Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Big Smith in Fashion Big Time Industrial Look Makes Missouri Overalls Chic

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Big Smith in Fashion Big Time Industrial Look Makes Missouri Overalls Chic

Article excerpt

Once marketing to the rugged, blue collar worker, Big Smith Brands Inc. now is finding its fortune on the runways of Paris as the world's youth embraces industrially inspired fashions.

The company's catalog models now range from double-chinned men in hard hats to semi-nourished teen girls in cutoff overalls. And its clothing comes in sizes to accommodate a child of 6 months as well as a man with a 124-inch waist.

In fact, the industrial look has bulldozed its way into so many people's closets, Big Smith has used it as a foundation for taking the company public.

"We've set out on a goal to be a mega-brand company in the global market, regardless of our size," said Chief Executive Peter Lebowitz.

Pretty big talk from a company with such small beginnings.

Founded in 1916 as Smith Bros. Manufacturing of Carthage, Mo., the company made a name for itself with Big Smith brand overalls, sewn in a small factory above a livery barn. It was operated by the Smith family until 1971, when Lebowitz and the Paul Revere Insurance Co. bought it.

Within eight years, the company was doing $47 million in sales and had broken into the European market. But it had expanded too fast, and rough changes were in store.

Lebowitz and his investors sold the company to a small conglomerate in New York in 1979, and Big Smith struggled. In 1982, it filed for Chapter 11. In 1984, it filed again. And in 1985, it filed for Chapter 7 protection.

A bank that had taken over the company approached Lebowitz, who had a yearning to return to the brand name market after several years in a small, private label business.

"After looking into it again, I felt the brand still had merit, even though the company was closed and they had no customers left and had no employees left," Lebowitz said. …

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