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Castle Hill Apparel is trying to find a better way for Chetta B.

This story first appeared in the November 10, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

After buying the rights to the label and certain assets from GMAC in May, the new owners decided to reposition the brand as a better resource after years of being bridge. The more spirited collection will make its debut at retail for spring.

Castle Hill Apparel chairman Martin Schlossberg said the economic climate is prime for acquisitions. “This is the time. In the last two years, there have been so many opportunities out there. This is the time to go forward, not backward.”

Castle Hill Apparel’s annual wholesale volume is $75 million and its affiliate the Darian Group Inc. generates an additional $25 million. Castle Hill Apparel produces R&K Originals, R&K Evening, K Studio and Madison Leigh brands. The company has a reputation of initiating new business strategies. In 1969, after a 10-day exploratory business trip to Asia turned into a 31-day sojourn, Schlossberg was swift to shift production overseas even though factories then had dirt floors and workers had to pump a foot pedal to keep their sewing machines going because of power outages. Castle Hill Apparel now produces its goods in China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Central and South America.

Schlossberg, and his wife, Andrea, the company’s vice chairman, were the first to develop celebrity-backed apparel collections for HSN.

Castle Hill executives said in this economy better shoppers are more inclined to part with their dollars than bridge shoppers, primarily because better options are more affordable. Chetta B now retails from $120 to $200 compared with its former price range of $300 to $600.

“Everybody is looking to trade up for style but not for price,” Schlossberg said.

Although price may be the tipping point with shoppers and buyers, Schlossberg said the collection’s updated, more spirited point of view is the key.

“I don’t think it’s about price,” he said. “It’s really about the clothing.”

Designer Sunhee Hwang, after working with Castle Hill for the past two years, now focuses on Chetta B. She came up with a cotton- and stretch-driven collection. In addition to “country club” cotton dresses, there are printed jacquard frocks, linen sundresses and cropped embellished sweaters.

Based on retailers’ initial orders for Chetta B, Schlossberg expects first-year projected wholesale volume to be $8.5 million, and second-year sales in the $19 million to $20 million range. Alan Geller, who worked for Chetta B four years ago, is now the vice president of sales.

Chetta B is housed in a showroom at 501 Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, but executives expect to outgrow that space relatively quickly. Schlossberg aims to have ample room for additional categories such as sweaters, sportswear and blouses, and licensed coats, which should be introduced down the road. Negotiations are under way to distribute Chetta B in Europe, he said.

Schlossberg has no interest in winding down his 41-year career. “Slow down to do what?” he asked. “I don’t have a friend who stopped working who isn’t unhappy, old or sick.”

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