The Sporting Life Inc., an Alexandria direct-mail firm that sells upscale women's clothing through five catalogues, has filed for bankruptcy protection.

"I don't think there's any intention of going out of business," said Elliott E. Hembree, a former company official and one of its largest shareholders. He emphasized that customers who have ordered merchandise will receive their orders as usual while the firm reorganizes.

Company President Charles B. Howard II could not be reached for comment.

The company mails 10 million to 12 million catalogues each year under the names The Sporting Life, Christina Stuart, Sportpages, Flair and Final Edition.

While the retailing industry in general has seen an unrelenting parade of bankruptcies in the past year, catalogue sales operations have generally been more resilient because of consumers' desire for convenience, according to retail analysts. But with the proliferation of catalogue operations, the number of direct-mail retailers is beginning to shake out, they said.

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing earlier this week was necessary because of a cash crunch that was caused by ordering too much inventory, according to Hembree.

The company listed assets of $5.5 million and liabilities of $2.9 million. Its largest creditors are Foote & Davies Inc., a Lincoln, Neb., company that prints its catalogues and is owed $574,682, and Aston Imports Ltd., a Connecticut company that is owed $102,236.