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WPS, Wal-Mart target tweens with twin label

Marvin Lazaro, Staff Staff -- Home Textiles Today, June 4, 2001

WEST POINT, GA – Continuing the brand-building juggernaut that in the past year has brought the Ralph Lauren Home and Disney Home licenses into its stable, WestPoint Stevens has landed a powerful tweener label that will become Wal-Mart's captive brand in juvenile bedding and bath.

The consumer products division of Dualstar Entertainment Group, which represents popular kid stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson, and the mill last week announced an agreement to produce an extensive line of home products designed for tweener girls. The line will carry the Mary-Kate and Ashley brand and will be made exclusively for select Wal-Mart stores nationwide.

Chip Fontenot, president and ceo, WestPoint Stevens, said research conducted by the mill showed that tweener girls' influence impacts hundred of billions of dollars in sales a year.

"Our extensive research on tweens, who make and influence buying decisions worth $300 billion annually, shows us that they recognize and demand brands," Fontenot said. "The Mary-Kate and Ashley brand is the top female brand for tweens. Our research also shows 95 percent of this age group are involved in choosing their own bedding and bath items and will be the ones to make the buying decision for the Mary-Kate and Ashley brand bedding and bath products."

This will be Westpoint's second brand license for the juvenile market. Disney Home was introduced during spring market.

Robert Thorne, ceo of the Los Angeles-based Dualstar Entertainment Group, which manages the brand as well as the Olsen twin's careers, said the Mary-Kate and Ashley brand at Wal-Mart will hopefully bring to the Bentonville, AR-based discounter what Martha Stewart has brought to Kmart.

"The significant difference between the two programs is that Mary-Kate and Ashley are into fashion [trends], and Stewart isn't," Thorne told Home Textiles Today. "We expect no less than the breadth of the Stewart line, in terms of product and success, ultimately."

To which, Fontenot told Home Textiles Today, "No one would be happier than us if that happened." He added that since Wal-Mart is supporting the program and the brand already has a proven track record in apparel, that it has a very good chance at succeeding.

Sheets, towels, top-of-bed, bath accessories and shower curtains aimed at girls in the 5- to 14-year-old age group will all be developed by WestPoint Stevens. The initial rollout scheduled for this August includes bedding and top-of-the-bed items. Beach towels, flannel sheets, blankets, new bedding designs and bath accessories will be unveiled next year.

Wal-Mart began carrying Mary-Kate and Ashley licensed goods in early 2001. The WestPoint deal marks a significant expansion from the brand's core assortment, which already includes an extensive array of tweener clothing and accessories, footwear, jewelry, stationery, cosmetics and posters.

Twin child stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, now 14 years old, began their careers portraying a toddler on the TV series "Full House." In the years since, they have starred in a number of eponymous movies, such as "Mary-Kate and Ashley Go To Paris," some of which spawned music CDs. In the midst of a huge brand-building push designed to create an audience who will grow up alongside the twins, Dualstar recently launched Mary-Kate and Ashley Magazine. Their new sitcom, "So Little Time," was scheduled to debut June 2 on the Fox Family Channel, and an animated show, "Mary-Kate and Ashley in Action," will launch on ABC's Saturday morning lineup next fall.

Sales of Mary-Kate and Ashley branded products are rapidly approaching the $1 billion mark, according to a statement from Dualstar and WestPoint. Dualstar also stated that the brand is the fastest-growing girls fashion line as well as the number-one girls' video franchise, girls' book franchise, celebrity-based video game franchise and celebrity doll franchise.

Both Thorne and Fontenot said that as Mary-Kate and Ashley mature, so too will the designs and construction for the home program, crossing both age and demographic lines and bringing the appeal of the brand to a broader audience.

Thorne and Dualstar executive designer Judy Swartz said the designs for all of the products will be generated by Dualstar, with extensive input from Mary-Kate and Ashley. The initial bedding introductions will be constructed of a 120-count, 70/30 polyester/cotton blend and will include two patterns, Moondrift and Fresh Rain. Moondrift will incorporate plums, lavenders, pinks and blues in a '60s retro look, while Fresh Rain will feature a cabana stripe in aqua and white with pink paisley motif sheets.

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