- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) Already one of most powerful brands for "tweens," Mary-Kate and Ashley are all about growing older and bigger.
The twin girls turned 16 on Thursday in a year that is expected to see their merchandising and entertainment empire gross $1 billion in sales.
Since making their TV debut as infants on ABC's sitcom "Full House" in the late 198O's, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have transformed themselves into a huge name for the 8-to-12 age group. Videos and games, dolls, books, clothing, accessories and cosmetics are all sold through their Dualstar Entertainment Group.
In July, they will be coming out with a line of teen apparel at Wal-Mart Inc., which already has an arrangement exclusive, for now to sell fashion products such as tween and toddler clothing as well as accessories under the brand.
Mary Kate and Ashley also envision adding women's, infant's and boy's clothing, as well as expanding to such markets as France, Germany, Mexico and Japan. Right now, their goods are selling in Canada and Britain through Wal-Mart's affiliates.
The twins, who reportedly each have a net worth of at least $150 million, are also hoping to resurrect their now-defunct magazine with a new financial backer by mid-2003.
"It is really an infant brand," said Robert Thorne, the chief executive who created Dualstar in 1993 and is the brains behind the Olsens' teen queen status.
Mr. Thorne envisions a global family brand, with 50 percent of its sales coming from outside of the United States and Canada by 2005. The two countries now account for 85 percent of sales.
The twins are also working on developing their movie careers. In January, they signed a deal with Warner Bros. to star in an unnamed big-budget feature film to be released as early as 2003. Mr. Thorne even sees the twins becoming pop-star singers.
At the same time, the Olsens admit there are limits to their exposure.
"We don't want to be too much in their faces. We don't want people to get sick of us," Mary-Kate said in a recent phone interview.
Merchandising experts praise the twins' brand power among their young fans, but believe they may face some challenges in reaching an older crowd, including late teens, as well as males.
Constant reruns of "Full House" and their television movies could hurt efforts to create a more mature image and do boys really want to buy Mary-Kate and Ashley clothes?
Michael Wood, vice president of Teenage Research Unlimited, a market research firm in Northbrook, Ill., wonders whether a brand that now sells fashion and accessories at Wal-Mart can lure very trend-conscious teens away from Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle and Express.
James Bell, senior partner of Lippincott & Margulies, a brand-consulting company, pointed out, "The twins have done a great job in perpetuating their image together as a pair that's wholesome, spunky, athletic, but as they grow up, they become more independent. The challenge is keeping them as a pair."
He added, "They could also turn into people who you find in the National Enquirer."
For now, the Olsens, who split their time between their divorced parents' homes, both in the Los Angeles area, appear to be staying out of trouble. They will be high school juniors this fall and have plans to go to college somewhere in the Northeast. Their dream is to someday direct, continue acting and "somehow keep what we have," Ashley said.


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