NEW YORK — Maidenform Brands Inc. posted a 39.7 percent gain in first-quarter earnings last week on sales that were bolstered by strength from its department store distribution.

For the three months ended April 1, the company reported net income of $6.2 million, or 26 cents a diluted share, compared with net income of $4.5 million, or 14 cents, in the same year-ago quarter. Sales inched up 0.6 percent, to $100.8 million from $100.2 million.

Thomas J. Ward, chief executive officer, said in a statement, “Our milestones thus far have included increased net sales even compared to last year’s strong first quarter, improved gross margins through a change in our product mix, paying down $7.5 million in debt and repurchasing $4.8 million of our common stock.”

Ward said the company will continue to take the steps necessary to position itself for long-term success. Those steps include “building our Flexees and Lilyette brands [and] introducing additional pioneering products like the Maidenform Lite Collection.”

The company said sales to department stores and national chain stores grew by $7.6 million, while sales in the mass merchant channel decreased by $3.4 million. Sales to specialty retailers and off-pricers, and licensing income for the quarter declined by $4 million, due in part to reduced sales to the off-price retailers.

Same-store sales at Maidenform’s 74 outlet stores gained 6.8 percent.

This story first appeared in the May 15, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.