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Patterns of Success

Tori Richard celebrates 50 years in business and goes back to its roots in women’s resort wear

Beginning in 1956, when resort wear was relatively unknown, local clothing manufacturer Tori Richard paved the way, introducing bold prints and designs to the international market. Over the course of its 50 year-long history, Tori Richard endured changes in the marketplace, loss of identity and even came close to shutting its doors for good. However, a true survivor, the company has since found its way to evolve.

Tori Richard entered the fashion industry as a women’s resort wear company when the popularity of aloha attire was on the rise. But the company founded by garment manufacturer Mort Feldman was one of the few companies who did not depend on the success of aloha attire, instead evolving to create sophisticated resort wear.

PRINTS AS A FOUNDATION

Known for its original prints and incorporation of various textiles and fabrics, Tori Richard prides itself on its ability to introduce and re-introduce powerful visual statements in its design.

In the ’60s, Tori Richard was well known for its use of engineer prints in its women’s apparel. Essentially, an engineer print is art, says Tori Richard CEO and president Josh Feldman, son of founder Mort Feldman. It is taking a giant piece of artwork and placing it onto the apparel without interrupting the art. The difficulty in using engineer prints is that it requires customized mass production.

“It takes some real thinking ahead of time about how the pattern is going to lay on the material before it is cut, so the finished garment reads correctly,” says Linda Arthur, author of “Aloha Attire: Hawaiian Dress in the Twentieth Century,” about engineer prints. “I think their [Tori Richard] design is about the best in the Islands now, and especially the way they use aloha shirts as a canvas for almost a painting.”

Its original prints and artwork make Tori Richard different from any other resort-wear company, says Feldman. With the success of its women’s business as a foundation, Tori Richard began to create menswear in 1969, at the request of Liberty House. The upscale aloha shirts were an instant success and throughout the ’70s, Tori Richard attempted to drive both the men’s and women’s resort-wear markets.

EXIT AND RE-ENTRY

In 1983, Mort Feldman left the day-to-day business of Tori Richard and retired in New Zealand. At the time, business was going well and Feldman maintained ownership. He left the operations of the company to an appointed president and in Feldman’s absence, Tori Richard focused solely on menswear. Virtually all women’s merchandise geared toward Mainland business stopped according to Josh Feldman.

Tori Richard no longer reached the women’s market and the originality of Tori Richard’s menswear faded, as its sales declined in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

“You can have a great product and it can cover up a lot of mistakes, but if the product isn’t right for the market, all sort of things start popping up,” says Feldman. As the company attempted to maintain its equilibrium, other resort companies, such as Tommy Bahama, filled the empty void in the women’s resort-wear market. Established in 1992, Tommy Bahama helped put upscale men’s and women’s resort wear back in vogue. Tommy Bahama opened its first store in Hawaii on Maui in 2001 and its merchandise is sold in more than 100 stores throughout the Islands. For the fiscal year of 2005, Tommy Bahama Group accounted for more than $350 million in sales, approximately 30 percent of its parent company, Atlanta-based Oxford Industries Inc. (NYSE:OXM), with total sales of $1.3 billion. Even though it is one of the most recognized resort-wear companies in the nation today, Feldman says he considers Tommy Bahama a local competitor, but not a competitor on the Mainland. On the national level, he considers what he calls better-brand, print-driven companies, such as Saltair and Burma Bibas, to be Tori Richard’s menswear competitors.

IN A SEA OF COLORS: Art coordinator Amy Renshaw selects the color ways for each Tori Richard design.

In 1994, Mort Feldman returned to Tori Richard with son Josh, because the company was in trouble. Sales had declined so much that Josh thought they had returned to put Tori Richard to rest.

“We didn’t evolve. We didn’t have the products appropriate to do the business we had in the past. They didn’t change, they were basically making the same product they had made for the past 10 years,” says Feldman.

Instead of closing its doors, Tori Richards evolved. Mort and Josh decided to go back to Tori Richard’s roots by integrating fresh print designs into its apparel and focus once again on the women’s market.

“What we wanted to do [in reviving the women’s line] was see what Tori Richard would look like today, if it had never gotten out of the women’s business,” says Feldman. In 2000, Tori Richard officially re-launched its women’s line. Feldman saw it as fulfilling the company’s legacy, which had been lost for more than a decade.

Aiming to fill the void between younger surf wear and older, conservative resort wear, Feldman describes Tori Richard’s women’s collection as “updated resort wear.” The new collection integrates the company’s bold prints with fashion-forward designs.

Prior to the re-launch of the women’s line in 2000, women’s resort wear was less than 5 percent of Tori Richard’s business. Today, women’s apparel accounts for about one-third of all sales in Tori Richard stores.

BUILDING A BETTER BRAND

In 2003, Tori Richard opened four branded stores in Hawaii to bring the entire Tori Richard collection under one roof. While 75 percent of Tori Richard’s collection is comprised of prints, sales (in the four stores) are evenly divided between these colorful designs and the company’s basics (essential, nonprint apparel) — jackets, pants, camis, sweaters etc.

“We are a print company, so that is the most important variable, but we think the opportunities are to help our customers merchandise those prints with other [Tori Richard] product,” says Feldman.

In essence, the stores are a branding exercise, says Feldman. Visually striking, Tori Richard stores are each designed with a theme and have helped brand the name Tori Richard not only for locals, but also tourists visiting the Islands. By providing a visual Tori Richard statement, Feldman hopes customers will look for Tori Richard products in specialty stores near them. The great bulk, 85 percent, of Tori Richard’s business is outside of Hawaii and is sold in 2,500 department and specialty stores throughout the world.

Since 2003, when the stores opened, business has increased 20 percent. Josh Feldman became CEO and president in 2004 and founder Mort passed away in November of the same year. Josh Feldman declines to disclose his company’s gross sales, citing that doing so wouldn’t benefit his company’s competitive position. He does say that the privately held Tori Richard would probably qualify for Hawaii Business’ Top 250 list, which had a cutoff of $18 million in gross sales last year. In 2005, Tori Richard sold almost 2 million units of clothing at both retail and wholesale rates. Average retail prices range from $80 to $200 an item.

IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS: Graphic artist Pru Molina shows how the images perfectly match across the front of this Tori Richard original.

Tori Richard has digitized almost 14,000 textile prints. Feldman believes it is almost every print Tori Richard has created in its 50 years, and says they are great resources to which designers and artists can refer. Aside from recycling and integrating these timeless prints into new designs, Tori Richard looks at trends and cultures from around the world for inspiration. Inspirations can come from Mexico to Borneo to Thailand, says Feldman. Currently there are eight in-house Tori Richard artists who concentrate solely on creating prints. To stay on top of fashion trends, Tori Richard also works with a handful of freelance artists based out of Los Angeles and New York.

Twelve in-house designers work with these prints to create the final product: comfortable, yet stylish Tori Richard resort-wear. In the ’60s Tori Richard manufactured 60 percent of its merchandise in Hawaii. Today, however, for efficiency reasons and lack of local resources, 80 percent is done overseas, mostly in China and Korea. Currently, Tori Richard operates out of four Hawaii facilities—two in Kalihi, which are mainly used for storage, and two new buildings on Moonui Street, Tori Richard’s headquarters. The headquarters houses the main offices, the art and design teams and the in-house manufacturing. This hub also serves as a distribution center, where 80 percent of its merchandise is consolidated and from which it is then sent to stores. By next year, Feldman hopes to operate solely out of the Moonui Street facilities.

Plans are for Tori Richard to continue to evolve for another 50 years. The focus is again on the women’s line and providing more products for existing customers rather than expanding to other retailers. However, Feldman says he is thinking of opening more Tori Richard stores in Hawaii and potentially on the Mainland to further brand Tori Richard.

Feldman especially looks forward to renewed strength in the women’s resort-wear business. He says, “We belonged in the women’s business. We belong in the women’s business. It is the roots of the company.”

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