STEVE & BARRY'S CELEBRITY ADVENTURE
They run a fashion company that works with movie stars and
sports celebrities. But take a meeting with Steve Shore and Barry Prevor, and
you'll head to the industrial section of Port Washington. You'll be ushered
into a room furnished with $15 swivel chairs and a conference table that
wobbles when you bump it. And the refreshments? Water in Styrofoam cups.
Such is the atmosphere at the headquarters of Steve & Barry's, a fast-
growing clothing company with 256 stores in 37 states that creates fashion
Stephon Marbury and Venus Williams, among other luminaries.
Clearly, Steve & Barry's is a strange hybrid. Shore and Prevor, teenage
friends from Merrick and Syosset, respectively, started selling bargain-priced
T-shirts at flea markets in 1979. Later they opened stores specializing in
college-logo apparel, eventually adding a range of basics at rock-bottom prices
- T-shirts and khakis, the American uniform for weekends and casual Fridays.
The pair, both now 44, began designing and selling the celebrity merchandise in
2006, and already those clothes take up half the space in the company's stores.
The dress-down culture of Steve & Barry's seems to occupy a separate
universe from that of someone like "Sex and the City" star Sarah Jessica
Parker. She appears regularly at such dress-up occasions as Hollywood awards
shows, always wearing couture gowns and borrowed jewels. Yet, every item in her
clothing line from Steve & Barry's retails for less than $20, as does
everything else the company sells. That includes basketball shoes from Marbury
and tennis shoes from Williams, affordable alternatives to gear from other
sports stars that may sell for 10 times more.
The two company founders say their mix of utilitarian chic and celebrity
flash makes sense for them, and their customers. "It's always been our mission
to give people exactly what they want," said Shore, the co-chief executive and
more quietly intense of the two. "So whether that's college merchandise,
T-shirts or celebrity merchandise, whatever clothing they want most, then we do
it at a price that will thrill them."
"There's been an evolution over time that designer names are not as
relevant," added Prevor, 44, the more kinetic chief executive, twisting side to
side in his inexpensive chair. "People relate very closely to celebrities and
sports stars. That has more relevance than a particular designer might have had
A winning strategy
The strategy seems to work. Steve & Barry's does not disclose annual sales
but does reveal it has been growing from 30 percent to 100 percent a year for
The company added more store square footage in the past two years than any
other specialty apparel retailer in the nation, almost twice as much as the
next closest competitor, Gap, according to the industry publication Chain Store
four existing stores, in Hicksville, Westbury, Massapequa and Medford. In
November 2006, Shore and Prevor brought in an outside investor, TA Associates
of Boston, to help finance expansion, although they still own a majority of the
"When they decided to go after celebrity branding at incredibly great
prices, the apparel part of the business just ran away with success," said
Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the Port Washington market research
firm NPD Group, which has surveyed 3,000 Steve & Barry's customers. "It's all
about name recognition. What they're clearly going after is celebrity power
rather than designer power, and that's just as powerful in today's consumer
Throughout their runaway growth, Shore and Prevor have kept to their
bargain-basement philosophy. "Our clothing is meant to be for people's everyday
lives," said Prevor. "Our mission from the very beginning has been to ask:
What's the lowest price that we can sell a top-quality item for? And what do we
do to take the fat out every step along the way?"
So they manufacture abroad, ship by ocean freight rather than air, place
stores as anchors in mid-level malls where the rent is low, and refuse to spend
for national advertising.
Prevor says they live for when a customer says, "My family saved a thousand
dollars or two thousand dollars last year because you moved to our
neighborhood, and this meant I was able to get a car, that we were able to go
on vacation, that I was able to get presents for my kids at Christmas."
Still, a couple of years ago they wanted to attract new customers,
especially women. Howard Schacter, the chief partnership officer, suggested
they launch clothing lines with celebrities with whom various niches of
shoppers might identify. First up was Marbury, who would appeal to the
athletically inclined male customer the company already knew. It was also
important that his name would resonate with customers who wanted to save money.
"He had come from an impoverished background in Coney Island," said
Schacter. "He had a lot of brothers and sisters and knew what it was like not
to have the nickels to scrape together and buy new clothes."
Starbury brand scores
The collection of clothes and sneakers, called Starbury, was an instant
success in August 2006. A crucial element was the sneaker. At $14.98, it won
kudos for high quality for the price, allowing whole families to get cool
sneakers for less than one pair of Michael Jordan's or Kobe Bryant's.
Newspapers and television shows ran stories, Marbury made appearances in Steve
& Barry's stores, and Marbury has said that 3 million pairs sold in four months.
The next partnership involved Sarah Jessica Parker, whose line, called
Bitten, launched last June with magazine spreads and an appearance on "Oprah."
Chosen for her appeal to fashion-conscious women ages 15 to 49, with a sweet
spot among those in their 20s, Parker also came from humble beginnings and
understood people's aspirations to dress well on a budget. The collection's
bestselling item is a T-shirt with the slogan "Fashion is not a luxury."
Parker was so involved in the design process that she got on her hands and
knees, with pins in her mouth, at weekly fittings with models, said Scott
Hoffman, the head of design.
Venus Williams, another celebrity who loves fashion - she graduated from
design school in December - launched her EleVen line of casualwear and tennis
outfits in November after wearing prototypes during the U.S. Open. Williams,
who grew up in a tough neighborhood, said she enjoyed meeting people at store
events. "I felt a genuine appreciation from a range of customers," she said by
e-mail, "from families with young children to women of all ages."
Other Steve & Barry's celebrities include basketball player Ben Wallace,
golfer Bubba Watson, teen star Bynes, and Laird Hamilton, the surfer and
extreme athlete whose upcoming surf and skate line will target young male
shoppers this spring. Taken together, the celebrity lines have provided Steve &
Barry's with media attention that might have cost $100 million in 2007 if the
company took out ads, according to Barry Janoff, executive editor of Brandweek.
Visit a Steve & Barry's store, and it's clear the message is getting
through. Dominating the spacious layouts, bright lighting and wooden floors at
the shop in the Manhattan Mall in Herald Square are banks of overhead TV
screens playing videos of the celebrities giving testimonials on their
"This is a bargain, just an everyday T-shirt, nothing much," shrugged Ann
McCosker, a 33-year-old tourist from London who was buying a $9 Bitten top
because she had heard about Parker's collection.
But Mary Brown, a 39-year-old mother from Queens, was more emotional about
the Starbury sneakers she had bought on sale for $9 for her son. "It's really,
really good because the cost of living is so high and your paycheck stays the
same," she said. "Look at Michael Jordan. His sneakers are $200. This is a
In 1985, Steve Shore and Barry Prevor opened a college apparel store at the
University of Pennsylvania. It led to expansion at colleges across the U.S.