By and  on September 9, 2009

LAS VEGAS — It was all about value at WWDMAGIC.

Apparel and accessories retailers and manufacturers at the trade show here found common ground in the new reality — consumer frugality — and in how to deal with it.

Although major challenges persist as the economy struggles for consistent traction, the three-day show at the Las Vegas Convention Center last week appeared more upbeat. But price sensitivity and cost-cutting remained key themes.

“Consumers are absolutely demanding high fashion looks at value prices,” said Todd Frank, a buyer for Canadian chain Ardene, which owns and operates more than 400 stores, adding that quick response was essential.

“I have to carry a wide mix of merchandise, and integrating lower price points has been the key to my success over the past year,” said Daniel Vargas, who owns V State boutique in Minneapolis. “Customers are trading down, so you have to respond to their wants, which can be hard if you don’t you have the right vendors.”

Vargas picked up sweaters and leather jackets that wholesaled from $20 to $50 at the CMT Apparel booth, while keeping an eye out for smaller accessories and accent pieces.

True Religion, the Vernon, Calif.-based premium denim brand, stopped using factors in mid-July, opting to expand its own credit division and work closely with international distributors as well as small boutiques that pay with credit cards or cash on delivery.

Seven For All Mankind, the Los Angeles-based jeans maker, is monitoring inventory on a weekly basis, trimmed expenses and changed core pricing. A year ago, its retail prices ranged from $150 to $350, with most between $225 and $250. Now, the sweet spot for prices lies between $150 and $189 — a change typical of similarly positioned brands.

“We have some styles over $200, but they have to be very special and innovative,” said Topher Gaylord, president of VF Corp.-owned Seven For All Mankind.

Tommy Bahama, the resort brand owned by Atlanta’s Oxford Industries Inc., will begin wholesaling Relax by Tommy Bahama for the spring season after introducing the subbrand in its freestanding stores this holiday. Retailing for between $38 and $118, Relax costs 10 percent less than the main line.

Red & Blue LLC, the Culver City, Calif.-based company that produces Z-Brand and men’s jeans for the Ed Hardy and Christian Audigier licenses, introduced Denim Junkie, a line of ultradistressed denim tricked out with foil treatment, glitter and gold stitching, with retail prices between $79 and $90.

Orla Kiely presented a new label, Olive and Orange, targeting a younger customer with wholesale prices from $40 to $147, or half the cost of the main label. Koos Manufacturing, the parent company of premium denim label AG Adriano Goldschmied, is preparing to launch NBD, the acronym of Natural Blue Denim, for next fall. NBD, which will retail from $100 to $130 and be manufactured at Koos’ factory in Mexico, will break into the women’s market first before moving into men’s.

“Pressed, preppy styles seem to be big….East Coast summer-type looks,” said Tammy Wolf, a buyer for Macy’s East.

The quest for better prices meant being more adventurous than usual and venturing into booths that were skipped at previous shows.

“It’s fast fashion right now, 100 percent,” said Kitson owner Fraser Ross.

Some retailers encountered challenges as they tried to combine value prices and new looks.

“I’m happy if I come away with three or four new vendor leads, and that’s not a lot for the expense of the trip,” said Mona Rae Peterson, vice president of Calgary-based retailer Triple Flip. “I haven’t been blown away so far. Graphics are still everywhere, and so much sameness makes it hard to do the essential — stay nimble and define yourself as a retailer for your customers.”

Joe Lauer and Jena Frey, who own Penelope’s boutique in Chicago said it is increasingly difficult to find new labels.

“We’re a little bit disappointed; we tend to find a lot more men’s lines out here than women’s,” said Frey, who will also attend Coterie in New York. “The shows aren’t cheap on either side. In this economy people need to be motivated to spend, and it definitely won’t be on the same old things they already have.”

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