By  on October 2, 2008

With the country’s economic crisis deepening and financial markets taking some of their worst beatings in history, most local apparel buyers are singing the same unhappy tune — business is down and holiday prospects don’t look too bright. Given the upheaval, local retailers said they are taking a more cautious approach to buying this month than they have in the past year.
Fraser Ross, owner, Kitson boutiques: “Honestly, we need cheerful and cheap right now. Times are really tough and we can’t anticipate what customers want. It’s about chasing the business one day at a time. We’re not buying for spring or in advance — we’re being very cautious and buying what we need right now.

“Because the financial markets are a disaster, I think the upcoming markets will see some fallout and be even more dead than they have been.

“Holiday gift business should help us out, and the scarf business is strong now, so I will definitely be looking for that, but jeans and clothing for women has just hit a wall. Even people with money to spend aren’t shopping now.

“We’re not buying in big volume right now, and we’re definitely not projecting for spring. Nobody can afford to make assumptions about what the customer wants. We will chase the business — if people want Hanky Pankys [underwear] then we will listen to what they ask for and carry those.

“We don’t know if some of these manufacturers will still be in business. We’ve seen a couple of ours close over the past year. Credit is on hold for everyone. Things are dismal.

“Kids’ is carrying the other segments of the business, especially women’s, because people don’t tend to cut off their kids. They all still want the latest Miley Cyrus whatever, and parents don’t want their kids to suffer.

“As far as what we are looking for, accessories are big now. Jewelry and scarves and gift business are holding, and that’s what we’re shopping for. We’re picking up Nicole Richie’s jewelry line in November and I think that will do well. I really hope things turn around.”


Fred Levine, owner, M. Fredric chain: “Because we’re coming off a season where long dresses were the name of the game, we hope to see them in new colors and fabrics. I think it’s an elegant and feminine trend that has some legs, because it’s a real new, sexy look and it’s a nice change from the jeans, T-shirts and crewnecks we’ve seen for the past several seasons. Tunics, too.

“Denim was once the spark, but at this point, that’s not true at all. We need innovation, an excuse for people to buy [fresh] things in such tough times. That’s what we’ve had to do: really go out and buy a lot of immediates. Right now it’s about keeping an eye on what the customers want. There’s no room to keep a lot of inventory, we have to be careful.

“Recently I’ve liked the brands Bailey 44, Gypsy and Hale Bob, in particular. I think it’s their time.

“We need newness — attention-grabbing things that people will want [to buy] to freshen what they already have. People aren’t spending on a lot of things, so they want one or two really special pieces.

“We’re hanging in there, and that’s about all you can hope for with the consumer state of mind right now. It’s about trying to maintain business, that’s all.”

Heather Martin, buyer-manager, Belle Gray boutique: “As it’s been for the past few markets, it’s about trying to find something that has quality and a lower price point. It really takes more work. There are plenty of inexpensive things, but the quality just isn’t there — things look and feel cheap. People want to pay less because of the economy, but they still really want quality.

“Denim is not as important to me right now, it’s not as strong as it used to be. Right now our women want a lot of dresses and tops, but things that stand out.

“I get so bored of seeing the same dress or pattern or fabric over and over again. I love unusual pieces — hats and scarves are big now, and T-shirts are even doing OK. I love to find really great new handbags that people latch onto, as well as belts and shoes.

“As far as shape, I’m looking for anything but baby doll. I am so tired of that look. We need a new shape. There are clear trends, but there is so much of the same — how does everyone decide just to do purple for the fall? Can’t they do different shapes or colors? It’s getting really old. Something that was once special is everywhere and it’s not [special] now. We all need things that haven’t been done. I can’t say it enough.

“Because people want to spend less on clothing overall, if I can buy things wholesale for a hundred bucks or $150 and below, it’s great.”

Melissa Richardson, owner, Beckley Boutique: “I’m looking for cocktail dresses, specialty and more formal items, and I’m always looking to see what people are doing in color, style and shape.

“The L.A. markets at the end of the month tend to be more about basics for us — high end and well made, but basics that everyone wants in their closet.

“Pants haven’t done well for us lately, though knits have just sold out, even in August when it was 100 degrees here. September was much slower than I anticipated. People are still coming in, but are waiting longer to make purchases. They’ll maybe take one thing, whereas before they’d have grabbed two or three and not thought too much about it.

“Lately I’ve seen a lot of fuchsia and toned-down purples for spring like lavender, and yellow tones and basic black. I’m looking for things you won’t find everywhere, like a unique cocktail dress or a special coat or sweater.

“I always try to stay below $1,000 wholesale because a $900 wholesale cocktail dress will retail for $2,500. We carry T-shirts that wholesale for $20, too, so there’s a wide range in there.”

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