Some firms might focus on supplying only one end of the market, but that is not the case at Concept One Accessories, CEO Sam Hafif says. “We are very diverse,” he asserts. “We supply everyone from Walmart to Saks Fifth Avenue.”
The New York City-based company is one of the largest designers and manufacturers of licensed men’s accessories in North America. Its products include headwear, cold weather accessories, bags, belts, small leather goods, seasonal footwear and board shorts.
A longtime veteran of the accessories industry, Hafif sold his interest in another firm, Accessory Network, and co-founded Concept One with his brother, Bernie Hafif, in 1999. Soon afterward, the Nakash family, the owners of Jordache Enterprises, approached Hafif.
“They were looking for someone to develop a men’s accessory program for the U.S. Polo Association,” he says. “I set up this company to hold that license.”
Since then, Concept One has grown to employ a staff of 160 around the world. In addition to its location in New York City, the company has offices in Bentonville, Ark., and Shanghai.
The Concept One license portfolio includes many brands from the entertainment, fashion, consumer and team sports markets, including Disney, Warner Bros., Nickelodeon, Levi’s, Ford, Budweiser, Major League Baseball and the National Football League.
Hafif adds that the company’s location in New York City’s garment district gives it an edge over other accessory firms. “We’re central to the apparel market,” he explains. “We’ve got 35 designers in New York that we can dispatch to various offices around the city.”
Concept One has not let opportunities to grow pass it by, Hafif says. In terms of employee growth, it recently retained an executive coach, Jean Lemmey, who has begun working with associates throughout the organization.
“The goal is to train each tier of the company’s management to a level where they can operate larger business, with more staff,” Hafif says. “We’re aiming to challenge and educate our existing staff to grow, rather than looking outside of the company for talent.”
The company also offers scholarships to help its employees grow their expertise inside fashion-related areas. “We really make personal career growth a highly valued virtue in our company,” Hafif says.
The scholarship fund is named after Harvey Mallis, one of the company’s first employees, and a veteran of the men’s fashion industry.
In terms of its footprint, Concept One recently opened a new office in Canada as a joint venture with Montreal-based firm NTD Apparel Inc. “We’ve jointly funded the operations,” Hafif says. “It has a dedicated staff for sales, design and production.” The new firm is named Concept One Canada.
Canada is an important market for Concept One, and it has partnered with nine licensors to help it grow in the country. “The next stop is going to be Europe,” Hafif says. “We think we can get [there] sometime early next year.”
Currently, only five percent of Concept One’s total sales are generated overseas. “The bulk of it is done in Mexico and Canada,” he states.
The firm also has sought to grow its technology. Recently, Concept One began using WebTech PLM from Enterprise Integrated Solutions to help its efficiency as well as improve its design, licensing and sampling processes. It also has invested in the development of its retail website and retail flagship on Houston Street in Soho, for Block Headwear, a brand it acquired six years ago. At www.blockheadwear.com, customers can view and purchase the full collection.
“It’s a contemporary men’s and women’s headwear collection,” he says. “We sell and distribute Block to Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor, and 150 specialty stores across the country.”
Hafif entered the industry with his first business at the age of 21. “I’ve been in the fashion accessory industry for over 23 years,” he states.
“I have a passion for the product and an even greater passion for the people,” Hafif continues. “I find it very exciting and challenging to come to work every day, and pursue a vision alongside people who share a common goal.”
Hafif says Concept One’s culture that encourages employees to make important decisions on their own. “One of the things that came out of my personal executive coaching sessions [is that] we deliver two messages to our staff,” Hafif explains. “We try and tell people not be afraid to take risk, while at the same time make sure you follow all the rules.
“That’s somewhat of a mixed message, we’re trying to figure out how to properly balance and entrepreneurial spirit, alongside a professional work environment,” he states. “It’s important that people aren’t afraid to make mistakes.”
Hafif has a prediction of continued success for Concept One. “Our revenue goal is $200 million within the next four years,” Hafif declares, adding that the company’s strategy includes both acquisitions, as well as organic growth.
“We want to stay focused on men’s and boys,” he asserts. “We’re looking for complementary [firms in the] accessories [market]. We are targeting firms in the $30 million to $40 million sales range.”
Although the future of this 13-year-old business is an unwritten story, the company’s impressive track record and focused vision leads one to believe that its management team has what it takes to achieve continued growth and success.
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