Generra: Hot Start, Then Cold Reality -- Company Reflects Industry's Woes

Brittania Sportswear put Seattle on the map as the jeans capital of the nation in the 1970s.

Eventually, it spawned a raft of new companies that helped Seattle earn a reputation as a national center for men's sportswear.

Thsoe included Generra, founded in 1980 by former Brittania executives, which quickly gained national prominence. Like a handful of other companies in Seattle, such as Union Bay Sportswear and International News, Generra is primarily a designer and importer of apparel.

Company principals Charles Yeung, Steven Miska, Daniel Prentice and Tony Margolis sold Generra to Texas-based Farah Manufacturing Co. in 1984.

Five years later, the Seattle management team bought the company back in a leveraged buyout.

The news that it will seek U.S. Bankruptcy Court protection comes when the entire apparel industry has fallen on hard times.

Generra, along with many other clothing companies, has been hurt by the recent preference among young men for licensed professional and college baseball clothing - shirts, jackets and baseball caps. The Gap also has eaten into apparel companies' business.

Apparently young men's clothing is one of the softer sectors in apparel retailing, said Blake Nordstrom, vice president and general manager of Washington and Alaska for Nordstrom.

"I'm sad to hear they're having some tough innings, and I hope the restructuring works out well for them," Nordstrom said this morning.

A little over a week ago, Generra ChairmanMiska said the company's chief young men's designer position would not be filled. Instead, he said, the responsibilities were being included in the duties of the company's vice president for merchandising.

Miska said yesterday that the company's initial reorganization will include discontinuing the company's juniors and girls clothing divisions.

Generra has not revealed total 1991 sales. The company posted $150 million in sales in 1990.

Miska told a trade publication in April that juniors and girls clothing accounted for 37 percent of the company's business.

But recent reports indicated that Generra's juniors holiday 1992 line faced such stiff resistance after being introduced June 1 that the company was paralyzed, unable to decide whether to produce it or execute a last-minute redesign.

At the time, Miska denied that the holiday juniors line was in trouble or that the company was considering, or had ever considered, canceling or redesigning it.

"That's definitely not true at all," he said.

But the juniors holiday line reportedly sold so poorly that the company was considering a redesign even as samples for the original line were coming in from factories in Hong Kong, according to industry insiders who requested anonymity.

They said the line was considered too "fashion forward" for the current juniors market, where informal, Gap-style clothing has been the hot seller.

Generra's new juniors designer, Enzo Mazzurco, formerly was a chief designer at Esprit. Although he reportedly worked on the juniors holiday line, his first full line for Generra was to be for spring 1993. But the future of that line was in trouble, sources said, after the holiday line flopped.

Buyers confirmed that they were lukewarm toward the holiday juniors line.

It was "not as strong as it had been in the past," said Virginia Singler, juniors buyer for The Bon Marche. As recently as last week, she said The Bon did not know if it was going to order anything from the line, even though the order deadline was approaching.

Buyers said that although Generra initially did well with Hypercolor - rainbow-hued, heat-sensitive T-shirts and jeans - that was the only thing that was selling well in recent years.

Generra's treatment of Hypercolor was a classic example of putting too many eggs in one basket. A recent story in Daily News Record, a menswear industry publication, said Generra hired employees and added facilities and equipment to meet demand. It still could supply buyers with only about half of what they wanted, and Miska's phone was "ringing off the hook."

By May 1991, the company had sold $50 million in Hypercolor garments - far more than projected sales of $20 million for the year. Still the calls came, and Generra tried to accommodate.

"We tried to make too much product available in too short a period of time," Miska was quoted as saying. If he could do it again, he said, he would have limited distribution, "which would have done a lot to prolong the life of the product."