AFTER SUCCESS IN THE FOOTWEAR MARKET, VANS LAUNCHES JUNIOR APPAREL.

LOS ANGELES — Whether it’s building a monstrous 50,000-square-foot skate park or producing the award-winning documentary “Dogtown and the Z Boys” about skateboarding’s roots, Vans Inc. has established itself as a leader in the youth-branding business.

Now, after success with girl’s footwear and more than a year of market speculation, the skate-lifestyle brand is turning its marketing might to junior sportswear, with two branded apparel lines. Both will bear the Vans label.

The first line is produced by Van Pac LLC, a joint venture between the Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based brand and retailer Pacific Sunwear. T-shirts and fleece items tested in 12 stores for holiday became top-selling items, according to Debbie Shin, vice president and general merchandise manager of juniors.

“It performed well enough to be reordered for all 12 stores and warrant all-store buys,” Shin said.

The second line, developed in-house by Vans, is designated for the company’s 160 branded stores, which have never carried junior apparel before. The company, which had revenues of $340 million in 2001, declined to give sales projections for the new offerings.

“We feel as though the women’s business can be as strong as the men’s business,” said Todd Dalhausser, director of apparel for Vans. “We know from the tremendous success of women’s footwear styles that a young, female consumer likes to be associated with Vans.”

Michael Pachter, director of research with Wedbush Morgan Securities, said he believes both lines have potential, but will need a year of development before making a significant financial contribution.

Speaking of the in-house line, Pachter speculated Vans “would be ecstatic if they could get it up to $15 million, but I can’t see them getting above 10 percent of total revenues ever. What they really want to see is apparel drive footwear sales, and I think it will.”

He expects Pac Sun’s junior business to gather steam faster.

“When you go into Pac Sun, it’s Roxy, Pac Sun proprietary goods and not much else, so another brand is good,” he said. “The Pac Sun guys are smart and certainly on top of trends. I think they will promote the stuff successfully.”

Certainly, Pac Sun and Vans have a successful track record. Since forming Van Pac three years ago as a vehicle for a young men’s branded business, Vans apparel reached 3 percent of Pac Sun’s overall young men’s business in 2001. It’s expected to grow to 5 percent this year, according to president and chief merchandising officer Tim Harmon.

Harmon expressed caution that skate looks will be as meaningful to female consumers.

“Within the men’s sector, we saw a shift in our business from surf to skate, and obviously Vans is part of the original skate industry,” he said. On the girl’s side, however, skate-inspired dressing “hasn’t followed the industry in becoming more feminine and more fitted,” Harmon added.

Harmon did characterize the line’s test as “successful,” though he was reluctant to share details on how quickly Pac Sun will roll out Vans junior apparel.

Teams from both companies will attend a planning meeting next month, according to Dalhausser. Product will be sourced and developed by Pac Sun, with some creative direction from Vans.

For their in-house label, Vans tapped former Reebok tennis designer Thom Gridley, who put together roughly 20 styles. The presentation, he said, is “not a foofy girl’s line.”

“We purposely haven’t called the line Vans Girls or Vans Junior,” he said. “We have so much leverage with the Vans name we don’t need to get cutesy.”

Styles include corduroy cargo shorts, denim pants, a zip-front jacket, capris, board shorts and a range of logo tops. Wholesale prices range from $7.50 for a tank to $25.50 for the denim jacket.

Gridley said the line will pay attention to trendy, body-conscious silhouettes like low-rise jeans and fitted raglans, but use strong “performance” colors like royal, navy and orange. Splashes of softer color will be used on a seasonal basis, Gridley said.

“I think using a broad range of color will address the performance-aggressive looks, as well as the more fashion-conscious customer,” Gridley said.

Junior apparel will take some cues from footwear’s color direction, which is planned on a much longer lead time.

“Girls like to hook things up, so we’ll follow suit from footwear,” Gridley said.

The line will launch in six California test locations and then roll out to 25 doors for back-to-school, according to Gridley.

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