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Esprit

company line tompkinses market

In 1964 Susie Russell picked up hitchhiker Doug Tompkins, a hopeful Olympic skier. Four years later, the Plain Jane Dress Company was born out of the back of their station wagon. Plain Jane was cofounded by the Tompkinses and Jane Tise in 1968 to wholesale simple, 1940s-inspired dresses under the premise of “real clothes for real people.” In 1970 the company was incorporated as Esprit de Corp, and in 1975 the Tompkinses bought out Tise to become the sole owners.

Esprit epitomizes the California lifestyle with bold colors and casual separates which can be worn for both work and play. During the reign of the late 1970s and 1980s power suits and slinky dresses, Esprit emphasized youthful vitality, launching a worldwide sportswear revolution. Esprit promoted a lifestyle, not just a fashion trend and used innovative advertising concepts to reinforce their image. “Be informed. Be involved. Make a difference” is the corporate mission statement which guides the direction of Esprit. Esprit’s catalogues regularly feature employees and customers, instead of fashion models. The catalogue also provides a forum to promote public awareness of social issues, including a message in 1987 that urged public awareness of AIDS. The environmental concerns of the 1990s inspired Esprit to launch a new line, Ecollection, in 1992 which used organic fabrics and environmentally friendly manufacturing techniques. The 1999 “I am Esprit” on-line campaign encouraged women to post scanned photos of themselves with an essay, “Why I am Esprit,” to promote the individuality and inner beauty of all women around the world.

Since its inception, Esprit has continued to expand into new lines and licensing agreements for bath and bed lines, accessories, and men’s and children’s apparel. The Esprit Kids line was launched in 1981. Next, Esprit signed a licensing agreement with a German optical company, Optyl, for eyewear in 1987. In 1994 Esprit was granted a license from Dr. Seuss to produce apparel, sleepwear, footwear, and accessories for children and adults. Esprit added a swimwear line in 1997 through a licensing agreement which allowed Beach Patrol, Inc., to design Esprit swimwear and sportswear. Esprit also signed a licensing agreement with DKNY in 1998 to design DKNY girls’ and boys’ apparel.

During the mid-1980s, Esprit encountered financial and management difficulties. The decision to open outlet stores put Esprit in direct competition with large, private-label retailers, such as The Gap and The Limited. Esprit did not have the resources to support the expansion, and by the time they had restructured the company, they had missed major fashion trends and lost a large share of the junior market. By 1987 the Tompkinses were also disagreeing on the direction of the company, and their personal relationship deteriorated. The Tompkinses divorced, and Susie bought the company from Doug in 1990. During the last decade, Esprit has struggled to redefine its market niche. It has remained a mainstay of the children’s market, but it has not been able to regain its former status in the junior market. In 1998 Esprit launched its on-line store, providing interactive shopping and promoting their social beliefs to a new generation of customers.

Esrey, William - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: William Esrey [next] [back] Esposito, Giancarlo (1958–)

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