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WPS 'fashions' new Ralph bedding lineup

Marvin Lazaro -- Home Textiles Today, November 12, 2001

West Point, GA — With only one market under its belt, the newly formed Basic Bedding Division of WestPoint Stevens is ready to implement some changes that will not only impact the biggest name under its umbrella but also the way it operates as a whole.

Building on the success of the licensed line of fashion bedding — as well as its reception during the past two markets — the basic bedding line of Ralph Lauren will be enhanced by the addition of several new products in late winter/ early spring 2002. In fact, much of the line will be re-engineered over time, an effort which began this past market with the blanket line.

WestPoint acquired the manufacturing rights to the Lauren basic bedding line in June 2000 and began production in January of this year.

"We're launching a massive product development effort," Birkins told Home Textiles Today, adding that the Ralph Lauren line is thought of as the division's "crown jewel." New items, he said, will be unveiled in the late winter or early spring of 2002 with shipment dates tentatively scheduled for the following fall.

"It's a three-part plan," he continued. "First, we need to better service our existing Ralph Lauren business. Second, we want to develop new and innovative product. And third, we're going to upgrade our existing programs."

Going hand-in-hand with the three-part approach, more attention will be paid to the company's fashion bedding programs and the development of product in that business. The effort is designed to produce offerings from the basic and fashion bedding units that are more in synch and more appealing.

"We want to make sure we have our innovation in our Ralph Lauren brand first," Birkins said.

The West Point, GA-based mill also plans on investing heavily in the Basic Bedding Division's infrastructure in order to "bring its plants to the same level" at which the others operate, Birkins said. To that end, David England has been promoted to vp, manufacturing. His primary responsibilities will be elevating the standards for how plants are managed and better servicing all of the mill's basic bedding programs, including the Lauren license.

The entire process of upgrading may take up to three years, Birkins said, but the end result will be higher quality and lower costs during a period in which both are held more importantly than ever before.

In addition, by the end of the first half of 2002 the Liebhardt Mills name, along with its operating systems, will be dropped entirely from the WestPoint Stevens roster. Since the Liebhardt name did not have significant consumer recognition, the move is expected to have little or no impact on sales.

Liebhardt Mills was acquired by WestPoint in October 1998.

"The name change signals that we're going to operate those plants with the same level of efficiencies as the rest of WestPoint," Birkins said.

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