The History of Emma James Clothing

Liz Claiborne, shown here at the American Fashion Awards 2000, founded Liz Claiborne Inc., and Emma James was introduced by the company years later.

Photo: George De Sota/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

In the 1970s, Liz Claiborne founded Liz Claiborne Inc. to manufacture affordable clothing for women who were for the first time successfully entering the labor market in large numbers. Liz Claiborne focused on "better" women's wear that provided a feminine look for the professional. Liz Claiborne's more moderately priced Emma James label was launched in 1996 as a department store-brand targeting middle-class working women in a more casual workplace.

Liz Claiborne Background

Liz Claiborne's initial merchant strategies for mix-and-match sportswear targeted women with many roles to play during each day and little time to change clothing between family and work responsibilities. She introduced new collections in six short inventory cycles annually, rather than four seasons. By the early 1990s, Liz Claiborne Inc. operated 19 divisions offering styles compatible across labels.

Emma James Was a Vendor-Based Label

Sales slowed as Liz Claiborne Inc. underestimated the 1990s trend toward casual office attire and discount retailers squeezed department stores in a slowing economy. New COO Paul Charron, previously with Procter & Gamble, worked closely with retailers to launch vendor-based labels tailored to its customer's budgets. Emma James targeted upper moderate consumers in retailers such as Federated Department Stores, compared to Liz Claiborne's Russ at Walmart, LizWear at Dillards and Dana Buchman at Saks Fifth Avenue. Procter & Gamble had pioneered vendor-based marketing in association with Walmart.

Feminine, Classic and Put-Together

The Emma James label was branded as a feminine, classic and tailored, put-together look for the serious career woman, featuring mix-and-match separates with special attention to detail. The Emma James line was Liz Claiborne's first venture into a moderate-priced label for the casual office. At roll out in early 1997, wholesale prices ranged from $13 to $59, with projected wholesale sales of $20 million in the first year.

Popular Price

The record number of middle class women in the workplace made Emma James customers an obvious opportunity for Liz Claiborne. The Emma James consumer was identified as interested in the taste and fashion of Liz Claiborne's better line, but not always able to afford it. Emma James was conceived as a "popular price" label for both relaxed-career and dressy-casual consumers, retailing at $26 to $118 in 1996.

Emma James Sold to Li & Fung

After a brand review in 2007, Liz Claiborne's new CEO Bill McComb reversed vendor-based branding practices and focused instead on a narrower range of more powerful brands. The inventories and trademarks of Emma James, Institutions, J.H. Collectibles, and Tapemeasure were sold to Li & Fung USA, a subsidiary of Li & Fung of Hong Kong, a century-old trading company that is now the world's largest textile supply chain sourcing group. Li & Fung is aggressively penetrating the emerging BRIC economies -- Brazil, Russia, India and China. Concurrent with the Emma James sale, Liz Claiborne discontinued First Issue at Sears and incorporated two denim lines into the Axcess and Liz & Co labels.

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