Michael Prince, chief executive of Signature Eyewear, met Bodo Loerke and Lee Ashworth Sr. through a mutual friend earlier this year.

Soon after, they decided to work together.

Loerke, who started women’s footwear company Rough Justice in 2007 with Ashworth, said he and Ashworth had been looking for a company that could help turn Rough Justice into a lifestyle brand.

Signature Eyewear Inc., which trades on the over the counter bulletin board, was set to announce the launch of the partnership this week under the name Signature Fashion Group. The company was also planning to announce that it has acquired the Rough Justice trademark and will relaunch the branded footwear line. Loerke and Ashworth will head the footwear division.

Jill Gardner, executive vice president at Signature Eyewear, said the acquisition of Rough Justice and the hiring of Loerke and Ashworth give the company a reach beyond prescription eyewear and sunglasses.

“Rough Justice brings to us the dynamic synergy for fashion,” Gardner said. “It gives us something more to present to companies than just an eyewear partnership.”

Signature Eyewear makes eyewear for brand names including Nicole Miller, Michael Stars and Cutter & Buck. The company, which operates out of a 45,000-square-foot office and warehouse facility in Inglewood, also makes its own line called Dakota Smith.

Rough Justice, which is moving to Inglewood from downtown Los Angeles, is set to debut its spring collection next month at the New York Fashion Association’s tradeshow. The footwear, made in China and Italy, will include pumps, wedges and boots, and are expected to sell for $129 to $350. The collection will also include two shoes priced at $99 for younger women.

Meanwhile, Signature Fashion Group plans to launch a Rough Justice handbag collection next year and eventually an eyewear line.

Learning Curve

When Jennie Horn launched half-length camisole company Second Base last year, she was starting a business in an industry she knew nothing about.

But Horn taught herself about garment manufacturing and now, Second Base’s camisoles are on the shelves of Bloomingdale’s and 150 other retailers nationwide.

Horn, 31, first got the idea to design camisoles half the length of traditional camisoles when she was working as a designer in a Chicago furniture showroom. She liked wearing traditional camisoles under her tops and dresses for modesty, but the camisoles would often bunch up at the waist.

So, when Horn moved to Los Angeles in 2008, she decided to invest her own money – she declined to say how much – and start making half-length camisoles that fall at the midriff.

Horn trekked around downtown Los Angeles asking fabric store owners where she could find garment cutters and sewers. But she couldn’t find people who were skilled enough to make it at the high quality she was seeking.

“I didn’t know the terminology and what to expect pricewise,” Horn said. “It was an expensive way to learn.”

She eventually found a lingerie manufacturer in Redondo Beach, where Second Base’s camisoles are now made.

Horn then hired sales reps to sell her camisoles at wholesale to boutique retailers. She also launched a website where shoppers can order the apparel, which come in 11 different styles for day and evening wear, and plus size. The items range in price from $30 to $38.

Horn is projecting that Second Base’s wholesale business, the company’s main source of revenue, will hit $1 million next year. As sales increase, she’s planning to develop a line of boy shorts and other intimate apparel.

Staying Afloat

New York swimwear maker A.H. Schreiber Co. Inc. tapped veteran L.A. designer Rod Beattie to launch a West Coast office and create a new brand.

Beattie left downtown L.A. swimwear maker Apparel Ventures Inc. last month when it was acquired by Cypress-based Manhattan Beachwear Inc.

He said he decided to leave Apparel Ventures after working there for 17 years in order to develop a swimwear brand from scratch.

“It’s incredibly challenging, but also really exciting,” Beattie said.

The new brand, Bleu Rod Beattie, is set to debut at the Miami Swim Show in July and will be available for the 2012 season.

Beattie started his career in the apparel industry working as a sportswear designer for fashion houses such as Sue Wong. He then entered the swimwear business and eventually developed Apparel Venture’s LaBlanca by Rod Beattie line.

After Manhattan Beachwear acquired Apparel Ventures, Beattie said he was recruited by other swimwear companies, and chose to work with A.H. Schreiber. Schreiber, which has gross sales of more than $100 million, makes about 12 million swimsuits annually that are sold at major department stores and discount retailers.

Beattie is in the midst of opening a design studio in Pasadena and hiring a staff of seven to get the brand started. He said the look for Bleu Rod Beattie swimsuits, which will be manufactured overseas, will be contemporary and inspired by L.A.’s beach scene.

“The timing is right for something new to come along,” he said. “I want to create a new product that people will get exited about and respond to.”

Staff reporter Alexa Hyland can be reached at ahyland@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 235.

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