By and  on August 21, 2012

LAS VEGAS — An explosion of color along with activewear influences in all categories of business are driving solid back-to-school and early fall sales.

The early read for fall is encouraging as stores report solid consumer reaction to the pops of color, new silhouettes and updated fabrications on their selling floors. As a result, most merchants are upbeat as they look ahead to holiday and put together their buying plans for spring.

The National Retail Federation predicted that b-t-s sales would hit $83.8 billion this year, or $688.62 per household, an increase of more than 13 percent from last year. Retail sales for July were also encouraging, with many stores posting better-than-expected gains in the month.

With that as the backdrop, retailers were in Las Vegas this week shopping MAGIC, Project and the other trade shows around town. The shows run through Thursday.

Tim Bess, men’s fashion and trend analyst for The Doneger Group, singled out six “big messages” for retailers to jump on for spring. These include dress-up, in both tailored and sportswear looks; color in apparel and accessories; athleisure, or active-inspired sportswear, in technical fabrics; mixed media; updated textiles such as linen blends or spring suede, and prints-patterns.

“We’ve had a great start to fall and back-to-school, led by varsity,” said Durand Guion, vice president and men’s fashion director for Macy’s Inc. “We predicted it would be good and it is definitely driving early business.” In addition, he said denim “continues to be on fire,” led by “more fits and rinses.” He expects colored denim to find favor with customers in the third quarter.

“We’re also finding that second-quarter items are still driving business going into the third quarter,” Guion said. “Tank tops started selling in February and we’re still selling them. They don’t have an Aug. 15 stop date. So it makes us rethink our assortments and the way we deliver for third quarter.”

He said that in many product categories, color continues to be “explosive” and is encouraging the male shopper to buy. In addition, performance fabrics that emerged in sports-specific product such as tennis or golfwear have now become a “bridge to everyday lifestyle.” He pointed to the wicking properties and comfort of performance fabrics and said they also take color well, leading to increased interest.

In tailored clothing and dress furnishings, Macy’s continues to do well with new fits in suits, shirts and neckwear. Accessories, such as tie bars and slim ties, are no longer “scary,” and guys are embracing the updates. Footwear is also doing well as men learn that shoes can “make or break an outfit.”

For spring, Guion said the Macy’s team was “looking for things we can test now. We’re using this show to see what we can learn between now and holiday and use as a blueprint for next year.”

Doug Ewert, chief executive officer of The Men’s Wearhouse Inc., said the company is having success attracting a younger customer, which is leading to increased business in sportswear, denim and slimmer silhouettes in suits and furnishings.

Scott Norris, general merchandise manager, added: “Our sportswear business has been very strong. The whole slim thing is working for us and we’re seeing increased penetration there. And big and tall is also still a large part of our business.”

The new Vera Wang tuxedos that were delivered in April have been a “home run,” Norris said, and at a luxury price point. Slim fits are also popular in this line.

Looking ahead to holiday, Ewert said he expects the highly promotional atmosphere to continue to accelerate. “The customer is really responding to discounts,” he said. “And the aggressiveness seems to go up every year.”

At the shows, retailers were shopping for in-season goods in popular items such as shorts as well as spring goods in all categories.

Conrad Szymanski, president of Bealls Outlets in Sarasota, Fla., said the majority of b-t-s shopping has been completed in his stores and the results have been good. “Color is driving the business and activewear is incredible throughout the store in men’s, boys, girls. We’re definitely in an activewear cycle.” He pointed to neon accents as “incredible” in most product categories including juniors, where colored and printed bottoms were leading the way. “We actually didn’t take a bullish enough position there,” he said. “They were about 25 percent of the floor and they just evaporated.”


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