Wal-Mart is making another move on young female customers with its recent soft launch of the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen fashion line.

The Mary-Kate and Ashley fashion line, an exclusive to Wal-Mart, is targeted to young girls and 'tweens ages six to 14 for spring, summer and fall 2001, said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Colette Gray. It is the company's second move within the past couple of years to entice the younger female customer. In 1999, the Sasson label, which had been heavily skewed toward juniors, came into the Wal-Mart portfolio - even though Wal-Mart has yet to announce or launch any efforts with the brand.

The company has designed the Olsen line as a fashion-forward offering for girls. Relative to other Wal-Mart brands, Mary-Kate and Ashley will take a little more risk in its styling, although all decisions will keep the tastes of the key, conservative Wal-Mart customer in mind.

The Mary-Kate and Ashley brand isn't simply a celebrity label, Wal-Mart insisted. Dualstar Consumer Products, the brand's merchandise-licensing arm, developed the label with licensing agency The Beanstalk Group. Together, they have placed an emphasis on brand building rather than fan identification. Garner added that Wal-Mart wasn't even counting on the direct support of the Olsen twins in the brand's marketing program.

Wal-Mart's move demonstrates that retailers and vendors recognize how fashion is driving girls' looks rather than character. Disney unveiled a Back-to-School line last winter with character identification so subtle it was simply a design element.

Other character licensers, from Nickelodeon to Warner Bros, have been putting style first and character later. Barbie's licensors are relegating the character factor even further, declaring it is a fashion brand rather than an extension of the doll business.

Wal-Mart Canada is taking a wait-and-see position with the line, according to Andrew Pelletier, a spokesman. "We always look at the United States and what it is doing. We'll look at this, but we have no rollout in the works at this point."