And for that, they owe some thanks to 38-year-old TV star Alyssa Milano, best known for her roles in Who's the Boss and Charmed. Milano, a fanatical baseball lover, holds a season ticket to the Los Angeles Dodgers games and counts herself a devoted follower of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Kings.
She helped sports leagues see the error of their ways four years ago, when she launched the Touch line of team-sports apparel, which includes jackets, tops and jeans specifically tailored to women.
Although she often models the merchandise herself, Milano, who describes herself as "a bit of a control freak," plays an active role behind the scenes as well. Her attention to detail has paid off: Touch sales have soared even as the economy tanked. Two Touch boutiques have opened at New York's Citi Field and Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center.
Recently, Milano discussed her business with DailyFinance via email. She claims that sports leagues finally understand how important women ans are to the growth of their business. Below is an edited excerpt from the conversation:
DailyFinance: What's your role at Touch, besides being the public face of the company?
Milano: Touch was an idea that was born in my head out of necessity, and I take great pride in what the line has grown into in only four short years. My original pitch for Touch was to MLB and, although I'm not sure they understood the need for fashion [baseball] fan apparel, they responded to my love of sports and, ultimately, I think they thought I would be a positive voice for female fans.
MLB introduced me to my partner, G-iii Sports, and they've been wonderfully supportive over the years. MLB had the exclusive for one year. By the time that year was up, NFL, NHL, NBA, MLS, and NCAA [professional football, hockey, basketball and soccer, and college sports, respectively] were willing to take a chance based on the success of MLB.
Oy! I think I play more of a role than my partners would like. I'm involved in every aspect, every step of the way. I'm a bit of a control freak through the design process because I believe that a designer who sits in an office, no matter how talented, doesn't truly understand what a sports fan would be comfortable wearing in the stands.
I obviously want the line to be cute, but I also need it to be functional. The Silverman Group does the marketing for Touch, and I work very, very closely with Marc Jacobson on the brand identity.
How much time do you devote to the business on a weekly basis?
At least a couple of hours a day.
Does it interfere with your acting work?
I'm actually able to juggle both quite well. I love what I do, and that makes it much easier.
Did you have any previous business experience?
I hadn't had this type of business experience, but I have been working since I was 7. I produce as well as act, so at the very beginning, I just had the mentality that I was going to "produce" a clothing line.
You started Touch in 2007 and were able to expand (apparently) as the economy tanked. How were you able to pull this off?
We were able to grow each year in a tough economy due to league expansion, desirable product that was fresh and trend-relevant, along with a focus on the needed key retail price points to drive revenue growth.
Can you provide any information on sales and profits?
We have experienced an aggressive growth percentage from 25%-50% in this challenging economy.
What is the demographic of the Touch customer? Age? Education? Income? Sports Interest?
We have seen the Touch customer age group to be widespread (from 20-45). She is a fashion-oriented woman, while obviously also being an avid sports fan. We do not have any information on income or education demos.
The idea of designing team jerseys and other apparel to properly fit women is brilliant. That said, why didn't anyone think of it earlier?
Ahhh. . . This is the great mystery! But I'm glad no one thought of it earlier.
Was it because men made these types of marketing decisions, or did women not demand better products?
I think it was both. "Pink-it-and-shrink-it" was the businessman's answer to female fan apparel. I think the female fan was completely ignored, and we accepted that and made due with what they had. Pink was a big seller for a bit because it was the only thing the leagues were selling specifically for the female fan.
Do female fans still have trouble getting respect from pro sports leagues?
I think the leagues are finally starting to recognize how vital the female fan is. It has been awesome to see the transformation and be a part of it.
Are some men intimidated by women who know as much about sports as they do?
Ummm, I'd like to think they aren't intimidated but, unfortunately, I've had sports conversations with dudes who later tell me that my knowledge of the game made them feel emasculated.
Do you play fantasy sports?
I don't! Weird, right? I am afraid it will take away from my love for my team.
Much of the media coverage about you expresses amazement that you know so much about sports. Does that annoy you?
It doesn't annoy me. I like surprising people.