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Sleeper Hit

Wearing pajamas isn't just for bedtime and escaped mental patients anymore.

Maybe it's their popularity on TV shows like Will & Grace. Or perhaps people want to make a statement with their funky polka-dot retro PJs. Whatever the reason, novelty pajamas are hot--not only for bedtime, but as fashion for outside the bedroom.

"People are looking for something with whimsy and fantasy to escape the everyday," says Karen Koza, director of marketing at the Apparel and Footwear Association and spokesperson for its Intimate Apparel Council Division.

At the forefront are Jenny Maxwell, 30, and Lynn Deregowski, 29, who in 1998 started The Cat's Pajamas line, which includes a Madison Avenue shopping print and a 1950s backyard BBQ print. They wanted to offer chic and contemporary PJs for people working or lounging at home. Customers made the look their own, however, wearing pajama bottoms--their sushi or cowgirl print, perhaps--with a solid T-shirt or the tops with a pair of jeans as street wear. The craze has boosted the San Francisco entrepreneurs' sales to more than $1 million.

And novelty pajamas aren't a regional trend. East Coasters often don pajamas as beach cover-ups, says Judy Vella, 39, founder of Soul Sister, a 3-year-old company in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. Soul Sister's PJs sport 1950s and '60s graphics ranging from polka dots to Jetsons-inspired stars, and Vella expects sales to rise 25 to 40 percent in 2002.

What to look for next? Koza sees an evolution to more lingerie-type items, like corsets or satiny chemises worn to late-night gatherings. She also predicts feminine styles, lavender pieces and, of course, red-white-and-blue, American-themed pajamas-as-outerwear will be hot. In general, Koza believes more consumers will shop with the idea that typical at-home clothing makes the ultimate fashion statement out on the streets.

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This article was originally published in the July 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Sleeper Hit.

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