Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger… Jonathan Martin.

Jonathan Martin?

The name now seems out of place. But Harkham Industries Inc., which produces women’s sportswear under the Jonathan Martin label, has launched a multi-million dollar bid to change that and transform Jonathan Martin into a household name.

“To be in this business, to appeal to the retailer and to the consumer, you have to have a brand behind the product,” said Uri P. Harkham, the Los Angeles-based company’s chief executive.

Jonathan Martin’s brand-boosting efforts got under way in February, when the privately held company began plastering a series of glossy advertisements on the sides of hundreds of MTA buses and on more than 400 bus-stop benches throughout the region.

Last month, it took the campaign nationwide, placing more than 900 bus and subway ads throughout New York and the Northeast; on July 1, a billboard will go up in midtown Manhattan.

The company also has purchased bus ads in 10 other U.S. cities, including Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco and Atlanta, and is planning a series of nationwide broadcast and cable TV ads, to be launched next year.

In the meantime, Jonathan Martin just launched a partnership with the trendy girls’ software company Purple Moon. Under the effort, which is aimed at girls between the ages of 8 and 12, consumers will receive a free Jonathan Martin t-shirt when they purchase one of Purple Moon’s new CD-ROM games.

All told, Jonathan Martin will spend about $5 million on advertising and promotion in 1997 five times more than it did in 1996, according to Harkham. Next year, he plans to boost the company’s promotions budget an additional 25 percent to 50 percent.

The campaign, Harkham said, “is going to be relentless.”

The brand-building campaign represents a shift in strategy for Harkham Industries. Although the firm has been selling girls’ and womens’ sportswear and dresses under the Jonathan Martin name for more than two decades, in recent years it shifted much of its emphasis to private label manufacturing, making clothes for retailers like The Limited Inc.’s Express stores.

In 1995, for example, private label work accounted for about 50 percent of Harkham’s production. This year, that number has been whittled down to 15 percent, and will represent an increasingly smaller percentage in years to come.

Harkham said he has grown increasingly restless sitting on the sidelines watching his competitors erect fashion empires on the basis of strong brand identification.

“We are fighting for rack space,” said Harkham, whose clothes are sold in department stores throughout the country, including Nordstrom, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. “What DKNY, Calvin Klein and Tommy (Hilfiger) have is their advertising that is the only thing they have over us.”

Harkham may be confident, but going head-to-head against the fashion world’s strongest brands is by no means a sure thing, said Howard Ruben of Ruben/Rottman & Co., a Los Angeles public relations firm that specializes in apparel firms.

“It’s a good strategy, but it is not bulletproof,” Ruben said. “If you want to compete with the other brands in their categories, the best way to do it is to attack them head on. You have to spend a lot of money. But (Jonathan Martin) seems to have the budget to do it.”

In any case, Harkham’s timing seems to be right. While private label manufacturing has been among the fastest-growing segments of the apparel industry, there are signs that consumers, perhaps buoyed by a recovering economy, have grown weary of basic clothing and are beginning to return to a more brand-conscious sensibility, said Ken Kristensen, executive editor of Sportswear International, a New York-based trade publication.

“People are much more interested in fashion,” Kristensen said. “The whole private label trend is beginning to go by the wayside. A lot of companies are realizing that people want brand names.”

And if a trendy label is something coveted by consumers, it can be like gold to a manufacturer. Harkham, for instance, recently inked a licensing deal to produce Jonathan Martin shoes, and envisions similar arrangements in the future to attach the brand name to such items as jewelry, handbags and fragrances.

A powerful brand name also can prove appealing to Wall Street a powerful consideration for Harkham, who plans to follow the lead of other fashion firms and take his company public. By the end of the year, he said, he hopes to spin off his children’s apparel division into a separate, publicly owned company.

“Look at what Ralph Lauren just did,” he said, referring to that designer’s June 12 public offering, which generated $465 million. “It was a product of 25 years of investing in the brand.

“By going public,” Harkham said, “we will have additional funds to further build our brand and extend our business to other products.”

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