The Vintage Blue Fish Clothing Years
Blue Fish Clothing 2001 – Pre-Production Information
“Our raison d’etre at Blue Fish is to support self-expressive dressing as a path to encourage self-exploration and personal growth. Blue Fish is pure style driven by joyful experiment and discovery. Increased feelings of pleasure and harmony are certain.” ~Excerpt from the 2001 Spring Catalog
It was fairly clear from the very beginning of 2001 that Blue Fish could not possibly last much longer. The shortage of capital in the fall of 2000 had severely impacted the spring calendars. It was necessary for the company to ship goods out weekly in order to make payroll, but the spring goods were months behind schedule, so there was nothing left to ship. Most of the organic jersey and the cotton Lycra made it through production before the shutdown. The hemp did not. Hemp cannot be grown domestically and requires a much longer lead time than domestic fabrics. Several of the other specialty fabrics were left at various stages of production: cut work, sewn goods, or not printed at all. Almost all of these goods had been moved through, either by purchase by private parties, or by a skeleton crew working at Blue Fish. The summer samples were made and the line did go to market. In fact, wholesale orders were being accepted, but the 10 or so sets of samples were the extent of the summer line and only the first pre-production packet was ready for the fall line.
For Spring I there were wholesale line sheets, but Spring II was a copy from the catalog. For the 2 summer deliveries and the planned summer retail product development, there were final pre-production packets. These were line drawings provided by design directly to production to aid in the creation of the samples. For Fall (Transition is Fall I), there were the initial pre-production packets. Winter was never more than a sample calendar and a twinkle in Jen’s eye.
Blue Fish Clothing 2000 – Wholesale Line Sheets
“There is power in examination and truth in motion.” ~Excerpt from the 2000 Resort Catalog
The year 2000 was chaos. The most ludicrous things happened. Managers would play out coups and take over entire areas. Calendars would be 4 months behind, and people would shrug their shoulders. An endless game of hide and seek was played with creditors, investors and the lending institution. Upper management would spend the year staving off the bankruptcy court, and searching for investors. There was a shut down in January and February.
Despite all of these setbacks, the company manages to open a lovely little store in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It does terribly for walk-in trade, but a booming phone and mail order business ensues as customers realize that they have the styles that the other stores have sold out! The year 2000 styles are as inspiring and beautiful as any others the company had produced. The 2000 Holiday catalog was shot at the Bethlehem Steel Park. The catalog is the most fascinating and aesthetically pleasing effort of all the company’s catalogs. The black and white shots of the steel plant are incredulously beautiful.
There are wholesale line sheets for only the spring and summer of this year. There are copies of the Holiday, Winter, and Resort catalogs.
Blue Fish Clothing 1999 – Wholesale Line Sheets
“Speak to the Earth in a language beyond words…Your Actions.” ~Excerpt from the 1999 Summer Catalog
In spring of 1999, Blue Fish went through an upheaval. A new investor to the company, came in, and began changing everything. Two weeks later, the investor changed his mind and left. Jeff, who had left when the investor came in, came back for a short amount of time. Everyone felt like there was no direction; no one at the wheel. The company had condensed back into the 6th Street Building, leaving the leased space at Birum. Leslie Holzman, designer had left the company. By summer, the SoHo store had closed. Towards the end of the year, Bob Salerno was hired as an acting part-time CEO. Blue Fish declared bankruptcy in November of 1999. A series of cut-backs would continue from 1999 to 2000. The turn-over in management and structure, especially in the sales management would also continue. The year also saw success with the opening of the Doyleston store, which quickly grew to make a profit and was the most economical store opening in Blue Fish history.
The season codes in 1999 ran “A” through “R” with no basic lines and no resort line. All of the wholesale styles were represented on the wholesale line sheets and the catalogs.
Blue Fish Clothing 1998 – Wholesale Line Sheets
“We are inspired by the growing deep expansive & timeless Stories.” ~Excerpt from the 1998 Spring Catalog
1998 was missing half of the year! No Blue Fish line sheets for Fall and Winter can be found!
Plans to move to a new facility in Palmer Township, Pennsylvania in 1998 did not happen. By the end of the year, things had started to get pretty bad financially. The search for investors ensued as the company was losing money. Jeff Haims as appointed CEO after Marc Wallach’s contract ran out in the spring. The last official report received by shareholders was in November of 1998 enclosed with the invitation to the stockholders’ meeting.
The style number structure set up in the fall of 1997 remained until the company’s closing in 2001; however, the season codes were constantly fluctuating, and were not consistent from year-to-year. In 1998, seasons “A” through “K” changed to represent the spring through resort styles. Numerals were used to represent basic line, which were shipped over more than one season. So was the basic line for Spring 2, Summer, etc.
Blue Fish Clothing 1997 – Wholesale Line Sheets
“We are all beautiful when we believe in ourselves.” ~Excerpt from the 1997 Fall Catalog
Blue Fish raised about 3 million dollars through a direct public offering. The influx of money was spent poorly and exceeded the 3 million dollars raised. A tremendous sum of money was spent on outside consultants. The oversized and poorly located SoHo store; the hiring of a high-end national sales manager, who required a personal company vehicle, and a $5,000 custom made desk; high turnover in sales, production, and management; and the purchase of a ridiculously over-priced software system for wholesale and production tracking were all decisions based on the recommendations of the consultant groups. The short and the long of it is that ‘heads swelled’ and the company got ‘too big for its britches.’
A new computer system meant new style numbers! In the fall of 1997, Blue Fish switched to a 9-digit style number. The first 3 digits represented the pattern number, carried over from previous years where appropriate. The fourth digit represented the season code, numerical as before, so that 5 and 6 were the fall deliveries, and 7 and 8 were the holiday deliveries; however, a “C” was added for the fall basic line, which shipped over both fall deliveries, and a “D” for the holiday basic line, which was shipped over both holiday/winter deliveries. A season code of 0 was added for the Voyager line, which was resort. The fifth digit represented the year, for example 7 for 1997. The sixth and seventh digits together represented the fabrication. “OJ” is organic jersey, “CC” is cotton cashmere, “DN” is denim, etc. The eighth digit represented the technique – as before a” P” for printed, an “S” for solid, or a “T” for patched. The ninth and final digit was the “F” that no one really understood, still hanging on from the prior system. Occasionally a “B” is seen in this spot indicating it is a basic style, or not part of the collection, or an “N” for a Nordstrom or a Neiman Marcus special, an “S” for a special project, a “D” (much later) for a discount line (like a special production for F&F), or more common, the “R” for retail only line.
Jeff Haims, who worked previously with the company as a member of the Apparel Resource Group, took on the role of Men’s Designer and designed a fabulous men’s line, which made it to market, but never succeeding for numerous reasons. In fall of 1997, a toned down men’s retail product development line was released. It was exceptional, but had a high price point that made it unpopular in the store. Some treasured main blocks featured in this line would rarely show up again – a motorcycle, airplane, and an unusual fish among them. A second small retail product development line for men also appeared in the catalog of spring of 1998.
Blue Fish Clothing 1996 – Wholesale Line Sheets
“I grew up on a small farm in Pennsylvania. I can remember dyeing (the very clothes that I was wearing) with purple mulberries, painting my face with the soft dust from the colored rocks in the stream. Making brilliant green “witches brew” in a huge cauldron using walnuts and flowers and sticks. I believe that is where my imagination developed. The elements of nature are endlessly and incredibly inspiring, and I hope that each one of us can find certain moments to appreciate and honor the natural world which exists around us all, everywhere.” ~Excerpt from the 1996 Summer Catalog
This was a great year! The designs were distinctively different from other clothing, the colors were rich and the inspiration was deep and creative. There were remarkable fabrications, rich velvet and slinky acetate. We had an exceptional public relations manager through these years, which is why great news about Blue Fish appears in the press. There were also pieces of Blue Fish being worn by celebrities in public, and Jen was featured on several talk shows.
In 1996, Blue Fish initiated a direct public offering [DPO] that would complete in 1997. This had always come easily for the company up until this point, but the DPO did not come easily. The Securities and Exchanges Commission [SEC] place extra-ordinary restrictions on DPO’s and the Blue Fish stock was considered high-risk penny stock. It was a struggle for the creative, art-focused members of Blue Fish to put together the SEC approved prospectus. Worse yet, the sale of stock did not come easily. About six months in, the realization that if the minimum stock offering did not sell, all the money would have to be returned and all concerned would be in serious trouble! There was a tremendous pooling of effort to publicize the offering. We participated in follow-up call-a-thons to people who had received prospectuses, but had not yet purchased stock. The result of which was amazing as the demand exceeded the supply, and the day that the stock went public on the summer of 1997, its market value doubled the par of $5! Over the next couple of months, it gradually fell back down to hover around $6.
The previous 7 digit SKU (style number) remained through 1996. The first letter represents the season in which the style is being offered. Early spring is season 1 through the winter line, which was season 8. The next digit of the SKU identifies the fabrication. “O” is 100% certified organic cotton jersey, “L” is cotton Lycra, and “G” is velvet knit. The third digit identifies when the style is printed (P), solid(S), or patched (T). The next three digits are known as the pattern number. The idea was that these 3 digits would remain the same across seasons, fabrication, and techniques (printed/solid/patched). The seventh digit was made “F” for finished goods, but the original intent of this digit was immediately lost. In the next couple of years, it would be used to differentiate between the regular collection (F), retail only goods (R), special lines (S), and basic goods (B).