California Dreamin’: Q&A With Dreamgirl International's Christopher Scharff

Jared Rutter

Over the past decade Dreamgirl International has soared to the top ranks of lingerie and costume manufacturers, with 15 U.S. sales representatives and 22 international distributors. The company’s ongoing success must be attributed to the leadership of its CEO, Christopher Scharff.

Scharff has fashion in his blood — his mother was a swimwear designer for his father’s company, and he himself has been part of the industry for 30 years. After earning an MBA from UC Berkeley, he moved into executive positions with such well-known firms as BCBG Max Azria, the Movado Group and St. John Knits, before branching out on his own with Dreamgirl. An avid traveler, runner, skier, sailor and ocean swimmer, he lives in West Los Angeles with his wife Andrea, a landscape designer, and a son and daughter. But let’s take him back to the beginning.

[In 2003], Dreamgirl was doing approximately $3 million in annual sales, and was based in Culver City, California, with about 20 employees, in a 10,000-square-foot building. Currently, we are doing over 13 times that amount in annual sales with approximately 200 employees around the world. —Christopher Scharff

What led you to create Dreamgirl?

I acquired Dreamgirl in 2003 from Patricia A. Fischer, who founded it in 1978. At the time, Dreamgirl was doing approximately $3 million in annual sales, and was based in Culver City, California, with about 20 employees, in a 10,000-squarefoot building. Currently, we are doing over 13 times that amount in annual sales with approximately 200 employees around the world.

How did you build the company?

From 2003 to 2007, we expanded by adding sales representatives and international distributors. From 2004, we started expanding our lingerie offerings by creating packaged lingerie with the Dreamgirl Red Diamond collection, which has grown over the years to numerous categories, including Red Diamond (Packaged Lingerie), Black Diamond (Packaged Hosiery/Body Stockings), White Diamond (Bridal/ Nuptials), and Purple Diamond (Clubwear/Dancewear). Our newest introduction is Pink Diamond which features bold innovative graphics of pink diamonds in optic white packaging and contains youthful styled lingerie in great pastel and bright colorations perfect for summer selling.

However, our best product introduction by far is the new Fall/Holiday Collection, which features beautiful lingerie in jewel tones perfect for Fall selling. This permitted Dreamgirl to expand beyond lingerie specialty stores and into adult and video stores. At the same time, the One Size Fits Most Sizing was perfectly tailored to the expansion of Internet selling, which has grown successively in the decade 2003–2013.

Also, at the same time, the Halloween industry has grown rapidly, especially between 2002 and 2010, and Dreamgirl entered the mainstream costume market and began selling to party stores and costume specialty stores. Early on, we garnered a reputation of being design-driven and innovative, which we hold to this day owing to the fact that we have four excellent designers from the nation’s top design schools, along with an industry-leading graphic artist and packaging engineer.

Can you compare the success of your Lingerie Collection to that of your Costume Collection?

The lingerie business is on a real growth trend right now with bookings of 30 percent over last year. It is a strong day-to-day international business, sold through 15 sales representatives and 22 international distributors and can be relied upon for its strong, steady nature.

Costumes is a more cyclical business built around the September/October Halloween retail season. And of course Halloween is more cyclical in nature; when the day of Halloween falls during the weekend, sales tend to outperform sales of Halloween merchandise during the week. At the same time, we have invested and started manufacturing and marketing not only sexy women’s costumes under the Dreamgirl label, but also children’s costumes under the “Sugar Sugar” label (for girls) and “Mischief & Mayhem” (for boys). Currently, lingerie and costume sales are roughly equal in volume.

How do you drive product awareness? Is online presence an important factor?

In terms of product awareness, making sure the trade is well acquainted with our product through producing high-quality catalogs that properly represent each style is extremely important. Also, once the product hits the Internet retailer, excellent imagery and photography is critical, and in a brick-and-mortar retail environment, packaging is a critical component to driving awareness and sales within the stores.

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Any new lines or products?

For the rest of the year, we will continue to work on improving our supply chain in terms of offering retailers an excellent quality value equation. Over the past few years, we have made serious investments in improving our fabrications, quality control and also in terms of the factories we work with. We constantly test our products and also inspect our factories to ensure that we offer excellent quality merchandise that exceeds all government standards and are made under sustainable and socially responsible conditions.

At the same time, we are excited about how well our Fall Holiday Collection is doing, specifically, and how well our new product introductions, including our recent Encore Lingerie Catalog, have done. With a 30-percent increase owing to our improved product design and quality, we are focused on being in a strong in-stock position and doing an excellent job in terms of exceeding retailer expectations with good fill rates.

We are focused on expanding our product lines in terms of a larger Diamond Collection, a larger panty collection with excellent pricing/styling/quality, and also on expanding our Clubwear selection.