CP Shades's David Weinstein Is Cashing in on Color and Comfort—No Haute Couture Need Apply

updated 10/19/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/19/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Eat your heart out, Yves Saint Laurent. Even if they could afford the $5,000 price tag for a designer original—not to mention the dry-cleaning bills—there are a lot of women out there who would rather wear Shades—as in CP Shades, the precocious little San Francisco company that makes colorful, casual, 100 percent cotton clothes that come in a rainbow of colors, go right into the washer and come out as easy-to-wear as when they went in. The price is right too, since $45 (for a T-shirt) to $75 (for a twill jacket) holds no terror for the Guess Generation.

The company's founder is as casual as his line. His bearish build, salt-and-pepper beard and long hair have earned David Weinstein the label "ex-hippie," a designation he accepts with only one reservation. "I don't know about the 'ex' part," he says. But just ask him about his business philosophy, and he begins to sound like Babbitt reborn. "I make clothes in America for Americans," says Weinstein, 40. "This country gives you the opportunity to do whatever you want to do." And there's nothing small-time about CP Shades's headquarters either. A nondescript brick building in San Francisco's warehouse district, it is filled with state-of-the-art, high-tech offices and boasts a computer system so sophisticated that Weinstein can tell at a glance the status of any garment or order in the manufacturing process.

Founded just four years ago, CP Shades ("Shades" derives from the clothing's multiple colors; the "CP" is Weinstein's whim) rang up $38 million in sales last year and expects to top $50 million this year. About 5 percent of that will come from the company's five retail shops (three in California and two in New York) and the rest from upscale department-store chains including Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and I. Magnin. "The concept is what's innovative, not the designs," says Saks's New York fashion director Ellin Saltzman. "All customers buy it, from 16-to 60-year-olds, because it's comfortable clothing."

Unlike many designers who consider their every nip and tuck divinely inspired, Weinstein doesn't regard his T-shirts as benchmarks of genius. After all, he says, there isn't all that much you can do with them. "T-shirts have arms and they are either long sleeve or half sleeve," he says. "And there are only a couple of different kinds of necks that look good on people."

Rather than beginning with a design, Weinstein focuses on fabric. His company starts with white cotton cloth of varying weights and textures. The fabric is then sewn into one of Weinstein's simple designs and dyed to order at factories that work exclusively for him. As a result CP Shades can fill reorder requests from stores within 10 days, a virtually unprecedented turnaround time.

A native New Yorker, Weinstein graduated from the University of Bridgeport with a degree in economics and then went to law school but quit a year short of graduation. In 1972 he moved to San Francisco and with his then-wife, Lea, opened three small jeans stores. When painter's pants became popular, he began dying them colors and eventually expanded into T-shirts and sweatshirts. Then in 1982 Weinstein's suppliers delivered a shipment of shirts that fell apart after being dyed. He phoned his customers, asked that the goods be returned and immediately went into manufacturing himself. Within a year CP Shades was turning a profit.

Though his days as a struggling entrepreneur are long past, Weinstein maintains a hectic work schedule, regularly putting in 12-hour days at the office. Invariably dressed in the informal style to which he hopes his customers are becoming accustomed, he travels between his office and his Sausalito home in either a 1987 red Ferrari convertible or a 1985 Porsche, talking on his car phone to his New York office through the trip. Divorced since 1985, he spends his free time with his children, Sara, 12, and Zack, 7, often at his rustic house on the rugged coast near Big Sur. He also has a house in Malibu and a New York apartment, but Weinstein isn't kidding himself about what he's achieved. "I don't think any of what we do is that unique," he admits. "You're never going to see a silhouette or a style [in our line] that will make you say, 'Wow, look at that.' Pockets, that's the only rule—and comfort."

From Our Partners