Charlie Rocket weaves a niche in children's apparel industry with hip, modern look for its boys' wear line Charlie Rocket Year Founded:

1995

Core Business:

Boys' and girls' clothing

Revenue in 1995:

$200,000

Revenue in 2000:

$4 million

Revenue in 2001:

$5 million (projected)

Employees in 1995:

1

Employees in 2001:

13

Goal:

To grow annual revenues to $10 million

Driving Force:

Being competitive and staying ahead of Old Navy and The Gap, in terms of fashion trends

Clothing designer Anna Lindstrom used to be known as the queen of shipping. She even had a crown to prove it. When she started Charlie Rocket, a boys' wear line, out of her house nearly six years ago, she practically did everything herself.

She was the founder, co-owner and head designer of the company. She also was head of shipping.

Once she designed her line, she sent it off to be manufactured by contractors in downtown Los Angeles. On shipping day, she was out in her garage for endless hours, packing little shirts, shorts and pants into cardboard boxes that were sent to retailers around the country, as well as Canada and Japan.

"No one shipped as fast as me," said Lindstrom, recalling those early days when she, and her husband, Robin Constable, were determined to have a successful clothing line.

Lindstrom got to be so good at shipping that she used to wear a faux gold crown to mark her regal status on shipping day.

The crown was left behind in one of her warehouses, but she still participates in shipping in her roomy downtown headquarters on Seventh Street, where she and her husband bought a 12,000-square-foot building to house their offices and warehouse.

The move to new digs a year and a half ago was propelled by Charlie Rocket's rapid growth. First-year sales in 1995 totaled $200,000. Last year they hit $4 million.

Filling a niche

Lindstrom, originally from Sweden, believes that sales have boomed because she has filled a clothing niche long neglected by apparel manufacturers and specialty stores.

For years, the theory was that parents would spend more money on girls' outfits, but boys' clothing generated less attention.

"The children's market has really been ignored," said Lindstrom, 50, who has had years of experience in the garment industry. "It's really a huge market, even though it isn't treated with the same pizazz as the women's wear market."

So Lindstrom set out to make her mark in boys' clothing.

The result is a clothing line for boys ages 6 months to 14 that has a definite California appeal to it. Lindstrom relies heavily on a downsized beach and skate look that makes boys look like miniature surfers or skater dudes.

The clothing line has generated a lot of buzz among specialty store owners who are finding that stars such as Maria Shriver, Annette Bening, Lisa Kudrow and Rosie O'Donnell are snapping up the clothes for their children.

The boys' line is very sporty. There are knee-length shorts made of bright tropical fabrics, little Hawaiian shirts; T-shirts with surfboards; khaki cargo pants; and tie-dyed shirts.

The result is a hip modern collection sold in 50 local children's stores, such as Flicka on Larchmont Avenue, Glen Kids in Beverly Hills and Fred Segal in Los Angeles.

"It sells really well for us," said Janet Ching, a saleswoman at Flicka, who said the store had practically given up on boys' wear. "It is harder to find really cute boys things. And there is kind of a trend today that fathers want to dress their sons at an earlier age in a more macho look instead of in the Peter Pan collars that they wore."

Adding a girls' line

The line has been so successful that Lindstrom branched out six months ago to create a Charlie Rocket girls' line for ages 2 to 6. It also is casual but trendy.

To create the line, Lindstrom recently hired Camilla Berggren, a designer from her native Sweden.

Berggren, who has only been in this country a few months, sits at her design table, surrounded by samples of soft fleece jumpers, pastel-colored skirts, T-shirts and shorts, creating a look that Lindstrom hopes will be as popular as the boys' line.

For Lindstrom, branching out into girls' wear is a first. Her background is primarily in men's wear. For years, she was a men's wear buyer for several independent stores.

Then in the early 1990s, she and her husband started a company called American Laundry, which manufactured men's shirts and T-shirts. In 1993, American Laundry was absorbed by B.U.M. Equipment, a casual wear clothing company that started in Seattle.

With American Laundry gone, Lindstrom set out to do something slightly different. With two partners in Seattle who provided much of the $1 million in seed financing, Lindstrom and her husband decided to launch a boys' wear line that would incorporate fun clothing. They used their son Alex, 9, as their first model.

After some thought, they decided to call the company Charlie Rocket. Rockets are on all the labels. The rocket theme is sprinkled throughout the boxy office where Lindstrom works. Her desk and the one occupied by sales manager David Gardner are shaped liked rockets.

"I wanted to have a catchy name for parents and kids. I knew it would have to have the name rocket in it," Lindstrom explained. "And then I decided on Charlie because I thought if I ever had another son, I would call him Charlie. Charlie sounds like a kid who moves around a lot."

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