The company that produces the popular Cross Colours line of clothing, once one of the fastest-growing black-owned companies in the nation, has been forced to sell all of its manufacturing operations, the founder said Tuesday.
City of Commerce-based Threads 4 Life, which incurred heavy debt to finance a rapid expansion, has sold its manufacturing operations to cope with mounting financial difficulties and is being restructured, said Carl Jones, the company's chairman and founder. He would not disclose who the buyer is.
Jones said the company will withdraw from manufacturing and is considering selling its trademark to Skechers, a Manhattan Beach footwear producer headed by Michael Greenberg. Skechers has been producing footwear for Threads 4 Life.
Jones said he expects to continue designing clothing for the Cross Colours line and is currently negotiating with Greenberg, who may assume some business management tasks for the clothing line.
Greenberg, son of the founder of L.A. Gear, was not available for comment Tuesday.
Threads 4 Life included two major clothing lines, Cross Colours and Karl Kani. Designer Karl Kani said Tuesday he established his own company last month and has struck an agreement with Skechers and another manufacturer, Kass & Co., to produce and distribute clothing for his firm, Karl Kani Infinity.
Threads 4 Life had been a rising star in the apparel industry, but Jones, his business associates and industry observers said the small company became unmanageable, mostly because it rose so fast and to such great heights.
The company's boldly colored denim jeans and jackets, hooded sweat shirts and T-shirts were extremely popular with the hip-hop set.
The Cross Colours line was an immediate hit with young African Americans. It posted $15 million in sales for 1991, its first full year of operation. Its appeal spread, and sales reportedly reached nearly $90 million in 1992 and $160 million in 1993.
Threads was Black Enterprise magazine's "Company of the Year" in 1993. It received the "Rising Star" award from the California Mart, the Los Angeles apparel showcase center, in 1992 and 1993.
However, rapidly rising demand created problems, Jones said. "Demand was overwhelming," he said. "The growing pains forced us into restructuring. We weren't ready for what happened to us."
Kani said the company sometimes did not have the money to expand enough to fill its orders. "The company grew fast--so fast--that the management couldn't keep pace," he said.
Threads 4 Life's financial woes are not unusual in the competitive fashion field, especially among relatively small companies aiming for the youth market, said Alan G. Millstein, who edits New York-based Fashion Network Report.
"They had a very hot run with fad merchandise for about two years," Millstein said. "But then the slings and arrows of outrageous fashion nailed them.
"It's just the nature of the youth fashion market," Millstein said. "The youth market bankrupted Merry-Go-Round (a Joppa, Md.-based retail chain). That's the tough part of dealing with the (ages) 14-to-22 market."
Threads 4 Life's problems won't necessarily hurt the Cross Colours line if good licensees pick up the lines and ship attractive products to retailers, Millstein said. "I don't think consumers really know or care who the real owner is," Millstein said. "What they know is what they buy in the stores."
Times staff writer Greg Johnson in Orange County contributed to this report.