L.A. entrepreneur Karen Bell founded K. Bell Socks out of her garage about 30 years ago and grew it into a national brand. Now, a major sock manufacturer has acquired the Inglewood company.

Renfro Corp., a Mount Airy, N.C., maker of Fruit of the Loom socks and other brands, acquired K. Bell last month for an undisclosed sum.

Bell will remain at K. Bell as chief design officer, and the company will remain headquartered in Inglewood. Gary Finder, K. Bell’s chief executive, is planning to leave the company after he helps integrate the company’s operations with Renfro’s.

K. Bell employs 75, and makes socks for women, men and juniors in addition to knee highs and tights for women. The company’s products, which are designed at its Inglewood offices and manufactured internationally, are sold under the K. Bell brand at major department stores such as Dillard’s and Nordstrom, and through private-label partnerships with retailers such as Kohl’s and Urban Outfitters.

Bell started K. Bell by decorating socks at her home and selling them to retailers. She brought in Finder as chief executive in 1999 to help grow the company.

Bell said the deal will boost K. Bell’s domestic sales, while giving the company the opportunity to expand into the global hosiery market, which is expected to reach $20.3 billion by 2015, according to San Jose market research firm Global Industry Analysts Inc.

“We are looking at it as more of a partnership,” Bell said. “We can tap into some of their resources and they can tap into some our fashion and design skills.”

In addition to Fruit of the Loom, Renfro makes socks for such brand names as Ralph Lauren, Dr. Scholl’s and Wrangler. The company operates manufacturing and distribution facilities in the United States, and internationally in India, China, Pakistan, Canada and Mexico.

Bud Kilby, chief executive of Renfro, said in a statement that the acquisition will allow his company to broaden its U.S. customer base and improve the design of its products.

“The combination of design talent and the global assets at Renfro and K. Bell will enhance our collective importance to the market and to our customers,” Kilby said.

Picking Up Stix

Financier and restaurateur Lorne Goldberg is cooking up expansion plans for his Asian restaurant enterprise.

Goldberg, a former investment banker who owns and operates quick-service Chinese restaurants Leeann Chin, Chin’s Asia Fresh and Mandarin Express, acquired Southern California chain Pick Up Stix last month from TGI Friday’s owner Carlson Restaurants Inc. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Goldberg, founder and principal of Sherman Oaks private investment firm West Coast Capital, said he plans to simplify the Pick Up Stix menu, improve the quality of the food and modernize the chain’s stores.

“Pick Up Stix is an outstanding opportunity for us,” he said. “It’s a business we understand and has a lot of potential.”

Carlson Restaurants, headquartered in Minneapolis, said in a statement that the company sold Pick Up Stix to focus on its core brand, TGI Friday’s.

Goldberg entered the restaurant industry when he acquired Mandarin Express, which has restaurants in the Southeastern United States, in 2004. He then purchased Leeann Chin and Chin’s Asia Fresh, which are located in and around Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., in 2007.

Goldberg said he plans to keep Pick Up Stix’s corporate office in San Clemente but move the chain’s headquarters to Bloomington, Minn., where all of his restaurants are based.

With the addition of Pick Up Stix, Goldberg employs about 2,000 and operates 160 locations.

Designer Duds

Hot Topic Inc. has struggled to improve its apparel business in recent years.

But now the City of Industry apparel and accessories retailer could get a boost by collaborating with a well-known L.A. clothing designer.

John Eshaya, founder of the Jet clothing brand and store at Fred Segal, has signed a licensing deal with Hot Topic to create a line of clothing, according to Women’s Wear Daily.

According to the trade publication, Eshaya will design clothing collections for Hot Topic stores in addition to the company’s plus-size Torrid stores. The collections are expected to include sweatpants, T-shirts, sweaters, and retail for $40 and under at Hot Topic and $60 and under at Torrid.

Eshaya became a clothing designer after a 23-year career at Ron Herman stores, where he served as the women’s wear buyer and creative director, and helped to discover such brands as Juicy Couture, BCBG and Earl Jean.

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

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