Cam Newton, Belk launch men’s clothing line

Panthers QB adds clothing to list of off-field dealings

elyportillo@charlotteobserver.comOctober 9, 2012 

Carolina Panthers star quarterback Cam Newton might be struggling on the field this season, but Monday he notched another victory in the merchandise arena, scoring a deal to produce a men’s clothing collection with Charlotte-based Belk Inc.

The exclusive line will be called MADE Cam Newton, and is the athlete’s first foray into clothing. Belk will start selling clothing from the MADE line in 133 stores in February or March, and will add accessories next fall.

The clothing line will join Belk’s 20 private brands. Department stores use exclusive deals with designers and celebrities, such as Jennifer Lopez’s line at Kohl’s, to differentiate their offerings and lure consumers with merchandise their competitors can’t offer.

“One of the ways we’ll secure growth is through private brands,” said Belk president Kathryn Bufano. She said Belk anticipates exclusive private lines will soon make up more than 30 percent of the company’s sales, a number she said Belk is already close to reaching. And while the MADE line will be limited to men’s apparel and accessories at first, Bufano said the company will also consider adding areas such as children’s clothing and women’s watches under the “Cam Newton umbrella.”

Men’s goods made up 18 percent of Belk’s $868 million worth of sales in its most recent quarter, the retailer reported. That’s up from 17 percent in the same period a year ago. Women’s remained Belk’s top category, at 38 percent, followed by cosmetics, shoes and accessories, at 31 percent.

Belk started sponsoring the Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium in 2011, signing on for three years as the title sponsor. The annual NCAA football postseason match-up game was known as the Meineke Car Care Bowl before that.

Belk operates 302 stores in 16 states, most of them in the Southeast. The company reported a $27.4 million profit in its most recent quarter, up nearly 10 percent from the same period last year.

Since his breakout AP Offensive Rookie of the Year season last year, Newton has landed endorsement deals with Under Armour and Gatorade, and is also a pitchman for Carolinas HealthCare System’s “Take the Ball” initiative to promote healthy living.

Monday’s announcement, at Belk headquarters on West Tyvola Road, came after Sunday’s 16-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, which dropped the Panthers to 1-4 on the season. But Newton told the Observer he isn’t concerned that his football performance could hurt his business performance.

“Without football success, I wouldn’t have this opportunity,” Newton said. “That will always be my No. 1 priority. ... I still feel 100 percent confident our goals are in reach.”

Newton and Belk started working together in the offseason, Newton said.

“This whole fashion ordeal is … something I’ve never done before,” he said. “They did an unbelievable job of taking my ideas and my fashion and making it a brand.”

But is Newton ready to call himself a full-fledged fashion designer? “The competitor in me wants to say yes, but I’m going to say no,” he said.

Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo

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