By  on December 1, 1994

WASHINGTON -- There's one retail chain here that's definitely not catering to the Hill crowd.

Up Against the Wall, a Washington-based junior chain with 12 full-price stores and one warehouse outlet in the mid-Atlantic region, carries all the latest trends, like nylon miniskirts and cropped mohair sweaters.

The company started as a tiny counterculture shop in 1969, selling tie-dyed T-shirts and bell-bottoms, according to Wendy Red, fashion director for the stores. Today, most of its $17 million in annual sales comes from well-known brands such as Esprit and Guess, purchased by trend-conscious shoppers between the ages of 15 to 35.

Women's apparel and accessories account for about 40 percent of the business; the rest is men's.

At a recent visit to Up Against the Wall in the bohemian Adams Morgan neighborhood, the 1,700-square-foot store's racks were filled with rayon crepe miniskirts in a variety of plaids, and trendy little tops such as cropped mohair sweaters and striped, long-sleeved cotton T-shirts.

Jeans were a strong category for the store, but short skirts had taken a bite out of jeans sales recently, said Red.

"When denim is really on, almost 35 percent of our women's business is in denim, but now it's more like 25 percent," she said.

Calvin Klein, Levi's and Guess jeans were all on display, but the current best-selling denim items were dresses and short A-line skirts, according to Red.

"A year ago, I was selling 600 pairs of jeans a week; now, I'm selling 600 skirts a week," said Red. Before the chilly weather hit, Up Against the Wall stores sold about 200 pairs of thigh-high stockings weekly, she noted, but shoppers are switching to tights.

Levi's are the chain's biggest seller in women's jeans, particularly 501s. Other recent hot trends included wide-legged jeans by Baxis that Red reordered several times for back to school, and men's jeans sold to young women who wear them low on the hips to show their navel-piercing, Red said.

To build brands, Up Against the Wall is rolling out the DKNY young women's line for spring.

"People have been asking for it every day," said Red, adding that women shoppers have been buying black DKNY stretch jeans that recently began selling in the men's department.She said she expected DKNY women's jeans to do well, but most of the current demand was for apparel with large logos.

Red, who at a recent interview sported a filmy black miniskirt and reddish-purple hair, is happy to take advantage of the common perception among retailers that people living in her markets are not interested in trendy clothes.

Red feels she has little competition in D.C., where there are four Up Against the Walls; in Richmond, Va., where the company has two stores, and in mid-sized cities in Virginia and Maryland, where 3,000-square-foot to 6,000-square-foot branches hold their own against national retailers in several regional malls.

Red and her husband, Stuart (Izzy) Ezrailson, the company's secretary and treasurer, and Charles Rendelman, the president, plan to continue the Southern strategy by opening their third Richmond store and their first in Atlanta in 1995, possibly in the Lennox Square mall. Two more stores are slated for 1996 in Atlanta, a city that Red characterized as "a new city with lots of young people and lots of money."

"Everyone else is going north, so we're going south," Red said. "There aren't a lot of good fashion stores in these areas. We'll be looking in North and South Carolina and Florida, as well."

Red and her partners also own the super-trendy Commander Salamander in Georgetown, which carries items such as sequin bustiers and rubber dresses. Commander Salamander provides a good laboratory for things that later make it to Up Against the Wall, but for now, Red said she saw all growth potential in the Up Against the Wall full-priced stores.

To keep up on the latest fashions, Red shops the markets in New York about once a week, and relies on friends who own stores in New York -- and her 17-year-old son -- to keep her up to date. She visits Los Angeles and Chicago twice a year, and Paris and London about once every two years.

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