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Designer Democracy: Rushing to Better for Big Volume and Riches

Better sportswear is suddenly chic, attracting the likes of Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Nicole Miller and Ron Chereskin to its volume-oriented realm.

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The attraction to the better market, noted Duffy, is its money-making potential.

“When Marc by Marc launched, it was launched in the same store [as the designer line] and it has grown by leaps and bounds,” he added. “It has probably doubled or tripled its volume.”

According to STS Market Research, the overall women’s sportswear market rang up sales of $38.8 billion in 2002, of which the moderate and better areas make up the lion’s share of volume.

Retail consultant Andy Jassin of Jassin-O’Rourke, said the reason all these designers are suddenly gravitating toward better sportswear is that consumers are looking for value and identifiable trademark brands wherever they shop.

“Because of all the discounting that’s going on, it’s difficult to survive at the top tier only and yet that’s where people develop their notoriety,” Jassin said. “Often, designers develop their following at the couture levels, but in essence the size of the market is very small. From a purely economic standpoint, it’s apparent that better or moderate sportswear affords the opportunity for these brands to expand to where more customers exist.”

Jassin reasoned that diffusion lines are good ideas if designers stick to a smart strategy and not compromise the standards set by the upstairs brand.

Dan Shamdasani, president of Public Clothing Co., which holds the license for the better-priced Perry Ellis line, noted that over the last few years there’s been a major influence of design which has transcended many industries — take the Volkswagen Beetle, W Hotels, Jet Blue Airlines and the iMac, for instance.

“The common denominator is that it has to have good design and good value,” he said. “In apparel, the designer and bridge areas are still inaccessible to a large population and the better zone is the perfect area to do business in. There are a number of companies coming into the area and the ones who execute the best will win. The trick is to do it in a proper manner and keep each business pure.”

Frank Doroff, executive vice president at Bloomingdale’s, said he is looking for new labels for better sportswear, an area which is now dominated by big brands like Liz Claiborne, Jones New York, City DKNY and AK Anne Klein.
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