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NEW YORK — Enyce is on a roll.

The brand has been around since 1996, but it has been getting a lot of attention these days. The buzz comes in part from the higher profile hip-hop-inspired fashion is getting from retailers, manufacturers and consumers. In addition, the category has been active in the mergers and acquisitions front, with rumors flying for months that Phat Fashions was going to be purchased by a major investor after striking a licensing deal with Kellwood Co., and Sean John getting an investor in September when California billionaire Ron Burkle pumped $100 million into the brand.

But it was Enyce that got the sweetest deal of late when it was acquired by Liz Claiborne Inc. in November for $114 million.

Enyce was founded as a men’s brand by its current management team of Evan Davis, Lando Felix and Tony Shellman, with financial support from Fila. Both Enyce and Fila were bought by SBI in June for $351 million.

In an interview in his 34th Street office, Davis, who heads the company as president, said when he began the company he never expected a firm like Liz Claiborne to take notice of them. Even now, although the brand has grown so far beyond his expectations, Davis remains modest, espousing philosophies such as “our ad campaigns grow as we grow” and “we can’t be everything to everyone.”

But with a new campaign ready for a spring launch, covering more ground than past advertising, and plans for several line extensions in the works, the Enyce brand is on track for major growth.

But for Davis, Felix and Shellman, Enyce wasn’t their entrance into the apparel business. They first started Mecca USA in 1994, but decided to leave that brand in late 1995 to start anew with Enyce. Davis said he really never saw Enyce as anything but a men’s brand.

“There is so much competition with the ladies,” he said. “But I saw a lot of ladies wearing the men’s stuff and thought there was an opportunity there for a women’s line.”

But first they had to get the men’s wear off the ground.

This story first appeared in the January 8, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“Kids were always wearing this fashion, whether it was Kangol hats with Fila tracksuits or Cross Colors and Karl Kani,” Davis said. “Whether it was right in front of them or not, there were always people wearing these types of clothes. When we started Enyce, we felt that our concept was more than what was already out there — we had something to add to the market.”

That something, he said, was a quality product.

“We started this because we are all very big fans of hip-hop music and culture,” he said. “Did we know it was going to become this big? No. I just really always considered myself lucky to be a part of it.”

Davis said the brand reached sales of $95 million in 2003 — a number much larger than he ever expected to reach by now. This was achieved without a celebrity attached to the brand, something increasingly important in the world of hip-hop fashion, as artists like Jay-Z, Eve, 50 Cent and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs all have their own clothing lines.

“We never did have a celebrity endorser and it does make it tough,” he said. “But our mission from the beginning was to offer an authentic and quality product in this market. We have always done that and will continue to do that. There are so many celebrities attached to apparel these days, and we are OK with the kid who doesn’t want to be aligned with that.”

With financial backing from Claiborne, Davis said he is confident that he will be able to grow the brand. While it is still about 70 percent men’s, it will look to extend the women’s label, Lady Enyce, to include more accessories and other items to complement the collection.

Davis said Enyce and Lady Enyce are in the top specialty stores, where 90 percent of the brand’s business is done, with the remainder in department stores. While that ratio isn’t expected to change significantly at this point, the women’s side of the business, under the Lady Enyce label, is seen as a growth vehicle.

“The women’s business is very under- penetrated,” Karen Murray, group president of men’s wear at Claiborne, told WWD in November. “There’s no reason why the women’s shouldn’t be as big as the men’s.”

To help that process, the company will launch a more extensive spring ad campaign for Lady Enyce, which looks at the brand in a new light. While it is clearly a name with New York City roots (it is a play on NYC), the company chose some new territory for the shoot — two hours outside of Los Angeles, in the desert.

“We would like show another facet of Lady Enyce’s personality, take her and her friends out of their city environs and show them having a cool time in the great American outdoors,” said Tiziana Indelicato, director of marketing.

Shot by Jerome Albertini, the new campaign will be larger than before, running as spreads in Trace and Elle Girl magazines, rather than the single pages it ran in the past. It also plans to run the ads as gatefolds in publications that capture both male and female readers such as Vibe, XXL and The Fader magazines. In addition, they will appear on billboards in major U.S. cities, such as New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

“Finances were a problem with Fila, but Liz Claiborne is willing to make the investment so we can grow properly,” Davis said. “They support us and help us when we need it. We want to surround the brand with items to work closely with the clothes. I do not want to overshadow the apparel, which is why we are in this business to begin with.”