Jockey International, Inc. History

2300 60th Street
Kenosha, Wisconsin 53140

Telephone: (262) 658-8111
Fax: (262) 658-0036

Private Company
Incorporated: 1876 as S.T. Cooper & Sons
Employees: 5,400
Sales: $545.5 million (1998 est.)
NAIC: 315192 Underwear and Nightwear Knitting Mills; 315221 Men's and Boys' Cut and Sew Underwear and Nightwear Manufacturing; 315231 Women's and Girls' Cut and Sew Lingerie, Loungewear, and Nightwear Manufacturing

Company Perspectives:

As an equal opportunity employer, we are committed to diversity in the workplace. For more than 120 years, our employees have enjoyed the camaraderie and close-knit work environment which Jockey International, Inc. affords as a privately held company. We encourage growth and achievement at our company because we know that our employees are the company. Employee initiative, enthusiasm and teamwork have built our international reputation for service and product excellence. Key Dates:

Key Dates:

Samuel T. Cooper purchases six hand-operated knitting machines and with his sons founds S.T. Cooper & Sons, a hosiery manufacturer located in Ludington, Michigan.

Company relocates to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and changes its name to Cooper's Underwear Company.
Cooper's undertakes the first national advertising campaign for a line of men's underwear with an ad in the Saturday Evening Post.
The Jockey brand is first used for a one-piece garment called the 'Jockey Singleton.'
Cooper's designs and introduces a new underwear style, the brief.
Company presents the first underwear fashion show at an industry convention.
Cooper's begins to use radio advertising to push its products; the company also moves toward the positioning of its products as fashion items with a line of underwear decorated with novelty prints.
Company begins to promote underwear as a gift item by packaging its products in a special Christmas box.
Television advertising is added, with the first spots airing on NBC's 'Home Show.'
Harry Wolf, a company consultant, purchases Cooper's.
Company is reincorporated as Jockey International, Inc.
Wolf dies and ownership passes to his three children; Donna Wolf Steigerwaldt holds controlling interest and becomes chair and CEO.
Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer becomes sole spokesperson for the company.
The Jockey for Her line of cotton panties is introduced.
Company establishes its own in-house advertising agency.
Company purchases Nantucket Mills, a hosiery manufacturer.
Steigerwaldt buys out her sister's share to become sole owner of Jockey.
Jockey begins making and marketing a Tommy Hilfiger line of underwear.
Edward C. Emma is named president and COO.
The men's and women's divisions are consolidated into a single unit called Jockey Brand; the Jockey for Her label is replaced by Jockey Intimates; the 'Let 'em know you're Jockey' ad campaign is launched.
Under a license agreement, Jockey launches Liz Claiborne Intimates, a line of bras, panties, daywear, foundations, and related accessories.

Company History:

Jockey International, Inc. is one of the oldest and best-known U.S. underwear manufacturers. The company markets a broad range of underwear for men, women, and children, along with related products. Its products are primarily sold under the flagship Jockey brand, but the company also produces products under license agreements, such as those with Tommy Hilfiger and Liz Claiborne. Jockey International's manufacturing facilities include about a dozen plants in Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, the United Kingdom, and the southern United States, and it licenses and distributes its products in more than 120 countries worldwide. Within the United States, the Jockey brand is distributed through more than 14,000 department and specialty stores. Privately owned since its inception, Jockey began by making socks and branched out to make innovative designs in men's underwear, pioneering the marketing of the brief.

Early History

Jockey got its start in 1876, when Samuel T. Cooper purchased six hand-operated knitting machines. Along with his sons Charles, Henry, and Willis, he used this equipment to found S.T. Cooper & Sons, a hosiery manufacturer located in the small town of Ludington, Michigan. Cooper sold heavy wool socks to general stores, which in turn sold them to customers.

Cooper soon expanded its line from wool socks to men's underwear, adding union suits, the only men's underwear then manufactured. The union suit was a long-sleeved, long-legged knit garment that buttoned up the front. At the turn of the century, Cooper moved its operations from Ludington, Michigan, to the slightly larger town of Kenosha, Wisconsin, which became its headquarters. In addition Cooper changed its name to Cooper's Underwear Company. In 1910, Cooper's introduced a new design for its union suits which eliminated the need for buttons down their fronts. The 'Kenosha Klosed Krotch' consisted of two overlapping pieces of fabric that could be drawn apart to create an opening. Cooper's patented this design innovation, and trademarked the 'Kenosha' name.

In the following year, Cooper's undertook the first national advertising campaign for a line of men's underwear when it took out an ad in the Saturday Evening Post. The company hired a well-known illustrator named Leyendecker for the magazine to produce a series of color renderings of Cooper's products. The first of these promotional spots ran in the May 6, 1911, edition of the journal. Three years later, a Leyendecker rendering of a 'man on the bag' became a staple of the Cooper's brand identity.

With the entry of the United States into World War I, large numbers of men were inducted into the armed services for the first time in a generation. In the army, servicemen were given woven shorts to wear as underwear in the summer, as opposed to the long johns typically worn in civilian life. After the war ended in 1918, many demobilized soldiers continued to prefer the greater comfort and convenience of boxer shorts, shunning the union suit. By the early 1920s, the more traditional kind of garment had fallen into disfavor. Despite this decline in popularity, Cooper's did not dramatically change its product offerings throughout the 1920s. In 1926, the company briefly changed its name to Cooper's, Inc., and two years later, Cooper's created an export department to facilitate the eventual marketing of its products outside the United States.

1930s and Early 1940s: Jockeys and Briefs

At the end of the decade, Cooper's introduced a new product line, a variation on the union suit called the 'Jockey Singleton.' This sleeveless, one-piece garment was made of Durene yarn, and came only to the knees. The company called the snug-fitting underwear 'Jockey' to suggest athleticism and flexibility. Cooper's trademarked this name and the construction of the garment, and sold a high volume of this product throughout the 1930s. Three years after the introduction of the singleton, Cooper's rolled out another new product line when it began to sell knit pajamas. In 1934, Cooper's expanded its line of knit products once again, when it started marketing knit sports shirts to retailers.

In 1934, Cooper's made its most important innovation in underwear when it designed the brief. This idea came about after a senior vice-president of Cooper's saw a picture of men on the French Riviera wearing a new type of bathing suit. He saw this garment as a potential prototype for a new kind of men's support underwear. In September 1934, Cooper's produced an experimental prototype, brief style #1001. In response to its introduction, competitors labeled the new underwear style a fad. On January 19, 1935, Marshall Field and Company, the premier Chicago department store, unveiled a window display featuring the new brief. On that day, Chicago was experiencing a severe blizzard, and the skimpy men's underwear in the window made a stark contrast to the wintry conditions outside. Under these circumstances, Marshall Field's managers gave the order to take the brief out of the window display. When the workers who were to carry out this order were delayed, however, the new underwear style stayed on display, and prompted an unexpected surge of demand for the product. More than 600 briefs were sold before noon, at a price of 50 cents apiece.

The brief's popularity remained strong in the following days. Over the next week, more than 12,000 of the new underwear style were sold. In its first three months of sales, Marshall Field's rang up more than 30,000 pairs of the red-hot item. With this runaway success, the brief garnered widespread attention in the underwear industry. In August 1935, Cooper's Underwear Company received a patent on the construction principles of the Y-front brief from the U.S. Patent Office.

Building on the strength of its new underwear style, Cooper's introduced another new line in 1935, when it began to sell a Junior set of products for boys. The first items offered were a brief and an athletic shirt. Cooper's also became the first company to sell men's underwear in packages in that year. In 1936, Cooper's began to market its products outside the United States for the first time when it signed a contract for a Canadian firm to manufacture and sell its styles under license. In an effort to further enhance the sales of its brief, Cooper also unrolled an advertising campaign designed to point out the disadvantages of boxer shorts. Called the 'stop squirming' promotion, this campaign went on to win awards in its field.

Following these efforts, Cooper's in 1937 brought a greater degree of structure to the retail underwear business. In that year, the company introduced a model program for retailers to use in controlling their inventory of Cooper's underwear products, and also produced a manual called 'New Era for Underwear Selling' that was designed to instruct retailers in the most effective marketing of Cooper's wares. In addition, the company began to offer special mannequins for use in displaying Cooper's products in stores.

Cooper's move toward greater retailing sophistication continued in February 1938, when the company mounted an innovative display at the National Association of Retail Clothiers and Furnishers Convention in Chicago. The company presented the first underwear fashion show, which it called the 'Cellophane Wedding.' The display consisted of a male and female model, each dressed in evening clothes, as if for a wedding. The trick to the display, however, was that half of the man's coat and pants, and half of the woman's gown, were made of cellophane, displaying the couple's underwear underneath. The woman wore fashionable undergarments of the day, and the man wore a brief and a t-shirt. This fashion show caused a sensation at the convention, and pictures of the couple appeared in every major newspaper and magazine, winning Cooper's a bonanza of free publicity.

Also in 1938, Cooper's introduced another promotional device, the Jockey hip tape. This was used to insure a proper fit for underwear. The company received its second patent on the brief, this one for the 'Classic' style #1007, with Y-front construction, on January 2, 1938.

In the following year, Cooper's enhanced its display systems for retailers when it designed a table-top dispenser for its products that customers could use themselves. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Cooper's also employed a number of sports celebrities to endorse its products, including Babe Ruth, Yogi Berra, Bart Starr, and others. As the 1940s began, Cooper's also introduced a new trademark, the Jockey Boy statue, which it used to differentiate its products from those of its competitors.

To reinforce the consistent impression made by the Jockey Boy trademark, Cooper's introduced a slide and sound film on how to sell underwear in 1941. At the end of that year, the United States entered World War II, and Cooper's, like the rest of the country's industry, switched over to wartime production. The company manufactured flare parachutes and underwear for the armed forces for the duration of the war.

Rapid Postwar Expansion

At the cessation of hostilities, the U.S. economy entered a period of rapid expansion. In order to help its market share grow, Cooper's began to use radio advertising to push its products in selected major cities in 1948. That year, the company also came up with a new way to make its briefs appealing to customers, when it began offering underwear made out of fabrics that had been decorated with novelty prints. These promotions went under the name 'fancy pants.' By 1953, Cooper's had expanded its 'fancy pants' line by adding its most popular item, animal prints. Among the animal skin designs were leopard, tiger, and zebra.

Cooper's also expanded its line of non-underwear products in 1950, when it began to offer men's sportswear. Two years later, the company began to market products for women for the first time, introducing a feminine version of the Jockey short called the 'Jockette.' The company also stepped up its efforts to sell underwear for boys, taking out advertisements for its Jockey Junior line in Parent's Magazine. In a further promotional effort, Cooper's produced two new training tools for salespeople, how-to films entitled 'All I Can Do' and 'The Big Little Things.'

Also in 1953, Cooper's introduced a new fabric which, like the design for the brief, had originated in France. Called 'tricot,' the French word for 'knit,' this material was originally made of pure silk thread, knitted into a soft, supple fabric. Cooper's adapted this substance for the U.S. market, manufacturing tricot out of nylon. In addition, the company moved beyond basic white, offering products made of tricot in a full range of colors.

With the introduction of animal prints and colored tricot underwear, Cooper's moved away from the conception of underwear as a plain, functional item toward a conception of its product as a fashion item, with style and novelty value that extended beyond its basic utility. This process continued in 1954, when the company began to promote underwear as a gift item, packaging its products in a special Christmas box. This trend was expanded to a second holiday in the following year, when Cooper's introduced a special fashion brief as part of a Valentine's Day promotion.

In the following year, Cooper's again expanded the number of fabrics out of which its products were sewn when the company began to offer a line of woven boxer shorts. The company also took another step in its promotional efforts, when it began to advertise underwear on television, running spots on NBC's 'Home Show.' In addition to these advances, Cooper's notched yet another patent in its field after it developed a unisized hosiery package.

In 1957, Cooper's continued its promotional innovations when it proclaimed the first 'National Long Underwear Week.' In a further effort in this area, the company became a sponsor of the 'Jack Parr Show' on NBC, which later became known as the 'Tonight Show.' Two years later, Cooper's scored another underwear fad when it introduced 'Skants,' smaller cut briefs with a no-fly front. In addition, the company extended its line of sportswear and also began to sell men's hosiery, returning to its original roots as a sock manufacturer.

In the 1960s, Cooper's continued to adjust the design of its products to keep pace with current trends in fashion. In general, the company's knit and woven underwear became shorter, tighter fitting, and were offered in more bright colors and patterns. Despite the broad variety of offerings, however, 97 percent of the company's sales still came from white underwear. In 1964, Cooper's rolled out 'Life,' a Lo Rise fashion underwear collection. At the same time, the company began to make its products out of Suprel, a trade name for a blend of polyester and combed cotton.

In the late 1960s, Cooper's returned to its earlier practice of using sports stars and other celebrities to endorse its products. The company's new line of golf sportswear, for instance, was promoted by Bert Yancey and Tom Weiskopf, and ads for Jockey brand products were run on the 'Wide World of Sports' television program. For these efforts, Cooper's was named 'Brand Names Manufacturer of the Year' in 1969.

1970s and 1980s: New Ownership, Jim Palmer, and Jockey for Her

Three years later, the Cooper's Underwear Company was purchased by Harry Wolf, who had previously worked as a consultant to the company. At that time, the company was renamed for its trademark, which Cooper's had promoted aggressively over the decades. On May 1, 1972, the company was reincorporated under the new name Jockey International, Inc. In the following year, Jockey expanded its product line further by merging two similar categories of garment, the bathing suit and the brief, into a product called the 'DP.' In 1974, the company took another step away from strict utility and toward fashion when it hired a New York designer, Alexander Sheilds, to design its sportswear.

When Wolf died in 1978, ownership of Jockey passed on to his three children. Within five years, Wolf's son sold his interest in the firm to his sisters, and Donna Wolf Steigerwaldt, who held a controlling interest in the company, became chair and chief executive officer of Jockey.

Jockey's promotional efforts received a big boost in 1980, when the company selected Jim Palmer, a handsome pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles and an experienced Jockey model, to be sole spokesperson. The image of Palmer wearing a Jockey 'Elance' brief became so popular that it was manufactured and distributed as a poster. In 1982, Jockey stepped up its marketing of women's underwear, when it rolled out a new 'Jockey for Her' line of cotton panties at a formal fashion show in New York. The company launched the line with three styles, and soon added fashion colors and stripes, and matching tops. Two years later, Jockey added a fourth style, the 'French Cut' brief, and in 1985 a line of 'Queen Size' underwear for taller and larger women.

Also in 1985, Jockey established its own in-house advertising agency to handle all of its promotional campaigns and marketing activities. In that year, the company began to feature 'real people,' such as a construction worker, an executive vice-president, and a mother, in its advertising, a strategy that won Jockey praise from women's groups.

Three years later, Jockey purchased Nantucket Mills, a hosiery manufacturer. Following this acquisition, the company began to market 'Sheer & Comfortable,' a collection of women's hosiery with four styles. This line was soon expanded to include 'Sheerest Ever' and 'Ultra Sheer' products. To promote its hosiery products, the company sponsored a nationwide 'Legs Search' for real people to model its stockings.

1990s and Beyond

Jockey continued to expand its line of product offerings in the early 1990s, adding new styles and fabrics, as well as related products, such as socks. In 1993 Donna Wolf Steigerwaldt bought out her sister's share of Jockey, and so became its sole owner. That year, and continuing into 1994, the company also worked to address the problem of excess capacity in its manufacturing operations through plant closings. Four U.S. manufacturing plants were closed, including its last factory in Wisconsin. A distribution center in Kenosha was also shuttered, leaving only the corporate headquarters in the town. Nearly 1,000 jobs were eliminated from the company workforce in connection with these closures. These moves culminated a several years long shift of production to lower-wage areas in the southern United States and in offshore areas in Central America and the Caribbean.

In mid-1994 Jockey began manufacturing and marketing, through a license agreement, a new line of underwear under the Tommy Hilfiger brand. The line consisted of cotton briefs, cotton boxer shorts, athletic boxer shorts, and knit boxer shorts. It proved successful enough that the original three-year deal was extended in 1997.

In May 1995 Edward C. Emma was named managing director and chief operating officer of Jockey International, assuming responsibility for the company's day-to-day operations. He replaced Thomas J. Bienemann, who had been hired in 1993 to lead the downsizing and restructuring effort. Emma joined Jockey in 1990 as director of the Jockey Menswear division, then was promoted to senior vice-president of retail operations in 1993. In the latter post Emma spearheaded the opening of 37 Jockey retail and manufacturer's outlet stores, a move intended to counter the increasingly difficult task of selling underwear and related items through department stores. In October 1995 Emma was promoted to president and COO. In January of the following year the company reorganized its operations into five independent units--men's, women's, special markets, retail, and international--each of which had its own president reporting to Emma.

In late 1996 Jockey announced that it would purchase from Courtaulds Textiles a long-running licensee operation in the United Kingdom, which manufactured Jockey brand underwear at a plant in northern England and distributed the products in the United Kingdom and Scandinavia. Jockey made another purchase in early 1997 with the acquisition of the Formfit seamless panties division of I. Appel Corp. In mid-1997 Jockey entered into another licensing agreement, this one with Russell Corporation for the launch of a line of sports underwear for the mass market called Jerzees Sport.

Further reorganizing came in early 1998 when the company consolidated its men's and women's divisions into a single unit called Jockey Brand. At the same time, the company gradually began to phase out the Jockey for Her label in favor of Jockey Intimates, paralleling the Jockey Men's appellation. With designer brands grabbing increasing shares of the underwear market, and with the company fighting an image as an old-fashioned, uptight maker of white underwear, Jockey aimed to capture younger consumers while keeping its longstanding customers through the introduction of new, more fashionable products and a hipper marketing campaign. In March 1998 Jockey, with the help of its new ad agency, Grey Advertising, launched a campaign dubbed 'Let 'em know you're Jockey.' Among the products pushed were a new line called Jockey Sport featuring such items as boxer briefs in bright colors. In the ads, male and female models dropped their trousers to show the world that they proudly wear Jockey underwear. David Drescher, vice-president for marketing and advertising, told the New York Times, 'We want to spark Jockey with a new spirit, breathe new life into the Jockey name, get Jockey talked about.' The campaign was the subject of much media attention.

In addition to its new ad campaign, Jockey International also worked to expand through licensing agreements. Most notable was an agreement with Liz Claiborne whereby Jockey would make and market bras, panties, daywear, foundations, and related accessories under a new brand called Liz Claiborne Intimates, which was launched in early 2000. This was Jockey's first license in women's wear. Other turn of the millennium initiatives included the launching in the spring of 1999 of the first line of Jockey bras, an increased use of outside sourcing, and the shift of more operations offshore, specifically packaging facilities.

Principal Competitors: Calvin Klein Inc.; Danskin, Inc.; Donnkenny, Inc.; Fruit of the Loom, Ltd.; Oneita Industries, Inc.; Sara Lee Corporation; Tultex Corporation.

Further Reading:

  • Abend, Jules, 'Jockey Colors Its World,' Bobbin, February 1999, pp. 50-54.
  • Backmann, Dave, 'Emma, 40, Named to Lead Jockey,' Kenosha News, May 16, 1995, p. 1.
  • ------, 'Jockey in National Spotlight,' Kenosha News, March 5, 1998, p. C6.
  • ------, 'Jockey Park Dedicated: Time Capsule Buried During Ceremony,' Kenosha News, May 22, 1993.
  • Elliott, Stuart, 'Jockey Tries to Update the Image of Its Underwear Line,' New York Times, March 4, 1998, p. D6.
  • Feitelberg, Rosemary, 'Jockey Revamp Splits It into Five Separate Firms,' Women's Wear Daily, October 9, 1995, p. 11.
  • Friedman, Arthur, 'Liz Claiborne, Jockey Sign Pact for Innerwear,' Women's Wear Daily, September 24, 1998, p. 4.
  • Gray, Jacquelyn, 'Jockey: Kenosha Firm's History Makes a Splash in New York, Milwaukee Journal, June 21, 1992, p. G6.
  • Guilford, Roxanna, 'Understanding the Challenges of Underwear,' Apparel Industry Magazine, November 1999, pp. 50, 52-53.
  • Hajewski, Doris, 'In Brief, Jockey Aims for Fun,' Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 5, 1998, p. 1.
  • Hart, Elena, 'Hilfiger Launches Ad Campaign and New Underwear Collection: Line Is Licensed to Jockey International, Daily News Record, June 28, 1994, p. 8.
  • ------, 'Tommy Hilfiger Licenses Jockey for Underwear Line for '94,' Daily News Record, September 22, 1993, pp. 2+.
  • 'In This Suit, Lawyers Will Argue About Briefs,' New York Times, June 3, 1993, p. D4.
  • 'Jockey's Field Is Widening in Merchandise Mix,' Daily News Record, March 17, 1989, p. 7.
  • Lloyd, Brenda, 'Jerzees--Labeled for Undercover Action: Jockey Licenses Russell's Brand for Sports Briefs Line,' Daily News Record, June 30, 1997, p. 12.
  • McKinney, Melonee, 'Jockey Gallops into Global Marketing: Company Also Set to Battle Designer Lines As Level of Underwear Fashions Rise,' Daily News Record, January 16, 1998, pp. 4+.
  • Monget, Karyn, 'Jockey Acquires Appel's Formfit Seamless Panties,' Women's Wear Daily, January 8, 1997, p. 23.
  • ------, 'Jockey Sizes Up a New Line of Bras,' Women's Wear Daily, March 8, 1999, p. 28.
  • Munde, Jeannine, 'Jockey's Golden Success Story: The Cotton Brief,' Daily News Record, September 17, 1984, p. 8.
  • Palumbo, Sandra, 'Women's Line Is Blooming for Jockey As Division Builds Toward 40% of Firm,' Women's Wear Daily, February 12, 1987, pp. 10+.
  • Parr, Jan, 'The Woman's Touch,' Forbes, October 27, 1986, pp. 332+.
  • Sandler, Larry, 'Jockey Will Close Plant in Kenosha,' Milwaukee Sentinel, October 23, 1993, p. 1A.
  • Sharoff, Robert, 'Jockey Gallops into Mass Market Riding New Brands,' Daily News Record, December 17, 1990, pp. 18+.
  • Smarr, Susan L., 'Chairman Holds a Steady Rein,' Bobbin, September 1988, pp. 178+.
  • ------, 'Thoroughbred Takes Jockey to the Winner's Circle,' Bobbin, September 1988, pp. 170+.
  • 'Why Jockey Switched Its Ads from TV to Print,' Business Week, July 26, 1976, p. 140.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 34. St. James Press, 2000.