Welcome to The Ivy League Look

This blog presents a historical view through articles, photographs, reminiscences, and advertisements, of an American style of men's fashion of the mid-20th century known as "The Ivy League Look" or "The Ivy Look."

This blog will not present modern-day iterations of this "look"; it will be shown in its original context as an American style worn during this specific era. Author commentary will be kept to a minimum.

This is not a commercial site and links to commercial sites will not be posted.

July 21, 2009

Berle Manufacturing Co.

Sixty Years Young; Slacks Manufacturer Continues to Update to Keep Pace with Nimble Competitors

Daily News Record, May 15, 2006, by Brenda Lloyd

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Berle Mfg. Co. turns 60 this year, but with all its energy, drive and fashion savvy it hardly seems like a senior citizen.

Known for its British plaids, checks and windowpane trousers and its collection of classic summery walk shorts, the company's moderate- to better-priced collection reflects its young management team.

Eric Krawcheck, executive vice-president and COO-and stepson of founder Herbert Berlinsky-explained that the modern attitude is a result of several changes initiated since 2001, a turning point for the company.

It was that year that Krawcheck, who has a strong retail background, and Robert Stine, Berlinsky's nephew, who oversees all administrative and manufacturing operations of Berle, joined the company, buying out Berlinsky's brother Norman, and repositioning the focus of the firm. A third key player, Shane Morris, whose background includes 13 years at Nordstrom as well as sales for QRS Corp., a retail technology company, joined as vice-president of sales in 2003.

Five years ago all manufacturing was being done domestically, but Krawcheck and Stine, both of whom own 50 percent stakes, decided to add some offshore options. Now, 60 percent of the merchandise is manufactured domestically and 40 percent offshore. Krawcheck explained, "Our focus had been specialty stores, but to compete in bigger stores we had to be price-competitive, so we had to go offshore. The bigger-store market is very price-sensitive."

Today, Berle's distribution ranges from better specialty and specialty department stores, including Parisian and Nordstrom, to big-box retailers, discounters and catalogers.

For the first time in Berle's history the company is advertising nationally and is currently seeking a marketing company. It moved into new and larger offices in Charleston in December (just down the road from its former office), and moved its distribution center (DC) to a 65,000-square-foot facility in Hartwell, Ga., to be closer to Atlanta.

"Living here on the coast is great and beautiful, but you always have storms and hurricanes, and it's smart to have the distribution center and production in an area where storms are less likely," said Krawcheck.

Stine added that Berle is now completely automated with sophisticated DC and EDI capabilities, and has communicated electronically with its retail customers since around the end of 2002. "In the 2001 time frame we were transitioning from the second generation to third generation [management] and we wanted to grow our business," said Stine. "We wanted to invest back into the business and we took risks we would not have taken before-and it paid off."

Stine declined to name annual sales for the privately held company but said volume has grown 8 to 10 percent on average since 2001.

Stine and Krawcheck also are interested in acquisitions and have been looking for a good fit, especially one that would allow the company to expand its offerings.

"Collections are very important and we want to do that," Krawcheck said. "It could be a sportswear or shirt company. We might be a 60-year-old company, but we're a young company and we want to take Berle to the next 60 years."

Berle was founded in 1946 by Philip Berlinsky, a master tailor. He and his brother, Hyman, opened New York Tailors, a men's clothing store, on King Street in Charleston, then established Berle. They later split the retail and manufacturing sides, with Philip and his family keeping Berle Mfg. and Hyman and his family maintaining control of the retail store.

Philip's four sons all eventually joined Berle-Herbert, Danny and Maurice in 1948, and Norman after them. Herb, 82, retired in 2002 but still has an office at Berle. He was responsible for putting the company on the map in the 1950s when he found a new trouser called an "up flaps" pocket model during a trip to Florence, S.C. Berle began making them and Herb Berlinsky said it became one of the hottest slacks models in the Southeast for 10 years.

When that played out, the next big thing was the Ivy League look, a plain-front pant with no cuff, a straight leg and on-seam pockets. In the late 1970s Berle got into the double-knit trend, and made a lot of money on it, said Berlinsky, but got out before the trend started to fade.

Today, Berle has three brands. Berle Black is the high-end product, consisting of handcrafted trousers made of premium Italian fabrics, including soft lambswool and Tasmanian wool, wool/cashmere blends and wool flannel. They retail for $175 to $295.

Berle-brand trousers are available in a variety of looks, weights, patterns and fabrics, from corduroys and velvets to fine worsted wools and cottons, as well as microfiber and performance fabrics with wrinkle-resistant and stain-resistant features. Shorts are also available, mostly in cotton and microfiber fabrics. Berle retails for $55 to $150.

Charleston Khakis, which started about 10 years ago, is a casual brand evoking the Low Country lifestyle. The trousers and shorts line is available in both casual and dress cottons with soft washes, and retails for $79 to $125.

About 35 percent of Berle's business is private label. According to Stine, it is the driving force behind the company's growth.

Krawcheck said, "We're known for our fancies and we spend a lot of money developing patterns. Seersucker and madras are a huge business for us." Another huge business is khaki, which Berle was among the first to pioneer (along with Corbin) in the 1970s.

Having two ex-retailers running the show is helping Berle become more important to its retailers, which is a competitive advantage, said Krawcheck. "We can offer more assistance to retailers. We do product knowledge seminars for salespeople, and Shane [Morris] helps retailers on turn and selling projections."

Said Morris, "We're a small player in a big market. We try to take as much off the retailer's plate as possible."

COPYRIGHT 2006 Fairchild Publications, Inc.


longwing said...

I'm wearing my Berle for Press poplins now. Great pants. Easy to take care of and they hold a crease.

Interesting that with all the talk of marketing they still don't have a website - at least not one that I can find.

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