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Stars Help Retailers Reach Hispanic Market

From the QVC to Kmart, mass retailers are banking on Hispanic celebrities.


January 30, 2004
Copyright ©2004 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

Venezuelan Barbara Palacios, a former Miss Universe, has become the latest in a string of high-profile Hispanics to join forces with major retailers whose image has been more apple pie than empanada.

Palacios will soon be selling jewelry crafted from semiprecious stones on the QVC television shopping network. Her move follows other campaigns at stores across the country.

Sears signed Lucy Pereda, host of the Galavision program En casa de Lucy, whose women's apparel line debuted in mid-September. Kmart introduced a clothing line by Mexican singer Thalia in August. And JCPenney introduced Havanera, a Latin-flavored men's clothing line by Miami-based Perry Ellis International, in April.

The reason behind the push to attract Hispanic consumers: Hispanic women in the United States spend slightly more of their income on clothing than any other ethnic group, according to Mediamark Research. Hispanic consumers shelled out just over $15 billion on clothes from September 2002 to September 2003, a 4 percent increase over the previous 12 months, marketing consultant NPD Group found. That accounts for 9 percent of all apparel sold in the United States.

Of course, Latin-tinged fashion is nothing new to American urban and suburban youth. The traditional Hispanic dress shirt, the guayabera, became a staple in the hip-hop scene years ago. And pop diva Jennifer Lopez propelled her fashion line and perfume into major department stores in 2001.

But overtly marketing to Hispanics by QVC and other mega-retail outlets signals a more intense courtship.


''We've been banging them over the head to reach out to these customers,'' said Kathy Deane, president of Tobé, a New York retail consulting firm. ``It's a new business.''

Although Palacios has obvious appeal to the Hispanic market, she will be just another strikingly pretty face to most Americans when she launches her line of amethysts and onyx on cable TV Feb. 24.

That doesn't worry Payton Kelley, director of QVC's jewelry division. She thinks Palacios has what it takes to charm all Americans.

For her part, Weston resident Palacios designed a line for QVC that was more mainstream than the jewelry in her Weston and Aventura stores, with smaller stones and simpler settings.

''As a Latina, of course, it has something of my taste, but it's really for everybody, for all women in the United States,'' said Palacios, 40, during the jewelry line's unveiling Wednesday at the Grove Isle Club and Resort in Miami.

The latest catchphrase in the mega-retail industry is ''crossover appeal,'' an approach to lure a range of consumers. Retailers are turning to high-profile minorities who have broad cultural appeal.

JCPenney is a perfect example.

''The Latin explosion has reached mainstream America,'' the company's website says. Its Havanera brand relies heavily on the linen, drawstring waists and embroidery that typify clothing in Latin countries. But the company wants Americans to think of Havanera as a ''lifestyle'' brand.

''Tommy Bahama puts you in Margaritaville on Duval Street in Key West,'' said Manny Fernandez, JCPenney manager of multicultural marketing and a Miami native. ``This puts you in front of Bongos in South Beach -- that kind of frame of mind.''


Celebrity hair stylist Samy began selling hair products on the Home Shopping Network about seven years ago. He was embraced by Americans and Europeans, with 97 percent of sales going to non-Hispanics, said Luis Delgado, CEO of Miami-based Samy Companies. ''We crossed all the way onto the other side . . . to non-Hispanic consumers,'' Delgado said.

Miami figures prominently into the launchings of some new lines. Palacios and Thalia unveiled their lines here, hoping to generate some buzz in a city that boasts the nation's highest concentration of well-to-do Hispanics. JCPenney also chose Miami as one of a handful of cities in which to launch the Havanera line.

One of the original and quintessential crossover brands was JLO by Jennifer Lopez. Lopez was a household name from appearing on movie screens, in music videos and on magazine covers when she launched her fashion line in 2001.

While the line had broad appeal, it was specifically geared to Hispanics, said Denise Seegal, president and CEO of Sweetface Fashion Co., in New York.

''It's multicultural, however, the fit of the clothes takes into consideration a more curvaceous body,'' Seegal said.

Ironically, as the market evolves, retailers who push the Hispanic angle too hard could see it backfire, Deane said. ``I don't know that the Hispanic population wants to only buy things that are only aimed at Hispanic consumers.''

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