By and and  on October 15, 2008

LOS ANGELES — Bangles, bright colors and a gold medalist were among the elements that apparel manufacturers at the Los Angeles Majors Market used in an effort to appeal to retail buyers disheartened by the economy.

Merchants said accessories were carrying their stores through the turbulence and they sought to stock up on scarves, belts and handbags.

“Handbags are picking up for us, especially large totes and animal prints,” said Ashley Wheeler, a buyer for Anchor Blue, a junior retail chain based in Ontario, Calif.

The three-day trade show, which ended Oct. 8 at the California Market Center here, focused on department store buyers looking for new spring trends in the junior and missy markets.

Ethnic styles appeared to catch on with trend-conscious retailers.

“Boho is big. So is fringe and Navajo or Indian style,” said Sheri Ghassemzadeh, an accessories buyer for Windsor Stores, which has about 45 locations in the U.S.

Yet, Windsor, like many retailers, was purchasing less overall. “We’re being more cautious with volume and not as adventurous with our money,” said Lia Ghazarian, another buyer for Windsor. “We have to find what’s blowing out and run with it.”

Denim is among the categories that have been strong sellers in the junior market, with white denim emerging as a big trend for next year.

“Denim is a year-round business,” said Sandy Richman, president of Directives West, a Los Angeles-based merchandising consulting firm owned by The Doneger Group. “As far as this year, even in the heat of summer, the appetite for denim continued.”

Novelty was key in denim, as with sportswear, and junior vendors tried to outdo each other.

Girl Krazy, a division of New York’s Krazy Kat, mixed four panels of different printed fabrics on a tiered skirt wholesaling for less than $11. Rampage let consumers remove a chunky necklace buttoned onto a halter jersey camisole retailing for $49. New York’s Love by Design replaced regular straps with braids on dresses and tops. Jordache covered its jeans, wholesaling from $27.50 to $30, with animal prints, bleach and paint splatters. YMI manipulated a rainbow color palette into denim HotPants tie-dyed in orange and white and pink plaid Bermuda shorts, along with acid washes tinted in purple. All retail for less than $100.

Steve Mandell, Love by Design vice president of sales, said buyers are “not looking for basics at all.”

In addition to fresh takes on fashion, buyers wanted value. At Self Esteem, a Montebello, Calif.-based junior line, value came in the form of bracelets, clip-on suspenders, ties and headbands that were added gratis to tops. Buyers also liked so-called completers, such as a vest or zip-up jacket that is sold with a top to complete an outfit.

“When we offer additional items like the scarf and headbands, it helps the sell-through,” said Richard Clareman, president of Self Esteem. “The bestsellers right now are the completers and the add-ons.”

Some vendors banked on celebrity brands to boost sales, reasoning that customers would attach themselves to recognizable names in a lagging economy. Jerry Leigh, a Van Nuys, Calif.-based manufacturer, displayed T-shirts from licensed properties ranging from Rainbow Brite and Disney’s popular TV show “Camp Rock” to Paul Frank and Fender.

“They do well because to be part of a lifestyle it’s $30,” said Lisa Reisner, sales manager for Jerry Leigh.

Vanilla Star, a Teterboro, N.J.-based denim company, harnessed the celebrity of Olympic gymnastics gold medalist Nastia Liukin to attract its target customer — described as an 18-year-old girl in Middle America. After signing Liukin, who is 18 and lives in Parker, Texas, last June to a two-year spokesmodel contract, Vanilla Star collaborated with her to design 17 styles. They include jersey yoga pants screen-printed with gold leopard spots on the waist and tattoo-inspired Ts, all retailing from $28 to $68 under the Nastia Gold label.

The troubled economy didn’t deter some companies from launching lines for spring.

Gatsby, a Puerto Rico-based retailer that has been in business for 35 years, began wholesaling its junior-centric private labels, It’s Me and Funky Soul. Specializing in denim with sizes from 0 to 19, It’s Me offered jeans wholesaling for $16.50, in addition to vests, skirts and shorts.

However, Funky Soul made a push with miniskirts, including a $9.50 swing skirt in poplin. After signing retailers such as Mandee and Shoe Sensation, sales manager Jeff Ferreira said It’s Me and Funky Soul aim to hit $10 million in combined wholesale sales for the first year.

New York’s Linea Blu unveiled its knits that have been dip-dyed and made with finer gauge cotton and viscose. Wholesaling from $35 to $55, Linea Blu hopes to appeal to Baby Boomers who shop at better specialty boutiques.

Indira, a 28-year-old missy line from Los Angeles, introduced a skirt label called Mike’s Girl, which wholesales from $28 to $36, with an eye toward younger customers who prefer bright tints like burnt orange and easy fabrics such as washable rayon and cotton eyelet.

Despite their caution, retailers need product to sell, said Vanessa Kirianoff, owner of Blu Phoenix in Aspen, Colo. “It’s fashion — you have to keep it different,” she said.

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