Manhattan Beachwear: Building a 21st-Century Swim Business
Kevin Mahoney’s spacious corner office at the Manhattan Beachwear headquarters is still sparsely decorated since his arrival in August. But in one corner stands an artistic homage to his 18 years as the youngest president of The Arrow Shirt Co.
Under a Plexiglas case are suspended three white collars, ranging in size from small to medium to large—a piece created for the shirt company’s 150th anniversary.
Mahoney is a long way from men’s shirts and the East Coast, where he spent the bulk of his career. But five years ago, he moved to Los Angeles to become president of NYDJ (Not Your Daughter’s Jeans) and later the chief executive of the juniorswear and misses clothing company Big Strike until his recent appointment as the new chief executive of Manhattan Beachwear.
Although most of his experience is with men’s and womenswear, his more than three decades in the apparel industry also included a two-year stint at the Amerex Group—the decades-old New York apparel company that not only does outerwear and sportswear but swimwear labels that include Bleu by Rod Beattie, Jones New York and Red Carter.
“I have been in this business 30-plus years, and the last 15 years I have been running a company,” said Mahoney, who took over from Allan Colvin, who founded the company 28 years ago when he licensed the Hobie name for a juniors surf-inspired swimwear line. Colvin went on to create one of the largest fashion swimwear companies in the United States, based in Cypress, Calif.
Nearly seven years after selling the majority of his company to the Cleveland-based private-equity firm Linsalata Capital Partners, Colvin retired.
With seven of its own branded labels, 12 licensed labels and contracts to produce scores of private-label swimwear, life at Manhattan Beachwear is busy for Mahoney, who is embracing everything from sourcing and production to e-commerce and social media in a company that employs about 300 people.
There are many things on his to-do list, but most recently he has been putting the finishing touches on modernizing the company’s 220,000-square-foot warehouse a few miles away in Buena Park.
“It will be finalized in early January and will be a state-of-the-art facility that is highly automated,” he said. “The entire distribution center will be converted to garments on hangers. That is 1.8 million units on hangers. That will be a huge plus for us.”
Every year, Manhattan Beachwear manufactures millions of swimsuits and garments that are sourced around the world. The company owns two factories in Mexico, which account for about 25 percent of production, and does the rest of production in China and Vietnam.
Marna Hann, the longtime owner of Jerrie Shop, with two swimwear stores on Long Island, N.Y., said she carries about 90 percent of the labels made by Manhattan Beachwear. “Their fit is on the money and consistent. They have maintained it for many years,” Hann said, noting she hopes that Manhattan Beachwear’s stellar swimsuit fit continues under Mahoney’s leadership.
Manhattan Beachwear’s best-selling label is La Blanca, which at one time was owned by Apparel Ventures in Los Angeles until Colvin acquired Apparel Ventures in late 2010. The label sells at major department stores such as Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s and in more than 7,000 doors in the United States, plus it is distributed in more than 24 countries. “La Blanca has been around for 37 years and is constantly evolving,” Mahoney said. A plus-size version was added a few years ago.
Sylvia Bailey, the chief executive and co-owner of Sylvia’s Swimwear in Bellevue, Wash., said she has carried the La Blanca label as long as she can remember. “This year, they brought back the two-button suit, called the ‘Anniversary’ suit, and I think we are going to sell a lot of those,” said Bailey, who carries more than 50 brands at the company’s two stores.
The La Blanca label soon will expand into a lifestyle brand that encompasses innerwear and loungewear. “It will probably launch in 2018,” the new chief executive said.
Covering all demographics
Managing a stable of 19 brands is a challenge, but Mahoney oversaw a host of different juniors and misses labels at Big Strike. Manhattan Beachwear’s own brands, besides La Blanca, are The Bikini Lab for juniors; Green Dragon, a boho resortwear line; Pink Lotus, an activewear line; 24th & Ocean, a misses bathing suit line; and Maxine of Hollywood, a swimwear label for a more mature customer.
Its licensed brands include Trina Turk, Trina Turk Recreation, Kenneth Cole New York, Kenneth Cole Reaction, Polo Ralph Lauren, Lauren Ralph Lauren, Nanette Lepore, Hobie, and Sperry. Manhattan Beachwear recently picked up the Lucky Brand swimwear license with its first season being Cruise 2016.
To take care of all these labels, the company has about 20 swimwear designers, with each brand having its own department on the ground floor of the huge 75,000-square-foot building located in a large industrial park. Vice president of design is swimwear veteran Howie Greller.
The color and style of each room describes the nature of each label. The La Blanca room has swimsuit sketches with more subdued colors, prints and several one-piece silhouettes coupled with stylish bikinis.
The Nanette Lepore room is bright with vivid prints and designs, and the Lauren Ralph Lauren room has swimsuits that gravitate to more stately and sophisticated colors such as navy blue and black.
Nearby is the sewing room filled with 75 sewing machines where garment workers make each label’s samples. Beyond is a cutting table.
In the center of all these rooms is a large space that once housed a ping pong table for workers. Lately, it has been converted into an area for twice-weekly yoga classes.
While Manhattan Beachwear will not reveal its revenues (estimated to be in the hundreds of millions), Mahoney believes there is ample room to grow.
The company is about ready to sign an agreement with a European distributor that will boost the bottom line for all its swimwear labels.
And then there is that space beyond swimwear that Mahoney believes can be tapped. In 2014, Manhattan Beachwear acquired CMK Manufacturing, a Los Angeles venture that made activewear and resortwear under the Green Dragon and Pink Lotus name.
Mahoney is focused on growing that resortwear and loungewear category to fill in when swimsuit sales drop off during the winter months or in between seasons. Each swimwear label has its own cover-ups and resortwear already, but Mahoney would like to create a separate resortwear department that takes care of the design, patternmaking, sourcing and production on a concentrated basis. “We would like to have resortwear done in one compartmentalized business,” he said. “Right now, it is all over the place.”
E-commerce is another major initiative the swimwear venture is focusing on. Believe it or not, some swimwear stores do more than 50 percent of their business online. “I have not seen that figure in my previous work experience,” Mahoney said, noting that many women will order two or three swimsuits, try them on in the privacy of their own home and then return the ones they don’t want. “We have to be aligning with our e-commerce partners to help them,” Mahoney said.
And the company is always looking for new licensing opportunities. “We still have space for expansion in the business,” the new chief executive said. “There are a lot of great brands out there that don’t have a core competency in swimwear.”