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DALLAS — The power of positive thinking seems to be paying off at Self Esteem, a $40 million junior fashion brand.
With labels, hangtags and other marketing programs that reinforce positive self-images for teenage girls, including those who wear plus sizes, Self Esteem's volume has grown nearly sevenfold since its debut three years ago, when sales were $6 million.
The company now ships between $3 million and $4 million a month to its 3,000 accounts across the U.S., including Dillard's, Wet Seal, Delia's, Alloy, Pacific Sunwear and Lane Bryant, as well as small junior specialty stores.
"We want to help teen girls feel better about themselves," said Richard Clareman, founder and president of Self Esteem, based in Vernon, Calif.
"Teen girls are emotionally very sensitive to start with, and then they encounter a lot of negativity in their lives — whether at home in conflicts with their parents or siblings or in the media, especially with [the shootings at] Columbine and all the teen violence taking place. Their self-images can be very fragile."
But Self Esteem is responding.
The company prints upbeat slogans that read like fortune-cookie messages on its labels and hangtags, such as "Others are attracted to your charisma and self-esteem" or "Happiness begins with self-esteem."
The outreach doesn't stop with a slogan. The colorful hangtags, emblazoned with butterflies and Sixties-style graphics, also invite interaction.
"Who are you? We need to know about your thoughts and suggestions," reads the back of the tag, which also serves as a mail-in response card. It asks for the purchaser's e-mail address and birthday and urges a visit to the Self Esteem Web site.
The company responds with birthday cards, newsletters and other marketing collateral such as contests and games throughout the year.
"We get over 2,000 letters a week and 10,000 hits a month on our Web site — they love our positive-vibes concept," said Clareman. "They want someone to listen to them, and we try to answer every letter."
Last spring, Self Esteem launched a plus-size junior collection that's already a hit.
"Plus sizes is our biggest growth area. First-year sales are $2 million. Next year we're projecting $5 million. And we think it'll just keep getting stronger," said Clareman. The line is sized 1x to 3x.
"Plus-size teens are totally into fashion if they can find the fit," Clareman said. "They want to wear something other than Dad's shirt."
Self Esteem's design crew travels the world to tap breaking trends, visiting Europe five times a year and making at least three trips to Asia. It also stages roundtable discussion groups with teen girls and hires fashion interns from design schools.
For spring, best-selling styles include crocheted and novelty trims, unusual stitching and a big emphasis on back detailing such as cutouts, said Sarah Yang, tops designer at Self Esteem.
"For fall, we're playing up colorful Missoni-inspired textures," she added.
Ruben Zambrano, the bottoms designer, thinks fall will take a folkloric route with handkerchief skirts, 16- and 18-wale corduroy pants in spice and vegetable tones, and stretch twill skirts and flood pants.
Wholesale prices range from $7 for T-shirts to $30 for more constructed and dressy items.
To keep up with its growth, Self Esteem plans to relocate in January to a new 65,000-square-foot headquarters in Vernon, Calif., from its old space that was 15,000 square feet.