OshKosh's design team in search of trendier fashions

Sunday, September 29, 2002

The Associated Press

MILWAUKEE -- OshKosh B'Gosh Inc., the children's clothing company once known most for its bib overalls and farm duds, is turning to SoHo for help coming up with new designs.

The company is establishing a design team in New York City, hoping to mix the trendy fashion of Manhattan's SoHo district with the traditional styles created at its Oshkosh, Wis., headquarters.

The company couldn't do so from Oshkosh, said Doug W. Hyde, OshKosh B'Gosh's chairman, president and chief executive officer.

"We just couldn't get the talent to relocate here," Hyde said in an interview from Oshkosh on Tuesday. "It was really just a realization that in order to stay ahead of the game, we needed to conduct that activity in New York City."

The shift means 12 jobs will move from Oshkosh to New York, Hyde said. The company employs more than 300 people at its headquarters in Oshkosh, a city of about 63,000 people.

OshKosh B'Gosh's style is exemplified by its famous thinly striped blue and white bib overalls. Hyde and Mirian Lamberth, who was hired to manage the company's style, described it as comfortable, durable, wholesome and purely American.

But the company has strayed from that identity in recent years.

"We and others had fallen into the trap, to garner sales increases, to follow any and every trend," Hyde said.

Lamberth said designers will still follow fashion -- be it punk, rock, hippie or skater -- but in a way that meshes with OshKosh's identity.

For example, they could add embroidery to overalls to match the current "Bohemian" trend in girls' fashion, Lamberth said.

Analysts said updating the company's classics puts it on the right track.

"There is this certain trend now to looking back to sort of safer and nicer times," said Wendy Liebmann, president of marketing consultant WSL Strategic Retail in New York.

OshKosh B'Gosh was founded in 1895 as an adult workwear manufacturer. Its net sales were $463.1 million in 2001, a 2 percent increase from the previous year. It operates 141 retail stores, where it sells clothing for newborns up to children's size 16.

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