Earnshaw's | Infants', Girls', Boys' Wear Review | 2010 • September
Summer Daze: Tween fashion is set aglow with ruffled layers, tiny florals and rugged denim; Fortune’sSon: United Legwear & Underwear continues to create opportunities with new brands, product categories and global markets; SpringMix: The season’s big themes may feel familiar, but designers are spicing up the selection via subtle tweaks; The Look: Front & Center.
Q & a gooﬁng off, even though about 30 of his peers were also messing around. So he quit. Unfortunately for him, his mother was having none of it and marched him back to the ofﬁce to ask for his job back. It was only then that he learned why he had been singled out. “Shalom said, ‘The reason I yelled at you is because you’re The company the one who has the drive, and you’re gois launching ing to be a boss one day. I see it in you,” Zutano legwear for Spring ‘11. Ash said. Upon hearing this story, the younger Isaac ﬁnally understood why his grandfather had been so tough on him; he was preparing him so he could reach his fullest potential. With the addition of BabyLegs last year, Ash took the advice of another elder—this time his dad, Eddie. “My father told me something years ago: ‘Stay at one thing, do it well and then add your brand extensions on eventually,’” Ash mused. “That’s where we are now. I’ve been at this for 12 years, and it’s time to expand.” Today, the company’s roster of brands includes Puma, Skechers, Rockport, Cynthia Rowley, Baby Genius and the newly added Zutano. And in addition to BabyLegs, Ash is looking for other “meaningful” businesses to acquire. He is also branching out into new product categories, namely underwear and footwear. No matter which direction he moves next, quality will remain the company’s top priority. As his experience in legwear has taught him, if you offer a top-notch product, you create customer loyalty. “Legwear is not a primary reason for shopping. It’s an impulse buy or a necessity buy,” he said. “[Consumers] walk through Foot Locker, remember the Puma socks they bought and they’ll pick up a pair or two. That’s the key—the experience. A sock that wears well that consumers get their value out of [will prompt them to] go back to that store and purchase it again.” How did you get your start in the legwear business? From 1988 to 1998, I worked for Ash Hosiery. In 1988, I started selling slouch socks out of my mother’s car. I was 18 years old. Half my friends were going out to smoke pot and eat pizza. I had one SKU of slouch socks in 35 colors. I felt like a Baskin Robbins. After school, I went all over New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. I walked into any and every store that had socks. I’d come home at 7 or 8 at night and hand my father a yellow pad with handwritten orders. What’s the most valuable lesson you learned from working with your family? I’ll never forget the day I made a sale for 90 cents apiece. The line sheet said $1.10, but I thought [the reduced price was justiﬁed because] I got double the quantity. My grandfather said, “But you gave the goods away! Are you a salesman or an order taker?” The key, he explained, is to sell your product and tell the customer why you need the $1.10 rather than give the goods away at 90 cents. Anyone can give goods away. Also, if you’re going to ask for the $1.10, the quality had better be there. I learned to put the money into the product and ask for [the full price] rather than take the money out and try to do the volume. That’s why I’m still going strong 11 years with Puma, and we just signed on for more years, because anyone who buys the Puma product loves it. 20 S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 0 • E A R N S H AW S . C O M Sounds like the experience was a great springboard. How’d you make the leap from employee to owner? I needed my own space. There were too many Ashs in the ofﬁce. I had a chance encounter with the head of IMT Accessories. The company was opening up divisions—bags, accessories, underwear—and I thought maybe they’d want to start a sock division. I called the owner and asked if I could come talk to him. He said, “I was going to call you. I have your number right here.” I got chills. I went to meet with him, and he offered me an ofﬁce and said good luck. From there, I hustled and used their back ofﬁce. Early on, I was doing Target’s infant, toddler and kids private label. Then Puma came along. I made a presentation for Puma in 1998. I proposed six styles: three men’s, three women’s. That was it. Puma is with me to this day. The president of Puma said, “No one [else understood] the brand in 1999. You got it. We just needed a good sport sock or two, and you did it.” I translated the brand’s identity into legwear. To this day, the president uses me as an example. From there, I kept on doubling the Puma business, and as it grew, United Legwear grew. Puma has obviously been an important partner for you. What’s your strategy for selecting brands? We’ve picked some great partners. A lot of brands have wanted us to compete in the sports lifestyle world. No need—we have Skechers, the global leader. Who [could be] better than that? We’re at the mid tier in doors like Stage Stores and Sears with its U.S. Polo Association label. I would never think of putting Puma there, but that brand gets me in those doors. We have Luvs at Family Dollar. Cynthia Rowley is our high-end designer. We like pushing the envelope to make some runway product for her, and some of those designs make it to retail at places like Nordstrom and Bergdorf Goodman. We play at multiple tiers of distribution, but we want to be the best at each level, and the product shows it. I won’t put out a product that I won’t put on myself or my family. That’s the bottom line. What makes a brand a good ﬁt? Which is more important, the brand’s equity or the people behind the label? It’s a 50/50 mix. You have a lot of brands out there that have a lot of brand equity but the people behind it don’t understand us and aren’t visionaries like me. I like to partner up with other visionaries that get me and my company, and then we’re off to the races. What I love about Baby Genius is that [its licensing agent] Joester Loria is great and I love the educational piece behind the property. I think it could be the next Baby Einstein. But I signed on because of the great message behind it—I love the Circle of Education [the musical system for early learning the brand developed] and because Larry and Howard Balaban [the owners] are so charitable. Zutano is a another good example. I know from meeting [owners] Michael and Uli Belenky and seeing their dynamic that there’s only one way to go with them, and that’s up. We’ve signed on for multiple categories, from legwear to footwear to rainwear. We’re ready to take that brand to the next level with them. They are not the biggest, but they are best in class. There’s a huge canvas there.