By  on August 3, 2009

Despite lower store inventories, basics and replenishment items such as underwear, T-shirts, camis and everyday bras have generated demand as buyers get their first look at spring merchandise.

There’s been a depletion of fashion innerwear on retail selling floors, especially sleepwear, robes, loungewear, corsetry and embellished bra and coordinating undies. As a result, several Madison Avenue vendors said they will play it safe by offering a smattering of fashion merchandise topped by a large assortment of classic, everyday goods.

Faced with consumers who are cutting back, as well as reduced open-to-buy and travel budgets, retailers are expected to exercise extreme caution as they consider which products will entice shoppers. Manufacturers anticipate there will be many discussions with buyers and senior management over which brands, items and programs will be ordered, eliminated or pared down for immediate, back-to-school and spring deliveries. Markdown money, margin goals and financing that supports on-time production and shipments also will be issues, executives said.

If merchants want fashion to spruce up departments, they’ll find choices at the CurveNY lingerie trade fair that started Sunday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where more than 250 fashion brands are being featured, including many French labels, while Canadian designer Patricia Fieldwalker is going solo at the Kimberly Hotel in Manhattan.

Executives at Madison Avenue showrooms such as the Natori Co., Hanro USA, the Komar Co., the Carole Hochman Design Group and Richard Leeds International said they are prepared with spring assortments that offer a variety of fashion and lifestyle options such as new fabrics, textures, silhouettes, colors and prints. A majority of merchandise also has the added punch of dual-purpose function that offer consumers enhanced value, vendors said.

Bob Nolan, president of Jockey International North America wholesale and licensing operations, said August “will give us a chance to recalibrate business with all of our customers based on the current environment.”

“For Jockey, this market is in between the spring 2010 and fall 2010 seasons, since we’ve already worked the spring lines with our major retailers,” Nolan said. “We will work with all of our customers. Our inventories at retail are in line with our revenues, and retailers will be anxious to buy into new…programs that give them new revenue opportunities for spring 2010.”

Regarding price sensitivity, Nolan said: “Retailers and consumers are looking for a value proposition, not necessarily lower prices, and that value may be found in a new waistband, a softer fabric or other product upgrades. One key program is our new SuperSoft line, which we’re offering in our Classic and Elance collections. This is a luxurious microfiber fabric that makes a truly great wearing experience, and in addition, offers a great value while speaking to a current trend that we’re seeing — going back to basics.”

Jan Snodgrass, president of Hanro USA, said there have been some positive signs since March and April. “Customers are making good use of our reorderable basic assortments, which helps them improve their margins and manage inventories,” he said. “Our expectations for market are positive. We have been working closely with retailers to manage inventories this past season. This has allowed them to take advantage of reorderable basics, which are the basis for healthy margins, as well, and to ensure they have enough innovation and color to keep their floors interesting.”

Michael Herman, senior vice president of sales, merchandising and production at Natori Co., said, “While we anticipate retailers…to continue to be cautious, our expectations for market are very positive. Now that the shock of the economic climate has seemed to pass, we are working very closely with our retail partners to develop future strategies so we both come out stronger on the other end. The retailers overall have been reducing inventories significantly in the last six to 12 months, but also in certain cases capitalizing on opportunities when appropriate with new merchandise. We have been working with them daily on this.”

Greg Holland, vice president of sales at Komar Co. and president of the licensed Donna Karan sleepwear brand, expressed strong optimism about spring business.

“Sales at retail have been surprisingly good considering the state of the economy, and we are expecting a very busy market week,” Holland said. “All major stores will be in and this market is also an important one for specialty stores. Retailers have been conservative in their placements, but, based on the positive sales results, they will be looking for fresh merchandise. There has been a call out from all retailers who are definitely looking at…perceived value. Newness is imperative, and we have new knit fabrics, silhouettes, trims and colors in all of our brands.”

Victor Lee, president of Viceroy Collections, the U.S. distributor for British brands Myla and Shock Absorber, also is hopeful for spring.

“The inventory levels for basic items are at good levels to service repeat customers,” Lee said. “I also think retailers are still cautious about fashion items, but they know they have to have it to appeal to customers. Customers are price conscious for sure, but if the fashion appeal is there, they will buy. We have a lot of appointments for New York. All of the majors are coming, as well as the vast majority of boutiques. The West Coast boutiques are scattered among New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.”

Joe Franco, vice president of Dreamwear Inc., which is launching the XOXO intimates brand, agreed that value is uppermost. “We’ve seen a move by retailers to consolidate their vendor base, and are focusing on those vendors that can deliver on time and provide the consumer with a sensible value equation.”

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