STEVE & BARRY'S CELEBRITY ADVENTURE

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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

lines with the actresses Sarah Jessica Parker and Amanda Bynes and the athletes

Stephon Marbury and Venus Williams, among other luminaries.

Clearly, Steve & Barry's is a strange hybrid. Shore and Prevor, teenage

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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

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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

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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

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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

years ago."

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

15 years.

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

Age. On Long Island, a new store is opening this month in Lake Grove, joining

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

company.

"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

world."

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

collections.

"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

blessing."

OF INTEREST

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.

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