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O.C. BUSINESS PLUS | HEARD ON THE BEAT / RETAIL

Apparel Firm Fits Young Girls Into Its Future

April 18, 2001|LESLIE EARNEST

Wet Seal, which has historically targeted teens and young women, also is busy courting younger girls.

The company closed the deal on its purchase of the 18-store Zutopia chain from Gymboree Corp. last month and has been packing the stores with new merchandise designed to lure preteen girls. Under the new management, Zutopia stores will stock tamer, younger-looking versions of Wet Seal's products, Strickland said.

"The 8- to 12-year-old is already hanging around Wet Seal," he said. "She just can't fit in the clothes yet."

So if Wet Seal offers camouflage Capri or club shirts in army green with a punk-style graffiti T-shirt, Zutopia may sell knit skirts in pink or blue camouflage and T-shirts imprinted with a picture of an animal, or sprinkled with glitter, he said.

"Gymboree . . . built a terrific business selling to mothers and grandmothers," Strickland said. "We speak to the customer, not the customer's mother or grandmother."

The only Zutopia store in Orange County is at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.

Leslie Earnest covers retail businesses for The Times. She can be reached at (714) 966-7832 and at leslie.earnest@latimes.com.

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