative to Italian or French production. In recent years, it has stepped up its focus on the U.S. In the year ended in March, Turkey was the U.S.’ 19th-ranked supplier of textiles and apparel, according to Department of Commerce data, shipping $1.73 billion in merchandise. That represented a 1.1 percent decline over the previous year.
Along with the rest of the world, Turkey is feeling the rising pressure of Chinese competition — over the same time period, U.S. imports of Chinese goods were up 22.8 percent to $12 billion, making China the U.S.’s number-one supplier of textiles and apparel.
The company employs 5,000 people at its Turkish factory, with 3,500 of them working on wash and finishing — critical elements in jeans design these days. Yagan said the company outsources much of its cutting and sewing to other Turkish companies.
Little Big’s wholesale price range goes from $35 to $45, with a targeted retail range of $80 to $120. Yagan said the profit margins on branded goods allow for a different strategy than the company uses in its private label operations.
“Our turns are very quick,” she said. “If I get the order today, we deliver it in eight weeks. We don’t use boats at all. Everything is air.”
In addition to the New York office, the company has sales representatives in Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles, and the brand is sold in about 300 retail locations around the U.S., including a company-owned store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood.
In Europe, the brand has primarily been known as LTB, because buyers thought the Little Big name identified it as a children’s line, Yagan said. She said she’s gotten a stronger reaction to the Little Big name in the U.S., and over time will probably use that label on women’s product, while using LTB on men’s items. — Scott Malone
Dance of the Lucky Jeans
What does a young choreographer do when he needs costumes for his latest ballet? Some resort to begging, borrowing or stealing, but Ian Spencer Bell simply walked into the Lucky Brand Jeans store on Fifth Avenue and 22nd Street and asked a sales clerk for the name of the company’s public relations firm.
A call to the firm, SNL Communications of Los Angeles, led to an offer of free clothes, and Bell’s problem was solved.
The Lucky Jeans will be worn in Bell’s latest work, “Laundry,” which will be performed Sunday at 2 p.m. at his Brooklyn studio at 250 North Sixth Street in Williamsburg. The ballet is set to the music of Arlo Guthrie, and Bell found the Lucky outfits offered the country-hippie flair he was seeking.
Bell, who in 1999 started the Piedmont Dance Ensemble in his hometown of Middleburg, Va., knows about networking and product placement from his stint working for fashion flack Ted Kruckle of Ted Inc., and from his current day job, that of promoting celebrity chef and reality-TV star Rocco DiSpirito.
His eclectic repertoire includes site-specific pieces such as “Ferdinand the Bull,” performed at the Marriott Ranch in Hume, Va., a working farm owned by the Marriott International clan. Bell and his company wore cow-print pants and ponchos made by his mother, and 1,000 head of cattle served as extras.
With a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Bell created “Dancing Foothills,” a ballet for two dancers and a Ford truck. “When you’re a kid in Virginia, you drive your truck around and park somewhere,” he said.
That wasn’t one of Bell’s primary activities. The 25-year-old choreographer attended North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem for high school and spent his summers at the School of American Ballet in New York. He moved to Brooklyn in 2001.
Bell said his day bosses have been supportive of his career. Kruckle helped Bell put on “Can Can” at an event for Perrier-Jouët, a client of Kruckle’s. DiSpirito was the inspiration for “Passenger,” a piece about a man, a cell phone and the glare of the paparazzi.
“My ballets are now social commentaries,” Bell said.
— Sharon Edelson
NASCAR, G-III Team Up
NASCAR fans looking to rev up their wardrobe have a new denim option.
G-III Sports Licensing is launching a NASCAR line of women’s and men’s sportswear for fall retailing, and denim is a key part of the line. The NASCAR collection is one of three fall launches for the company, which is also debuting licensed swimwear for the National Basketball Association, National Football League and Major League Baseball, as well as a line of men’s and women’s apparel produced under license with the Collegiate Licensing Co., the firm that owns the licensing rights for the historical black colleges.
The NASCAR women’s collection includes a selection of denim jackets, jeans and miniskirts, T-shirts, mesh pants, tank tops and a few outerwear pieces. NASCAR has a host of other licenses for apparel and other categories.
“This is a lifestyle fashion collection,” said G-III’s sports licensing president Carl Banks at an event earlier this week at the company’s showroom to introduce the lines. “Racing is so big right now. Many of the drivers are young and hip, and our line is geared toward young and hip consumers.”
Paul Sparrow, director of retail development at NASCAR Inc., said: “This deal is for mid-tier and better stores, not the mass channel. This is more fashion-forward than the other lines we have, and G-III brings a collection perspective. It’s not just about items.”
Banks, a former New York Giants linebacker and self-proclaimed NASCAR fan, declined to give sales projections for NASCAR but said the company believes it could be in the “multi-millions.”
The line has already been picked up by Macy’s East, Banks noted. The collection is split evenly between men’s and women’s apparel, and it will be expanded into more categories next year, including swim, which will bow for cruise, Banks said.
Wholesale prices for the women’s bottoms range from $23 for a denim skirt to $38 for mesh pants. Tops run from $12 to $23, fleece goes for $23 to $38, and jackets from $43 to $48, said Melissa Menard, national sales manager for G-III.
The new swim collection, meanwhile, carries wholesale prices from about $25 to $75, and includes styles such as a halter top and boy shorts. This is G-III’s first push into swimwear, a category the company expects to become more important in coming years. Among the teams listed on the swimsuits are the L.A. Lakers, the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics. The swimwear is now exclusively women’s, although kids’ and men’s swimwear are planned for cruise 2005.
The CLC deal includes a line of men’s and women’s sportswear such as miniskirts, polo tops, denim jackets and jeans, outerwear and fleece with logos and names of the black historical colleges. Wholesale prices for this collection range from $20 to $125. The line is planned for distribution in urban specialty chains and sporting goods stores as well as at the colleges themselves, according to Menard. Sales projections for swim and CLC were not revealed. — Melanie Kletter