Next week’s final episode of “Seinfeld” is no big deal to the folks at BC Ethic Manufacturing Co. Inc. even though the Lincoln Heights company at one time was known as the creator of Kramer-wear.
In fact, the popularity of the shirts worn by the Kramer character short-sleeved with pattterns on the front, worn untucked began to fade in 1995, but the company was quick to come up with a replacement that is a variation on that retro theme: short-sleeved button-downs worn by bowling teams in the 1950s.
BC Ethic’s timing was impeccable, because the shirts melded with the emerging “lounge” craze and with it, the resurgence of cocktail music, swing dancing and martinis. The bowling-shirt look has been embraced, not only by those on the lounge scene, but also by athletes, musicians, actors and costume designers.
“A couple years ago we were known as the Kramer shirt resource,” said Jeff Shafer, president, chief executive and co-owner of the 6-year-old company. “Now we’ve outlasted Kramer.”
Indeed, BC Ethic’s retro look is paying off quite well. In 1997, the privately held company generated $7.5 million in revenues up from $5.5 million in 1996, Shafer said. This year, the company expects to have revenues of between $10 million and $12 million.
The clothes are sold at Nordstrom, Macy’s, Miller’s Outpost and Neiman Marcus, as well as such independent, trend-setting stores as American Rag Cie. BC Ethic’s shirts, pants and other apparel are carried in more than 600 retail stores.
The company recently moved from downtown Los Angeles into a 20,000-square-foot facility in Lincoln Heights near the San Antonio Winery. The facility includes administrative offices, a clothing warehouse, a fabric room and a design studio. About 95 percent of BC Ethic’s clothes with the exception of chenille sweaters made in Korea are manufactured at sewing houses downtown.
In the next 45 days, a 400-square-foot factory store will be opened at the headquarters site, and among the target customers are expected to be employees of United Parcel Service, which is building a new distribution center across the street.
Since UPS drivers tend to be between the ages of 25 and 35, male and single, Shafer figures the store can tap into a natural customer base. “What could be more appropriate for a UPS driver than BC Ethic?” he asks.
The introduction of the bowling-style shirt now the company’s signature look was not the first time the young company switched its emphasis to stay ahead of the fashion curve.
BC Ethic which stands for “blue-collar ethic” started out in 1992 producing clothing that replicated the blue-collar look of decades ago, such as the work shirts and garage jackets worn by mechanics in the 1940s and ’50s. Those clothes were based on a cache of old mechanics’ uniforms Shafer found in a laundry in the City of Industry.
While BC Ethic still produces clothes based on that look, particularly in its line of jackets, the company which sells its clothes under the “bc ethic clothing usa” label has expanded into slacks, sweaters, T-shirts, jeans and book bags.
As part of its brand-building effort, the company now does a significant amount of business in simple T-shirts bearing only the company’s logo. Shafer expects that, of the 500,000 garments the company will ship this year, about 60,000 of them will be BC Ethic-labeled T-shirts.
Orv Madden, chief executive of Pomona-based Hot Topic Inc., which has 126 stores in shopping malls across the country, said BC Ethic is among the chain’s top-20 selling labels.
“They do real well,” Madden said. “Today they carry a lot of lounge-wear look, and that plays to the whole popularity of the rockabilly and swing looks. It seems to have pretty even appeal across all regions of the country.”
Madden said BC Ethic has been successful in getting itself known and asked for by the teen and young adult market. “I think they’ve built some brand awareness for the name. They do quite a bit of advertising in teen-oriented media, and I think that’s helped build awareness.”
Alanna Chaffin, spokeswoman for Calfornia Mart, the downtown apparel showroom, said BC Ethic’s ability to keep coming up with hot lines is unusual in an industry often characterized by fleeting fashions.
“They’re going very well,” Chaffin said of BC Ethic. “They’re on the hot ‘A’ list for that category of clothing.”
Shafer attributed his company’s stability to the background of the four owners, each of whom has a 25 percent stake in the company: Shafer himself, who has an MBA from Northern Arizona University; Mark Zacher, who has 19 years experience in apparel sales; designer Ty Bowers, who previously owned his own design firm; and James Huber, who previously worked at the advertising agency McCann-Erickson.
In short, the company’s owners have strong backgrounds in finance, sales, design and marketing, Shafer said.
“Our company was established specifically where you have four equal partners who, by virtue of their partnership, are set to do what they were put on earth to do professionally,” he said.