Smallbiz-kikwear/25" with box/mike1st/mark2nd

By DANIEL TAUB

Staff Reporter

Recently posted on Kik Wear Industries' Web site was a message from Christy, an 18-year-old fan of the company's youth-oriented clothing. She requested that Kik Wear start making wide-legged pants with orange stripes and yellow flames running down the legs as well as pants with colored mesh sewn on the outside.

"That would be PHAT!!" she wrote.

Christy is not your typical corporate decision-maker she describes herself as having a nose ring and green hair, and few executives use the word "phat" to describe something they like. But her suggestions are likely to carry great weight.

Sitting in front of a laptop computer at Kik Wear's headquarters a 25,000-square-foot warehouse off the Santa Monica (10) Freeway in an industrial district just southeast of downtown Los Angeles Alex Berenson says he spends many evenings browsing through messages like Christy's.

"I actually do read through all of them," said Berenson, who founded the company with friends Gregg Ostrow and Dusty Cohen in 1991. Reading such messages as well as going to clubs, concerts, amusement parks and shopping malls where teen-agers congregate are ways he and his employees stay connected to customers.

"We want to be the leader in this industry, not the follower," he said.

That seems to be case, especially when it comes to jeans that have incredibly wide legs. Kik Wear jeans have gone as wide as 69 inches (compared with less than 20 inches for conventional jeans), and after demand subsided for a while, Berenson says that things are again picking up.

"We never really went away from it completely, but we certainly lessened the amount of styles available," he said.

The baggy jeans craze has helped catapult sales, from just $350,000 in 1992 the first full year in business to $18.8 million last year. Berenson expects Kik Wear's '99 revenues to surpass $25 million.

Not hurting is a celebrity clientele that company officials say includes George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino and Leonardo DiCaprio and members of rock bands 311, Korn and Limp Bizkit.

Cindy Levitt, divisional merchandise manager at City of Industry-based Hot Topic Inc., said Kik Wear's success is largely the result of being able to quickly jump on new fads sometimes coming up with a new design within a week.

"They're open; they're not big egos," Levitt said. "They're like, 'Great, that's a good idea.' I think they will have some longevity in that they are listening to the buyer customer and the kid customer, and they have not let their egos get in the way."

The company's success so far is quite an accomplishment for the three partners, considering that they had no experience in the apparel business. (Two partners have been added, Todd Bachenheimer and Scott Freedman.)

At first, Kik Wear made just one item: boxer shorts with longer legs than those found in stores at the time. The three hired a sewing house to make the boxer shorts, called "Longy's," and sold them to friends for $10 apiece. Before long, the company branched out into T-shirts, pants and hats all the while operating out of a 100-square-foot former sound studio behind a Westside house near Pico Boulevard and Beverly Drive.

In the meantime, Berenson was teaching himself the rag trade, and hawking clothes at the massive MAGIC apparel trade show in Las Vegas and other such venues.

Aside from its baggy jeans, the company puts out a variety of pants, jackets and shirts under its Kik Wear, Kik Girl and Greed Girl lines. Clothes in its Greed Girl line are more likely to be made of stretch fabrics, and to have a tighter fit. One pair of Greed Girl pants has a ladybug embroidered on the back pocket.

"It's more fun, more cutesy it's a little sexier," said Lorraine Getz, one of the company's designers.

The Kik Wear and Kik Girl lines, meanwhile, are baggier and make greater use of utilitarian fabrics, like nylon. Items in that line feature hidden "stash" and cargo pockets; and one skirt has a built-in wallet on the waist. Many pairs of pants in that line also feature plastic piping down the legs.

They have been consistently popular with teen-agers. (Kik Wear is "my most requested brand name," said Levitt of Hot Topic.) Nonetheless, the company is considering returning to its roots by reintroducing its Longy's boxer shorts.

"We're actually talking about bringing them back for spring 2000," Berenson said.

Spotlight

Kik Wear Industries

Year Founded: 1991

Core Business: Designing and selling pants, shirts and other apparel for juniors and young men

Revenues in 1997: $10.5 million

Revenues in 1998: $18.8 million

Revenues in 1999: $25 million (projected)

Employees in 1997: 30

Employees in 1999: 50

Goals: To stay on the cutting edge of the teen clothing market; to reach $50 million in annual revenues by 2001

Driving Force: Demand from teen-agers and clothing buyers for interesting, cutting-edge clothes

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.