By  on February 12, 2008

Manufacturers forecast growth for their businesses in 2008.

Casual lifestyle companies aren't about to let the sluggish economy and its accompanying woes get them down. Instead, many vendors are determined to grow sales in 2008 — some by double-digits — with tactics that include launching new labels, focusing on a broader demographic appeal, expanding into untapped wholesale territories and using more sustainable and eco-friendly fibers and fabric blends.

Companies also continue to seek faster and cheaper sourcing, production and shipping programs that offer more immediate deliveries for skittish stores that are increasingly reluctant to place advance-season orders.

Many stores have told vendors that a growing cadre of consumers are buying fashion closer to need and that many of their shoppers are fretting about their shrinking fashion budgets due to the litany of economic crises facing the U.S., including rising fuel prices, the subprime mortgage crisis, the volatile stock market and uncertainty of the effects of the upcoming presidential elections.

Despite a challenging economy, many casual lifestyle companies are planning on sales gains in 2008 through new labels, wholesale and retail expansion and reaching more consumers with a wider demographic and marketing focus, among other tactics.

"There's no doubt that the U.S. fashion business is going through a tough time right now — along with a lot of other industries — but our company is being more proactive to build volume," said Tom Williamson, vice president of sales at Aventura Clothing Co., a three-year-old division of Sportif USA in Sparks, Nev.

"Retailers and, in turn, consumers are buying less due to the various economic challenges out there. But we are looking for 10 percent volume growth in 2008 by going after new retail accounts, especially women's lifestyle specialty stores that can use our brand as a destination focus for consumers. We're sending our retail accounts thank-you cards and gifts, such as bags of our own house-blend coffee, and staying in close contact with stores to monitor their needs and get feedback on our line — they love and appreciate the personalized attention."

Aventura's fall collection includes more than 100 pieces, with a wholesale price range from $12.50 for an organic cotton camisole to $125 for a suede jacket.St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Nilla Shields, meanwhile, is forecasting unlimited growth as the company capitalizes on it's entry into the resort-spa-surf market.

"The spa, cruise and resort markets are an ever-increasing aspect of our company expansion, particularly since the creation of our new Nilla Board Girls Gear line," said Sandra FitzSimons Schintzius, managing director at the five-year-old company. "We are diversifying by offering buyers another price point and a different age range than we had previously catered to, along with more lifestyle categories."

Wholesale fall prices for Nilla Board Girls Gear are $18 for a top to $38 for a jacket. The collection includes vintage Hawaiian prints and findings reminiscent of old postcards along with Sixties-inspired peace and love embroidery, all in tropical punch colors such as mango and lemon.

For the Nilla Shields label, wholesale fall prices are $27 for a top to $52 for a jacket with a patriotic-trend focus that includes flag embroideries and lots of red, white and blue.

Manish Khanna, president of Bhag's Fashions in New York, projected a 10 percent gain for 2008.

"We're doing much more marketing at the wholesale level, especially going to more wholesale shows and making sure that buyers know about us and our two labels: Luv2Luv Inc., which is young contemporary, and Bhag's Fashion, which appeals to misses' as well as some contemporary shoppers," said Khanna. "The economy is really on everyone's mind, including how the upcoming election will impact the economy. There's also a positive vibe with the announcement of the tax rebates that consumers will receive later in the year."

Bhag's Fashion has more than 800 retail accounts, with wholesale prices ranging from $15 to $40.

Green is the new black for 2008 as casual lifestyle vendors increase the use of sustainable, nature-friendly textiles including organic cotton and wool, bamboo, hemp and soy.

Nearly 80 percent of the fall collection at Aventura Clothing Co. is made from organic cotton, hemp or soy. "We're making sure that consumers know about our commitment to sustainability with a hangtag that reads 'Helping the Earth One Garment at a Time,'" said Williamson of Aventura Clothing Co.At Los Angeles-based Lotus Springs, which launched last year, eco-friendly sustainable fabrics are the basis of all the collections. "We are 100 percent green," said Ronald Kukuchi, executive account manager at the company.

Wholesale prices are $42 for a soy jersey top to $500 for a silk cashmere sweater.

"The American consumers' shopping mentality is increasingly moving toward searching out green collections — they are more and more aware about the immediate and long-term effects of harmful chemicals on our environment," he said. "Our marketing, including our garment hangtags, lets people know about our earth-friendly approach. Wearing earth-friendly clothes feels good mentally and also physically — customers tell us that it's a sensory experience due to the comfort and weight of the textiles."

Designers are also offering more immediate-delivery and need-now merchandise to retailers, as more consumers take a buy now, wear now approach to fashion.

"Many stores are buying closer to season and saving increasing portions of the budgets for at-once goods," said Williamson of Aventura Clothing Co. "And at retail the fashion consumer is also increasingly buying within season in light of the tough economy. This buying mentality comes with some inherent but totally surmountable challenges, including monitoring much more closely our inventories as well as fine-tuning our production and shipping paradigm."

Schintzius at Nilla Shields said, "Our business is still a babe, and we have always appealed to boutique owners who, by their being smaller buyers, purchase very close to need. Our thrust has been to teach and assist and help boutiques to grow their sales and business along with us."

Bhag's Fashions is also doing big business with immediates.

"Does it present challenges?" asked Khanna at Bhag's Fashions. "Of course it does, but we're dealing with them and growing the company, including looking for the most cost-effective ways to produce and ship our goods and controlling our inventory at our warehouses and product flow to stores so that we run a lean, clean and effective business."

Lotus Springs offers a growing collection of seasonless styles to deal with the consumer trend of buy now, wear now, said Kukuchi. "We work hard to keep our inventory and supply chain in sync with stores' needs while at the same time looking ahead at production and trend needs at the factories. It's a delicate balancing act but all the work is worth it because consumers appreciate our line and business is growing."

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