Coach started out as a family owned business in 1941 and was located in a workshop in a loft on the edge of Manhattan's garment district. In the beginning, with just six leather artisans who made handcrafted billfolds, wallets, and other leather goods, the company barely made a profit.
In 1946, inspired by the distinctive properties of the leather used to make baseball gloves, an employee named Miles Cahn, noticed how the glove's leather became softer as the glove got more use. After refining the leather finish, making it softer and stronger.
By the early 1950's, Cahn was running the company, which was still making billfolds and wallets, producing small profits. In 1961, after more than a decade of running the leather workshop, Cahn and his wife, Lillian, took out a loan and bought the company.
At Lillian's suggestion, a number of women's handbags were designed and given the brand name Coach. The handbags were made of sturdy cowhide instead of the thin leather pasted over cardboard that was used for most women's handbags at the time. With this innovation, Coach made it's entry into the market of luxury women's handbags.
Coach soon attracted customers who were looking for high quality merchandise. Since the beginning, Coach has continued to make innovations in it's leather finishes and over the years, has added a multitude of new shapes, styles and materials.
With the changing trends of the 1960's, Coach introduced models in their handbag collections that were trendier, such as the fringe and bucket bags. The company also manufactured bags in as assortment of styles and colors that were still elegant and of very high quality.
During the late 1970's and early 1980's, Coach grew to such heights that it took steps to diversify its channels of distribution, starting a mail-order business and opening its own specialty stores. Sales of Coach products grew steadily throughout this period, until demand began to outstrip supply. Department stores were selling all the Coach bags that the company could produce, and became necessary to ration the products to various vendors.
In 1983 the Cahns purchased a 300-acre dairy farm in Vermont as a weekend diversion from their business in New York. Although the property was intended to provide a retirement destination, the Cahns began to raise goats and market goat cheese under the brand name "Coach Farms" shortly after buying the farm.
In 1985, the Cahns decided to sell Coach. They made an agreement with the Sara Lee Corporation which took control of the company's factory, its six boutiques, and its flagship store on Madison Avenue in New York.
Lew Frankfort, vice-president of business development, was named Coach's new president. He set about making a rapid expansion by adding new products to the Coach name. Coach added new styles of handbags and updated it's classic lines.
In 1986, new boutiques were opened in Macy's stores in New York and San Francisco, Denver and Seattle. In addition, Coach opened its own stores in malls in New York, New Jersey, Texas, and California. By November, the company was operating 12 stores, along with 50 boutiques within larger department stores.
Coach launched it's Lightweights line of products, which featured lighter weight leather and bags with new shapes that enlarged it's customer base by appealing to women who lived in the south and west. The Lightweights line featured handbags in smaller sizes, for ease of access, and lighter spring colors, such as taupe, light brown, and navy.
By the end of 1987, Coach had nearly doubled its revenues, despite its reduction of retailers and the increase in the price of leather. In December 1987, Coach opened a new flagship store on Madison Avenue, in New York.
Although the traditional line and the Lightweights products were emphasized, Coach further expanded its offerings to include more business items for men and women. Among the new products were briefcases, wallets, and diaries.
Coach released it's first nonleather product, silk scarves, in 1988, which sold in four designs that related to leather goods to complement other Coach products and the company expanded internationally by opening boutiques in England and Japan that carried a full line of Coach products.
In 1990, Coach won a suit in federal court against several of it's competitors for infringement of the company's trademarked unique shapes and styles. Coach saw it's sales continue to grow during the 1990's as it continued to broaden it's line of products and it introduced more fashionable colors to it's current product lines, especially in it's women's collections.
By 1991, more stores were opened in Germany, Singapore, and Taiwan. The company's Asian push was due to the popularity of Coach goods with Asian tourists in the United States and by the belief that the company's understated style, lacking in logos or obvious status symbols, was beginning to supplant the vogue for flashy designer goods.
Coach also began selling of goods for men that included suspenders and socks. It opened two Coach for Business stores, which were devoted specifically to products for men, on Madison Avenue in Manhattan and in Boston. To further exploit the appeal of the Coach brand name, the company added gift items, including picture frames and belts.
Coach also launched five new styles for men and women, made of soft, waterproof leather. As Coach broadened its product offerings, it also broadened the variety of its handbags as the company moved away from dark, staid colors to brightly hued bags.
In 1994, Coach opened a new flagship store in New York City and the following year it expanded its product line with the launch of the Sonoma collection, which included handbags, backpacks, wallets, and belts featuring relaxed styling and suede and textured leathers.
In June 1996, Coach opened its Pacific Rim flagship store in Waikiki, Hawaii which was a way of promoting the brand to Asian tourists. In 1997, Coach signed it's first licensing agreement by allowing its name to be used by the Movado Group on a line of watches.
In 1998 a Coach leather phone case was introduced through a licensing deal with Motorola, Inc., and in 1999, a line of premium furniture bearing the Coach name was launched through a licensing deal with Baker Furniture Company. Coach introduced its first jewelry collection in a joint effort with Carolee Designs, Inc. in 2001. The silver jewelry collection featured some items that combined silver and leather.
Throughout the years, Coach has maintained the highest standards of workmanship and materials. Now, greatly expanded, Coach is committed to carefully upholding the principles of quality and integrity which made the company great.
Today, Coach is considered a classic part of the landscape of American design. Quality and beauty has become a Coach trademark, especially the perfection of the colors used in it's handbags, clothing, accessories, and other products.
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