5 Questions for United Legwear’s Isaac Ash

United Legwear Co.’s business has got legs.

The New York-based company, which was founded in 1998, owns the license to manufacture and distribute socks, tights and underwear for more than 15 brands, including Puma, Skechers, Happy Socks, Cynthia Rowley, Adrienne Vittadini and Isaac Mizrahi.

“The strategy for United Legwear has always been to stay extremely focused on the core business, while simultaneously adding meaningful partnerships and product extensions to further [our] reach in the legwear and bodywear marketplace,” said company President and CEO Isaac Ash.

Now, the firm is forging ahead with new deals, such as the upcoming Happy Socks and Keds collaboration (Happy Socks also recently partnered with retailer Madewell). The two brands are working together to use sock patterns on the classic canvas shoes. And each of the shoeboxes, which hit stores in September, will feature a Happy Socks design and include a pair of sneakers and socks.

Additionally, the BabyUnited children’s division is now working with the TicTacToe label to revamp the branding on its socks and tights for the kids’ and teen markets. And Isaac Mizrahi legwear will roll out in department stores for the first time this fall, after partnering with United Legwear late last year. The new line features 14 styles of tights.

Skechers legwear also is receiving a redesign, with more premium fabrics, specialty yarns and new silhouettes. “I’ve never been more excited about a collection than I am for the spring ’13 line for Skechers,” said Ash. “It’s going to knock people’s socks off.”

Here, Ash weighs in on brand management, his philosophy behind new partnerships and what’s next for the company.

What are the challenges of having such a large portfolio of brands?
IA:
The challenges involve preserving each brand’s integrity and individual identity, even if they share the same retail classification: athletic (Puma and Skechers, for example); fashion (Cynthia Rowley and Isaac Mizrahi); lifestyle (Rockport and U.S. Polo Association); or children’s (Zutano and Fisher-Price). Because our design team is so creative, we are able to ensure that products remain true to every licensed partner’s brand traits. I could show you a pair of Adrienne Vittadini socks without a label and you would see how different they are from Happy Socks or Isaac Mizrahi.

What is your strategy for acquiring new brands and licenses?
IA:
Along with excellent product, any new brand must either have great relevance and existing brand equity in its category or it must have the potential for developing into something special. Brands such as Skechers are easy to partner with as their reach and influence in the market is tremendous. But I’ll take chances on new brands, as I have with Bread & Boxers bodywear, because I know that what they have created is unlike anything available in the U.S. right now.

How do you pick the retail partners for each individual line?
IA:
Our sales team knows where different people shop and what products they are shopping for. They use that knowledge to approach retail buyers with new lines and ideas. Some of the retail strategy is also determined by the retailers themselves because, in the end, demand for brands is articulated by the customers. A good example is the partnership between Madewell and Happy Socks. The response to the brand has been so great in those stores that Happy Socks has created special makeups just for Madewell [going forward].

What are your plans to further develop the BabyUnited division?
IA:
We’ve recently signed a deal with TicTacToe legwear, the go-to brand for mothers and a staple for fashion basics since 1987. We’ll continue offering the same top-quality booties, socks and tights for infants, children and teens, but the branding will undergo a major overhaul to breathe new life into the brand image. End-consumers must know they’ve purchased something special.

What’s in store for 2013?
IA:
Look for more interesting projects and collaborations from the Happy Socks team, the relaunch of Skechers legwear and for continued growth in our BabyUnited division. [The company] has continued to sustain top-line double-digit [sales] growth year over year since 2007, so we [expect a repeat of that success].

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