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Warren Kimble targets textiles

BRANDON, VT — American folk artist Warren Kimble is coming home.

After 10 years of licensing his artwork to assorted manufacturers of goods like tin boxes, dishware, hammocks and flags, Kimble has created a new collection designed to enhance his licensed line of home furnishings and more aggressively expand its home textile offerings.

Titled "At Home with Warren Kimble," the new collection is comprised of six new designs — all of which feature familiar Kimble icons like farm animals, coastal themes, fat cats and the American flag — and a new palette of 14 colors.

"We have really branched out into textiles in a much more powerful way," said Linda Balogh, president, Menlo Park, CA-based Courtney Davis Inc., the exclusive licensing agency for Warren Kimble. "The idea is to take Warren's work from a licensed property to more of a lifestyle brand, like Martha Stewart or Ralph Lauren."

Elaborating on that thought, Balogh added that the goal of the new collection is to help Kimble attain new licensees in new home categories and accommodate those products on the shelves of mid-tier, department store and home center retailers.

During a two-day conference in Kimble's hometown, here, 34 of Kimble's current roster of 40 licensees attended to see the formal introduction of his new collection.

Nancy Webster, vp, creative development of Fort Mills, SC-based Springs Industries, signed on to become Kimble's newest home textile licensee for bath ensembles — shower curtains, bath rugs, accessories and some towels — that will coordinate with embellished towels by Avanti, Moonachie, NJ.

"We already have interest for a new line of bath products for this collection," said Webster, who added that aside from accessories, Springs will possibly also produce solid color towels to coordinate with Avanti's embellished line. "We are very interested in bath accessories, initially. But when I see the approach for this new collection, I see quilts, too, and bed-and-bath coordinates. But we are still defining the terms of the license."

Being courted at the event was Heidi Henderson, brand and licensing manager of Beaulieu Rugs, based in Dalton, GA, to possibly create large woven rugs.

"I was invited and I came to see the new collection," Henderson said. "We've been asked to be a licensee, so I'm here to help decide that."

Kimble's current roster of home textile licensees include: Avanti for embellished towels; Manual Woodworkers for tapestry made products including throws, table linens, decorative pillows, wall decor and floor cloths; Bacova/Burlington House for screen printed and berber rugs, hearth mats, runners and outdoor engraved mats; Elrene Home Fashions for fabric and vinyl table linens; and ESN Inc. for kitchen textiles.

Balogh said that she is actively looking for new licensees for the bedding and quilting categories to help further round out Kimble's home textile offerings.

Of the $100 million generated by Warren Kimble licensed product in 2000 at retail, more than $15 million came from existing home textile manufacturer licensees.

But in 2001, as Kimble more aggressively pursues home textile manufacturer licensees, Balogh expects home textiles to capture more than 25 percent of the total share.

Helping Kimble licensee partners expand the Kimble brand, Balogh said she has arranged meetings with retailers.

"Our goal is to take our key manufacturing partners to new retailers with their Warren Kimble collections," Balogh said. "And there are other [specialty and mid-tier level] stores that are increasingly important to the brand's future."

At the conference, Balogh encouraged all of Kimble's licensees to work together to coordinate their lines to help "enhance brand awareness." Reinforcing that effort, Balogh said during the next three months the Kimble team will create a new packaging program that will be consistent for all licensees.

Prior to the formal introduction of the collection, a pilot program was launched earlier this year with Kimble's tabletop licensees — dishware manufacturer Sakura, which has been a Kimble licensee since 1995; Elrene Home Fashions; and ESN Inc. Their tabletop products bearing the new collections' designs will be introduced at the fall New York Home Textiles market.

"It's a fresh, clean approach that they are taking with this new collection," said Christine Ullman, design director for Elrene Home Fashions, a new licensee which will introduce its first Kimble line this fall.

Added Bruce Flack, director of marketing and sales for ESN Inc.: "It's got a fresh appeal, updated looks that are more contemporary. We like it and we like where it's going. We'll preview it to our customers in October and if they like it too, we'll ship it for next April."

Flack added that his company is looking to use a new textured weave on its kitchen towels to enhance the texture on Kimble's new collection.

With home textiles products at the forefront of their minds, Kimble and his design teams have incorporated more textured looks to the "At Home with Warren Kimble" collection. Still not formally named, the six new designs are:

  • The American flag combined with pique-like and basket weave designs;

  • Cats depicted on a linen-texture background;

  • Farm animals displayed against stripes and solids;

  • Lodge and cabin themes like moose, elk, bears and deer combined with birch bark textures and checks;

  • Coastal themes like sailboats and lighthouses with a herring bone weave textures;

  • Vegetable and bunny icons, with some emphasis on vegetables that looked freshly picked against pinstripes.

"The coastal breeze look will be a hit for our towels," said Susan Argiro, design director for Avanti. "It's perfect — it's full of tranquility."

Added Chris Battista, director of sales and marketing, national accounts, of Manual Woodworkers & Weavers Inc., based in Hendersonville, NC: "Bunnies sell very well in the spring. But Warren's bunnies are the kind with longevity to them. The patterns for his new collection work perfectly with our collection."

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