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Thursday, June 5, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Lee Jeans Maker Will Buy Brittania -- Deal Lays Off 100 Workers, Wipes Out Local Presence

Seattle Times Business Reporter

Brittania Sportswear is being sold to the maker of Wrangler and Lee jeans in a move that will eliminate 100 jobs here and wipe out the remaining local vestiges of a Seattle-area company that once was the largest privately owned sportswear company in the United States.

Levi Strauss & Co., the San Francisco-based apparel manufacturer that now owns Brittania, said yesterday that VF Corp. has signed a letter of intent to purchase the Brittania Sportswear trademark and existing Brittania inventory for an undisclosed price.

Brittania's corporate office in Renton and its distribution center in Fife will be closed.

VF, headquartered in Wyomissing, Pa., plans to distribute Brittania-brand jeans, leather goods and other products through its own channels, according to a company spokeswoman.

The sale should be completed in about a month, the two companies said.

Levi Strauss said in January that it was putting Brittania up for sale so it could concentrate on its core brands: Levi's jeans, Dockers khakis and Slates dress pants.

At that time, Brittania had 120 employees divided evenly between its Renton and Fife locations. About 20 of those workers found other jobs before yesterday's announcement, said Brad Williams, marketing manager of Levi Strauss USA in San Francisco.

The remaining staff will be laid off in stages beginning next week and running through the end of July, he said.

Workers will receive severance pay, extended medical benefits and assistance in finding other jobs, he said. Williams said Levi Strauss representatives broke the news to the employees at assemblies in Renton and Fife yesterday morning.

Local workers, including designers, distributors and sales and marketing people, could not be reached for reaction.

Williams and Cindy Knoebel, VF's investor-relations director, said VF will offer Brittania's licensees similar agreements to the ones they have with Levi Strauss. The licensees make socks, leather goods, underwear and other items under the Brittania brand, Williams said.

VF will continue to have Brittania jeans manufactured overseas by contractors in Asia, Central America and other parts of the world, he added.

The Brittania brand will be integrated into VF's existing jeans business. Brittania products will be distributed, as they are now, to discount stores such as Kmart and Wal-Mart, said Knoebel.

VF owns the Lee, Wrangler, Rustler and Riders brands, as well as Portland-based Jantzen sportswear and JanSport, the backpack manufacturer that has sites in Everett. It is the world's largest publicly traded apparel manufacturer, with $5.1 billion in sales last year, Knoebel said.

Privately held Levi Strauss is the world's largest brand-name apparel manufacturer with $7.1 billion in 1996 sales, Williams said.

Brittania Sportswear had a meteoric rise of its own. Begun in the 1970s by Schoenfeld Industries, a Seattle necktie business, it once reached sales of $300 million a year and was the country's top-selling blue jean. But it plummeted into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1983 because of management problems and changes in fashion tastes.

Levi Strauss purchased Brittania in 1986 from its owner at that time, Asian Pacific Industries. Brittania relocated to San Francisco for a time but returned to the Seattle area in 1994 as Levi Strauss tried to cut costs by moving the operation to a location with lower real-estate prices than the Bay Area's.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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