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Tiffany Montgomery
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A talk with Ezekiel team about its strategy

By Tiffany Montgomery
October 22, 2008 5:10 AM

I stopped by to meet the Ezekiel team recently, to find out more about what is happening with the brand.

We talked about sales, distribution, style and the financial turmoil going on in the larger economy.

ezekielMikeMartinFirst, I spoke with Mike Martin, right, vice president of marketing and sales.

Mike said Ezekiel's mission is to be the fashion brand for the action sports industry and to keep its distribution limited.

Currently, Ezekiel's distribution includes smaller core stores, Sun Diego, Active, Jack's, Tilly's, Zumiez, and The Buckle. At Zumiez, Ezekiel is all doors for men and about 40 to 50 doors for Girls. PacSun carries Ezekiel T-shirts, but not cut and sew. When it comes to department stores, the brand recently pulled out of Macy's, Martin said, and decided to go with Nordstrom. "It's a better fit for us," he said. "We're a more upscale, fashion brand."

In the beginning of his career, Mike worked in retail. He talks to accounts a lot, and said store owners are being "as upbeat as they can be. The party is all set up, they are just waiting for the guests."

Mike said Ezekiel is in a good position to weather the downturn because of its limited distribution, which retailers like.

"We're not everywhere - we're in the right places," he said. "We have good growth ahead. We want to continue to build up our business, not blow it up."

Ronnie Reyes, creative director

ezekiel ronnie reyesNext, I talked to Creative Director Ronnie Reyes, right, who was in the midst of creating the Fall 2009 line.

He said the big question is, "What replaces fleece, the dying category?"

Ronnie said there's too much fleece out there, which has pretty much killed the trend. But kids still need layering pieces for the morning when they go to school.

Ezekiel is focusing on other options, including plaid wovens and flannels with hooded silhouettes.

In other categories, Ezekiel sees a lot of opportunity with the preppy American trend, including basic stripes and oxfords.

Ronnie thinks most of the surf and skate market hasn't adapted their printables to the cleaner, simple trend, which has allowed American Apparel to fill the void.

He said Ezeziel is using more understated simple graphics on its printables, and that simple ethos is now carrying over to cut and sew.

Ronnie also sees an industry transition going on in walkshorts, with kids wearing cut off pants with slimmer legs instead of buying typical walkshorts.

Steve Kurtzman, CEO and majority owner

ezekielSteveKurtzmanMugMy talk with Ezekiel CEO Steve Kurtzman, left, was interesting. We talked how Ezekiel is sticking to its niche, and about the troubled economy and what it could mean for the industry.

Ezekiel's niche is high school and college age kids.

"We don't do boys," Kurtzman said. "Kids don't want to look like their younger brother, or their Dad."

Ezekiel will have its best year ever volume-wise in 2008, Kurtzman said. "Up until now, we haven't felt it," he said.

Kurtzman expects that sales will slow in the second half of the year, since retailers will be ordering fall 2009 product in the first part of 2009, just after what is expected to be a dismal 2008 holiday season.

He thinks the recession could hit the industry hard, especially since the industry is so much larger now than it was during the last recession of the 1990s.

"This industry is not going to look the same in a year or two," he said. "It's going to change. Some for the good, some for the bad."

He said Ezekiel works hard to partner with specialty retailers to give them what they need. "We're very flexible." The company also stresses with its retailers that Ezekiel has no plans to sell direct to the public. "We are a manufacturer only," he said.

Kurtzman, an apparel industry veteran, speaks passionately about speciality stores and how important it is that they survive. He worries that if they don't support the smaller brands as a way to differentiate their stores from the bigger retailers that carry the bigger brands, they will eventually go away. In other words, if the big retailers and the specialty stores are carrying all the same big brands, the specialty stores will lose that battle. He's seen it happen in other sectors of the apparel industry.

"(The speciality stores) have to consider who they are buying from," he said.

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