Kenneth Cole Productions is entering a new chapter for its apparel business.
The 33-year-old accessories and apparel brand has forged a U.S. licensing agreement with Global Brands Group Holding Ltd. for men’s, women’s and children’s apparel, as well as handbags under the labels Kenneth Cole New York, Kenneth Cole Reaction and Unlisted, a Kenneth Cole Production.
Cole’s footwear business, which does the lion’s share of the volume at KCP, and for which the brand is known, will remain in-house.
“As we continue to grow and evolve the Kenneth Cole brand around the world, we are excited to partner with a global leader like Global Brands, with vast design, distribution, operational and sourcing capabilities, to better service our growing brand footprint,” said Marc Schneider, chief executive officer of KCP. He cited “the growth opportunities [the partnership] affords us in these categories of our business.”
Jason Rabin, president of North America and chief merchandising officer of Global Brands Group Holding Ltd., added, “We believe that the Kenneth Cole brand has tremendous potential to resonate with consumers far beyond levels it is currently reaching.”
Cole has had a rocky road with its apparel lines over the years. Its men’s sportswear collection, which had been done in-house, will move to GBG. The women’s sportswear line, which has been on hiatus since its final fall 2014 collection, will be relaunched at GBG. Cole’s women’s handbag business, which had been licensed to the Mundi Westport Group, will now be licensed to GBG, which has also been producing Cole’s children’s collections.
Cole’s full-price retail and outlet stores, which number 146 globally, will remain part of KCP.
Kenneth Cole, executive chairman and chief creative officer, will continue to work with each of his licensees. The majority of the design development and sourcing teams at KCP (who work on apparel) will transfer to GBG. Cole’s footwear team will stay in tact, and design development and sourcing will remain in-house. Also remaining in-house are such departments as legal, human resources, licensing and marketing based at Cole headquarters at 603 West 50th Street.
Aside from the GBG categories, Cole has 17 domestic licensees, in categories such as men’s and women’s sunglasses and optical, women’s jewelry, and men’s and women’s outerwear, that remain in place. Each of Cole’s licensees (including the new GBG ones) are able to sell the product globally. Earlier this year, Haggar renewed its agreement in the U.S. until 2021 for Cole’s men’s classification bottoms, which stays in place. In addition, Cole signed an expanded agreement with Haggar Canada to manufacture, market and distribute men’s and women’s apparel and distribute men’s and women’s footwear effective Oct. 1, 2016. Haggar Canada Co. will also manufacture, market and distribute men’s tailored clothing effective Jan. 1, 2017. Under the terms of the new license, Haggar Canada Co. will manufacture, market and distribute under the following labels: Kenneth Cole Black Label, Kenneth Cole New York, Reaction Kenneth Cole and Unlisted, a Kenneth Cole Production. The agreement also includes the launch of Kenneth Cole freestanding stores across major markets in Canada planned for 2017.
GBG, an international branded apparel, footwear, fashion-accessories and lifestyle-products company, has New York offices at 350 Fifth Avenue. It operates two core segments: Licensed Brands and Controlled Brands. In addition to Cole, GBG has licenses for such brands as Calvin Klein, Cole Haan, Michael Kors, Tommy Hilfiger, Coach and Under Armour. The controlled brands include Frye, Juicy Couture, Spyder, Aquatalia, David Beckham, Jennifer Lopez, Jones New York, Buffalo, and Joe’s. For the 15-month period from Jan. 1, 2015, to March 31, 2016, GBG’s revenues increased to $4.1 billion. Core operating profit and net profit for the period were $75 million and $25 million, respectively.
After an 18-year run as a public company, KCP went private in 2012. Cole said there were changes in the business that needed to be made. “You can’t do it in a public arena and can’t do it with the spotlight of disclosure and scrutiny. [We] needed to become a non-public company,” Cole said at the time. Major strategic changes, such as store closings and the elimination of certain categories, might not sit too well with Wall Street, he said. Once taking the company private, Cole was able to focus more on design, upgrading the product and getting the brand’s message out to the world, especially through digital marketing. In 2012, he launched a new women’s and men’s sportswear collection called Kenneth Cole Collection, which had higher price points, better fabrics and more advanced styling than Kenneth Cole New York. (Both women’s lines have since gone on hiatus). In 2011, Cole took the women’s Kenneth Cole New York license back from Bernard Chaus Inc. and started developing the product in-house for the fall 2011 season. The men’s license, which had been held by Paul Davril Inc., was also brought in-house in 2008, enabling KCP to do all women’s and men’s apparel in-house.
In 2015, Cole rebranded the business, which at the time was generating $1 billion in retail sales worldwide across all licenses and product categories. In the past few years, KCP has set out to make the retail experience more relatable to a new generation of customers. It also enhanced the user experience on its web site and created ad campaigns that spoke to social issues, for which Cole is well known — but put the spotlight on the product. Last October, KCP opened a new concept shop at Bond Street and Bowery in New York. The 2,500-square-foot shop features men’s and women’s sportswear and accessories, along with a touch table, iPads for product storytelling, a Memory Mirror, social engagement and free Wi-Fi.