By  on August 22, 2011

LOS ANGELES — When WWDMAGIC opens its doors today to thousands of buyers shopping in the Las Vegas Convention Center’s North and Central Halls, designers and manufacturers must manage a complicated balancing act. The challenge? Figuring out how to raise their profile while dealing with higher costs amid demands from retailers and consumers for better margins and fair pricing.

“We have ups and downs,” said Nally Park, designer and co-owner of contemporary label Nally & Millie, echoing the sentiments of many exhibitors. The Los Angeles-based company is now on the upswing, emerging from the verge of bankruptcy two years ago when it had sales of $2.5 million. Tallying annual sales of $10 million, which are projected to double next year with the introduction of woven bottoms like Bermuda shorts and capris wholesaling for $44, Nally & Millie is grappling with a 20 percent surge in costs for everything from fabrics and washes to ink for sublimation printing and the sewing and cutting it does in Los Angeles.

“I’m trying to stay within the price range for the customer,” Park said. “I cannot jack up the price the next day.”

Finding the sweet spot in pricing can be a challenge.

“People are shopping at Hit Or Miss and Target like it’s candy,” said Cindy Bapst, designer of Union of Angels in Palm Beach, Fla., who tries to keep the average retail price for her Bohemian-inspired women’s line at $125. “And people are buying high-end things. It’s the middle ones who are not doing as well as they used to.”

Besides pricing, manufacturers also face the challenge of maintaining their profit margins.

“It used to be you’d sell it for $25 and [retailers would] put it out for $50 for a [100] percent mark-up,” said Lori Robbins, vice president of sales at Los Angeles-based Sienna Rose. “Now they’re looking for a 75 percent mark-up.”

With $20 million in annual sales, Sienna Rose relies on its library of 2,000 prints to enliven casual tops that are sold at Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor and Macy’s. Retail prices run between $48 and $78.

“We’re trying to maintain our prices and we’re working on smaller mark-ups so that we can give more to the retailer,” Robbins said. “We have to have the volume now.”

Still, price can be relative. In the case of New York-based accessories company Alexia Crawford Inc., which sells to specialty stores like Joyce Leslie and department stores including Nordstrom, retail prices are capped at $75. Even then, Kimberly Bianco, Alexia Crawford’s designer, said, “Price is one of the main factors but it’s not the most important….People are more willing to go up $10 to $15 more in spending per purchase.”

What trumps price is fashion, Bianco said. At WWDMAGIC, she’ll display feathers, animal charms and antique silver and gold finishes.

“It’s definitely more fashion-oriented rather than price-oriented,” she said. “They’re looking for what’s on trend right now, what celebrities are wearing, what stylists are choosing for them to wear.”

In a challenging economy, many buyers are gravitating toward tried-and-true bestsellers, according to Trudy Moylan, designer and owner of Zoe & Sage, a Los Angeles-based accessories company that sells to boutiques in Rhode Island, Connecticut and North Carolina, and national retailers such as Urban Outfitters. In the fall collection that she will offer at WWDMAGIC for immediate deliveries, Native American-inspired beaded strip earrings catch the eye, as do vintage-style button rings and necklaces. Wholesale prices range from $3.50 for brass charms to $70 for gold-plated shells, sea urchins, red cinnabar and semi-precious stones.

“[Retailers] are making more sure bets thantaking risks,” she said. “Before, they chose what they liked. Now I find they rely on me to choose their line for them. They are afraid to say what they think right now.”

To aid retailers on the quest for new brands, WWDMAGIC is launching Heart of Prêt near the White section with as many as 30 brands that regularly exhibit in France’s Prêt à Porter Paris. These labels are participating in a U.S. trade show for the first time. Underwritten by the French government, the show will feature lines including 2026 Paris, Didier Parakian, DP Jeans, Mado and Paul Brial.

Furthermore, Swim at WWDMAGIC Sponsored by ISAM, hailed as the largest swimwear expo on the West Coast, is expanding its presence to more than 10,000 square feet. New brands joining the show this season include Jantzen Girl, Bleu/Rod Beattie, Raisins, Esther Williams, Roxy, Maidenform Swim and Modern Amusement.

“The more interesting stuff we have for the buyers in one place, the more valuable the time they spend with us,” said Chris DeMoulin, president of MAGIC International.

On the flip side, MAGIC also wants to make the show worthwhile for exhibitors by generating buzz in the blogosphere. The bloggers are considered influencers who help shape the thoughts and buying habits of consumers. Last February, when MAGIC opened the show to a variety of bloggers including Sea of Shoes and Style Section LA, it counted 1.2 million consumer touches — measured as the number of people reading a blog, Twitter post, Facebook and other content posted from the show.

At this show, DeMoulin said MAGIC aims to double the number of consumer touches to 2.5 million.

Bloggers expected at this edition come from RedSoleDiary.com, StyleRepublicMagazine.com, TheMaykazine.com and Hypebeast.com. DeMoulin expects as many as 50 bloggers covering all the shows in MAGIC Marketplace.

“From an exhibitor standpoint, we’re breaking through the B-to-B wall to get their line out to the most influential consumers in real time,” DeMoulin said. “You make an investment to go to a trade show. We want that investment to pay off in as many ways as possible…You don’t just go to a trade show to transact business. You build your business. You interact with influencers.”

Judy Dermer, national sales manager for Miraclebody Jeans in New York, is optimistic that her investment in the show will pay off with a good edition in August that will outdo last February’s event. A division of Miraclesuit Swimwear, the three-year-old denim line caters to women who like trends such as wide-leg trousers, linen trousers and colored denim but want a good fit with stretch fabric and reasonable prices. Its retail range is between $110 and $140.

“If people want to stay in business and do business, they need to bring merchandise into [their stores],” she said. “They might be buying a little bit closer [to season] but they’ll definitely be buying.”

A sure bet is that retailers will buy what flatters women. Pauline Nakios, owner and creative director of Lilla P in New York, is capitalizing on the trends for long lengths, colors and stripes in her line that retails from $45 to $165. Besides an orange pima cotton-Modal slub jersey dress that is shorter in the front and longer in the back, she’s also offering a cowl-neck top with stripes alternating in color combinations such as gravel and lemongrass.

“A cowl neck is always pretty because the stripes end up draping,” she said. “Trend may be trend, but at the end of the day, a woman wants what looks good on her.”

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