By and  on February 24, 2010

SAN DIEGO — Retailers and manufacturers tried to balance fashion and value as they shopped the ASR trade expo for style-driven specialty pieces that will lure young customers.

ASR was quieter than usual, with action sports retailers working under tight budgets and marquee surf brands such as Quiksilver and Roxy deciding not to exhibit at the show, which was held here Feb. 3 to 4. In addition, ASR was shortened to two days from three in response to the troubled economy.

The event sought to appeal to skate shop buyers with the debut of an ancillary show called Crossroads, located in a parking lot a half mile from the San Diego Convention Center, site of the main expo. Although Quiksilver didn’t exhibit in the flagship ASR event, the company participated in Crossroads along with DC Shoes, the skate brand that it owns.

Designers looked to rockers and soldiers for inspiration. In the rock ’n’ roll camp, motorcycle-style jeans, leather jackets and vests, and distressed fabric were prevalent. The military theme was evident in the neutral color palette and extra details such as epaulets and sleeve patches.

“Right now, it’s about how you create original looks, but at value for the consumer,” said So Kim, a buyer for Macy’s. “That makes it harder to buy, because you’re trying to balance fashion and value, with a lot of brands...sticking to core items.”

Like other retailers coping with fallout from the recession, Macy’s buying budget remained tight, though slightly improved over last year, Kim said.

“What won’t work is just making everything $14.99 and assuming that low price point alone will drive sales,” Kim said.

One strategy for growing sales is diversification.

La Jolla Group, the $200 million Irvine, Calif.-based apparel manufacturer that holds the licenses for action sports brands O’Neill, Lost, Rusty and Metal Mulisha, picked up the global license for streetwear line True Love and False Idols. La Jolla Group said it plans to expand True Love and False Idols beyond graphic T-shirts retailing for $24 to $50 to men’s woven tops, denim, outerwear, walk shorts and accessories for spring 2011. A juniors line of printed T-shirts is planned for fall 2011.

Toby Bost, La Jolla Group chief executive officer, said he aims to increase True Love and False Idols’ annual sales to between $5 million and $10 million from less than $2 million.

Manufacturers continued to lower prices in an effort to give better markups to retailers. They also tried to design clothes that would benefit from retailers’ delivery schedules that placed fall collections in stores beginning in May. For instance, men’s labels ranging from Atwater and Vans to O’Neill and Volcom offered tank tops as staples in their fall lineups.

Action sports retailers are placing orders closer to deadlines, reducing the turnaround time to three months from six months.

“We’re buying a lot closer in for deliveries, because we need to know what’s going on,” said Pam Bennett, a buyer for Hansen’s Surf Shop in Encinitas, Calif. “Those days of buying six months in advance and in huge quantities — that doesn’t work.”

To entice retailers and revitalize the hoodie market, Rusty introduced hoodies for men and women that integrate washable earphones and jacks for iPods, cell phones and MP3 players. Retailing from $49.50 to $74.50, the six styles include a women’s hoodie embellished with studs and a men’s olive-green field jacket. Rusty also offered customers a free annual subscription to Transworld Surf magazine with every purchase of men’s boardshorts.

“We need the customer to come in and get excited,” said Charlie Setzler, president of Rusty. Although designers continued to offer plaid, they shifted their focus to other prints such as stripes and flowers. Still, designers downplayed prints to highlight solid colors and novel fabrics such as ladylike lace and high-tech microfibers.

For juniors, Fox Head Inc. alternated stripes in a solid color and a tie-dye pattern on $38 cotton-polyester Ts, whereas Billabong offered a $79.50 lace blazer as part of its Designer’s Closet grouping. Vans displayed a $90 men’s gray polyester jacket that reveals the company’s signature checkerboard print when it’s wet.

Fox Head, the Morgan Hill, Calif.-based action sports company, appointed Nick Adcock, former global president of DC Shoes, to its board in a move to grow business in categories such as footwear.

In men’s and women’s fashion, a somber palette of gray, black, olive and tan was punctuated by pop colors such as red, blue, orange, burgundy, green and pink.

“You don’t want your line to come out all somber and sad,” said Dan Geary, men’s design director at Volcom.

Denim remained a strong seller. Skinny jeans and legging jeans were the popular silhouettes for juniors, while slim, straight legs gained momentum with men. O’Neill printed a lace pattern on $49.50 skinny jeans for juniors. Volcom updated its men’s contoured fit that featured outside seams curving inward with a slimmer leg opening measuring 15.5 inches.

Chinos did well as an alternative to jeans. DC Shoes sewed shoestring ties into the waist of $58 stretch twill chinos in khaki and black.

Vans responded to the demand for classic men’s designs with a new line called Core Basics, comprising 12 styles such as tank tops, crew neck and V-neck Ts, hoodies and windbreakers.Designers drew inspiration from the military for men’s looks. Quiksilver placed epaulets and pockets on a $59.50 military-themed fleece hoodie. Adidas Skateboarding cut flannel into a $60 khaki button-up shirt. Fox sewed insignia patches on the sleeves of a $99 gray military jacket.

Crop tops for juniors were ubiquitous. Lost cropped the hem of a $34 yarn dye flannel shirt; Billabong put a side-tie on a $36 flutter-sleeve top to shorten the length, and Vans screen-printed a simple logo on a short $24 T-shirt. Cutaway hems were visible on O’Neill’s $48 floral blouse and Ezekiel’s $44 rayon tank dotted with grommets along the neckline.

“The days of a lot of fleece, a lot of jackets, [for fall] are not happening,” said Lindsay Henkels, major sales accounts executive for juniors at Lost and O’Neill.

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