Fashionable History of Liz Claiborne Incorporated ...
In 1976, a relatively unknown dress designer, her textile
veteran husband and two partners established, Liz Claiborne
Inc., a design-driven company that would revolutionize the
fashion industry - from how women dress for work, to where
product is sourced, to how it is sold into and at department
stores. With less than half a million dollars and a clear focus
on design, quality and value, these four partners - Liz
Claiborne, Art Ortenberg, Leonard Boxer and Jerome Chazen -
created what is now a nearly $5 billion public company.
Established at a time when women were entering the workforce
in large numbers, Liz Claiborne and her partners saw the
opportunity to provide versatile, fashionable wardrobes that
were appropriate for work, but still conveyed a sense of
individuality and femininity. A working woman herself, Liz
understood how liberating it would be to mix and match separates
rather than have to rely on the traditional dress or gray
flannel suit. Thus, out of a small office on 40th street in
Manhattan, Liz Claiborne the brand was born, transforming the
way women dressed and ultimately, how they shopped.
The concept was simple: Provide the ensemble driven
sportswear that had been available for many years at designer
level prices through the likes of Calvin Klein and Bill Blass,
but make it affordable for the working woman.
There was a major stumbling block, however. Up until this
point, department stores were by and large classification
oriented - pants were in one department, skirts in another and
shirts in yet another. To put together a wardrobe a consumer had
to go from department to department and hope that the colors and
pieces would match. Additionally, department store buyers were
classification-focused and were not equipped to buy merchandise
from one brand across product lines.
To overcome this, Liz Claiborne executives worked with
retailers to test the concept of presenting all of the brand's
related sportswear pieces in one department, streamlining the
consumer's shopping experience.
As the Company grew, manufacturing and sourcing capabilities
became more and more important. For the first several years the
company was doing everything it could to keep up with demand and
fill orders, largely using domestic manufacturers. Distribution
executives were nervous wondering how they could possibly ship
50,000 units per week.
In the mid- 1970s and into the early 1980s the Company again
questioned the norm in the apparel industry by testing the
concept of manufacturing overseas. Liz Claiborne established a
production control office in Hong Kong by mid-1976. However, as
volume and orders increased, issues with getting the amount of
merchandise needed at the right quality and price levels from
the domestic suppliers began to arise, and sourcing more product
overseas looked like the most viable way to address this issue.
Using a poet blouse - one of the hottest selling, yet hardest to
produce items as a test - Liz Claiborne executives contracted a
factory in Taiwan to produce a large quantity. The quality and
price of the garments that arrived in the warehouse blew
everyone away and the rest is history - Liz Claiborne Inc. now
sources its products in more than 40 countries around the world
and routinely ships five million units per week in the U.S.
Liz Claiborne Inc. became a large company in a small industry
very quickly and in 1981 went public to much fanfare. In a time
when apparel company IPOs were not well received Liz Claiborne's
offering was highly successful. And this was just the
beginning...by 1985 Liz Claiborne Inc. was the first company
founded by a woman to be listed in the Fortune 500.
Of the original founders, Leonard Boxer retired from the
Company in 1985, and in 1989, after 13 years, Liz Claiborne and
Art Ortenberg announced their retirement from active management.
Jerry Chazen, the fourth original partner, became the company's
Chairman in 1989. Paul R. Charron joined the company in 1994 as
vice chairman and chief operating officer. One year later he
became president and chief executive officer, and was elected
chairman in 1996. Mr. Charron retired at the end of 2006, after
12 years at Liz Claiborne Inc.
In November 2006, William L. McComb joined the company as
chief executive officer. In January 2007, Board member Kay
Koplovitz, principal of Koplovitz & Co., a media investment firm
and the founder of international cable television programming
company USA Networks, became non-executive Chairman of the
Board. On July 11, 2007, CEO William L. McComb announced the
framework of a new organizational structure that was a crucial
step in making Liz Claiborne Inc. into a more brand-focused and
cost-effective business that can successfully navigate a rapidly
changing retail environment. Accordingly, this new
organizational structure puts "brand" at the center, enabling a
more consistent, focused approach to brand strategy for all of
the names in our portfolio.
The Company now operates via two distinct segments:
- Direct Brands: brand-centric, vertically organized
- Partnered Brands: Customer-focused, cost efficient
This structure reflects the distinct needs of each business
segment, which have different growth prospects, capital
requirements and cultural profiles. Our retail-based Direct
Brands division will benefit from enhanced retail infrastructure
and capabilities, while our wholesale-based Partnered Brands
division will be better positioned to meet the needs of specific
Juicy Couture, Kate Spade, Lucky Brand and Mexx will operate
under brand-centric, vertical organizational structures within
the Direct Brands Division.