Levi's tailors Slates as new line for men

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Levi Strauss & Co. is trying to get a leg up on the fastest growing segment of the men's pants market with its first new brand in 10 years.

Slates, a brand of dress pants targeted to men in their 30s and 40s for business and social occasions where a suit is no longer de rigueur, will hit the market next fall. The introduction will get $10 million in ad support, more than the amount Levi Strauss spent to launch its last brand, Dockers casual clothing, now a $1 billion wholesale business.

The new line won't require tailoring and will be ready to wear, similar to the merchandising of jeans and casual pants.

Slates products will fall in the spectrum between casual cotton pants and suit pants, and will range from 100% cotton to 100% wool, as well as blends. The pants will be sold in Slates shops within 200 department and specialty stores nationwide. The line is expected to expand to jackets and other men's apparel.

"Our goal is to really wake up this category,'' said Nancy Friedman, Slates director of marketing. "There are brands out there, but no brand serves as an anchor.''

Last year in the $9.9 billion men's pants category, consumers spent $4 billion on slacks and dress pants, up 10.7% from 1993, according to NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y. Jeans sales hit $3.7 billion, up 2.8%.

"They're looking for a new niche,'' said Alan Millstein, publisher of the Fashion Network Report, New York. ``If I were Haggar and Farah, I'd be very nervous.''

Tailors also might be nervous, he noted. The Gap, through its Banana Republic chain, has already been very successful in selling jackets and blazers without custom fitting, Mr. Millstein said.

Advertising from Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, will include an aggressive TV effort in addition to point-of-purchase and retailer advertising.

Copyright December 1995 Crain Communications Inc.

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