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Irvine - St John Knits, the luxury flat knitting label based in California, has announced that chief executive officer, president and chief operating officer Bruce Fetter is stepping down after 15 years at the helm.

He has been replaced by Eran Cohen, who, after joining the company at the beginning of May, will look to reposition the luxury label's manufacturing process and brand offering.

Cohen comes to St. John with more than 30 years of experience in the retail and fashion industries. "St. John is an iconic American brand and a very important component in Fosun's fashion portfolio," said Joann Cheng, President of Fosun Fashion Group. "Eran has invaluable experience in marketing and consumer experience, with exceptional management skills. We believe he can unlock the potential of St. John, driving acceleration and growth via a strategic focus on the demands of current and new clients,"

"I am thrilled by the opportunity to lead St. John, a legendary American brand," said Cohen. "I envision a bold evolution, building off the brand's iconic heritage in knitwear, bringing innovation in design and product, providing dynamic experiences at retail, wholesale and online, and delivering provocative and compelling content that speaks to the brand's current loyalists, while attracting new customer segments."

Vertically integrated St. John does everything from dyeing its own yarn to knitting the fabric and sewing it into high-end garments. About 70 per cent of the St. John collection is manufactured in several big buildings in the Irvine industrial park in California with another 100,000-square-foot factory in Tijuana. With between 1,000 to 2,000 workers at its knitting, sewing and dyeing factories, St. John is the largest flat-knitting factory in the United States with some 300 knitting machines.

Founded in 1962 by Bob and Marie Gray, the brand for decades catered to a core older customer with high-end rayon-and-wool knit suits that were stylish but comfortable and durable.

Then, starting in 2004, a succession of new chief executives arrived, hoping to bring in a younger customer. A series of expensive ad campaigns followed with movie stars and celebrity models such as Angelina Jolie, Gisele Bündchen and Kate Winslet gracing the pages of Vogue and other top fashion magazines.

The result was that revenues fluctuated and a revolving door of executives tried their hand at reinventing the label.

Although still renowned for its high-end knitted suits, which account for around half of sales, St John is now hoping to ramp up its its evening wear and sportswear sectors to broaden the brand’s appeal.

The aim is to rebuild its core customer base and try to bring new customers into the 23 stores that St. John maintains as well as entice shoppers to the luxury department stores that carry St. John, such as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s.

While maintaining its core customer, the decades-old company is also now trying to appeal to a fashion-forward client that has different needs. The push to expand eveningwear has also come after St. John recently bought back its Chinese license and is hoping to expand there. Expansion that will no doubt be helped by Fosun International, which took a 33.3 per cent interest in the brand for $55 million in 2013. Vestar Capital Partners, a New York private-equity firm, continues to be the majority owner.

Fosun has made a number of executive changes recently, appointing Laura Vazquez as the company’s executive vice president and chief merchant effective in recent months.


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