Los Angeles-based manufacturer Jerry Leigh of California, Inc. celebrated its 50th anniversary last week. WWD sat down with Andrew Leigh, company president and son of its founder, to discuss what’s in store for the future.

The company designs and manufactures art-driven apparel with a focus on kids and juniors for brands such as Disney, Warner Brothers, Mattel, Sanrio and Paul Frank and retail distribution in all tiers, from Wal-Mart and Kmart to Neiman Marcus and Fred Segal.

WWD: Your company now has offices worldwide, but you say it will always be Los Angeles-based. Why?
Andrew Leigh: Being in L.A. is critical. It is the center from a creative point of view. People are looking to L.A. for the fashion trends, whether it’s Europe or Japan. It will never be a 100 percent domestic company again, but I’m working with J.C. Penney and others to bring back more jobs to America. There are a tremendous number of advantages, whether it’s quality control, speed-to-market, producing garments quicker, more on-trend, reducing markdowns.
Have you seen other companies moving back?
A.L.: Certainly in the better market, I have seen a resurgence. I’m very impressed with Barry Perlman and Gene Montesano [Lucky Brand co-founders] at Civilianaire. In the mid- and mass market, it’s a little tougher because of the demands of price points, but it’s doable. We’re working on studies proving the point that for a very, very small amount of money, you can actually produce garments in L.A. They can be cut here; they can be screen-printed here. For an art-driven company like ours, that’s important.
WWD: What are the most important factors driving business today?
A.L.: [Fashion] changes every 30 seconds. I’ve been doing this for 33 years, and I feel like I’m starting all over again. Speed-to-market is everything today. So is delivering the right product at the right time, reducing markdowns, testing and reacting.
How are you utilizing social media?
A.L.: There are so many social medias these days that you can tap into, from Polyvore to Facebook. We’re working on something with crowdsourcing, which is not new but a new twist on it, taking it out to the world and bringing it back to the consumers. But we also encourage our staff to get out there and study people. Influences come from film, television and music, and we’re using all those tools. It’s not just being on the computer.
WWD: What is your goal?
A.L.: We’d like to triple in size in the next 10 years. But I’m also looking at where I want to be two and three years out. [The company declined to give volume figures.]
WWD: What deals are you most proud of?
A.L.: Harajuku Mini is a fantastic accomplishment. I’m so proud of the product we have at Target. It’s really like adult fashion down to kids with a twist. We’re going to be working on some other brands along that line. The HoodieBuddie is an amazing invention. Who would figure that Jerry Leigh patents a machine-washable headphone? I think you’ll see more of that technical side in the next 10 years. Fashion has got to embrace it to keep up.
WWD: You were among those who coined the term “retailtainment.” Where did that come from?
A.L.: I’ve always believed you’ve got to bring a little magic. You’ve got to make shopping a fun experience. And it doesn’t have to always be in a traditional box.
WWD: You were one of the first to do licensing deals with celebrities. What advice would you give to others who want to get in the game?
A.L.: To ignore it is foolhardy, but I caution people. You’ve got to know who you’re getting in bed with. Every celebrity wants to have a clothing line, but are they qualified? Do they have a point of view? I think it’s really important that they have a point of view. You have to be able to interpret their vision and then [make] a commitment to the retailer. That’s what will give you longevity. That’s why we’ve been with Gwen Stefani for over nine years.

WWD: Your company is known for kids’ and juniors’ product. How do you keep yourself in tune with the younger generation?
A.L.: I’m stuck in the Eighties. If I had my way right now, I’d be driving a Firebird. But I surround myself with young people.

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