Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen

NEW YORK — Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen may be all over the tabloids now, but that isn’t slowing the expansion of their business operation.<br><br>The twins’ swimwear line, which has been sold exclusively at Wal-Mart for the past four...

NEW YORK — Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen may be all over the tabloids now, but that isn’t slowing the expansion of their business operation.

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

The twins’ swimwear line, which has been sold exclusively at Wal-Mart for the past four years, will now be rolled out to stores such as Sears and Kohl’s as part of a new partnership between Dualstar Entertainment Group — the Olsen’s business venture — and New York swimwear company Now for Children.

And it’s possible that other fashion categories may follow suit and be sold at locations apart from Wal-Mart.

“Taking the swimwear into stores other than Wal-Mart marks the first step in the U.S. where we have a fashion category at more than one retail location,” said Robert Thorne, chief executive officer of Dualstar. “We are just dipping our toes into this.”

Mary-Kate and Ashley have been front-page news in the tabloids in recent weeks, due to revelations of Mary-Kate’s eating disorder and possible drug addiction.

“We are not too worried about the recent stories about them that have been in the media,” said Louis Brindisi, owner and president of Now for Children, who noted that Olsen’s company told him they are planning to sue Star magazine, which ran a recent cover story about Mary-Kate. “I think their name is stronger than ever.”

Added Thorne, “There is a lot of sympathy for them, and we are ignoring the tabloid junk. Its too upsetting to even talk about.”

Thorne insisted there were no problems with Wal-Mart, and said Dualstar decided to start its retail expansion with swim because it thinks the suits will have wide appeal and “could be very successful.” Junior apparel is also being considered for a roll-out.

The wholesale swimwear roll-out will begin with cruise 2005, which hits stores in November and is being shown now to retailers, according to Brindisi, whose Now for Children also makes St. Tropez and other swim lines.

The Mary-Kate and Ashley swimwear offerings have been updated to include more fashion-forward designs such as triangle bikinis and one-pieces with scenic prints in colors such as pink and green, and many of the looks come with coordinating cover-ups. Wholesale prices range from $7 to $16 for the girls’ line and $12 to $17 for the tween looks; wholesale sales are projected to be about $3 million in the first year of the expanded distribution, Brindisi said.

There are now between 50 and 70 product categories under the Mary-Kate and Ashley nameplate covering fashion, health and beauty and entertainment, and Dualstar and the twins are actively involved in the design of the products, Thorne said.

— Melanie Kletter