By  on March 22, 1994

NEW YORK -- Riding high off one of their best seasons ever, active outerwear firms are counting on another big year in 1994, generally projecting gains of 10 percent to 40 percent.

Retailers and manufacturers say the category -- ranging from casual cotton car coats to polyester microfiber anoraks -- has emerged as a leader in the outerwear field.

The success, they say, is thanks to innovative styling and fabrics and a consumer mindset that has taken the category from primarily weekend wear into the broader arenas of career and lifestyle dressing. The fact that the category is generally priced below comparable wool or leather merchandise is also a plus, vendors and merchants say.

"The whole active lifestyle has been embraced by the customer," said Benny Lin, fashion director at Macy's East. "There is more fabric and style innovation in the category, which has grown out of the basic parka, weekend look and now goes with the customer's total lifestyle."

Lin said the category did very well last year because the market had a stronger variety of new looks and fabrics than in the past, and he expects that to continue this year.

"The whole active movement in fashion has impacted on a lot of categories, particularly outerwear," said Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president for fashion merchandising at Lord & Taylor. "It's a lifestyle statement that's become so important today."

Olexa said the category was strong this past season and she's looking for stronger results in the upcoming season.

Gail Goldberg, divisional merchandise manager for outerwear at Henri Bendel, said the trend of doing casual bodies with better fabrics is starting to take hold as a career wear option.

"When the active outerwear looks are done with a sophisticated twist, such as fur-trim parkas in microfiber or nylon with gold zippers, our customer understands it," Goldberg said. "We've seen growth and nice increases in this area and are planning additional growth this year."

"The only way to describe last season's active outerwear business was explosive, especially this past January and February," said Ted Goldsmith, chairman of Bromley Corp., referring to his firm's licensed J.G. Hook and Evan Picone lines. "The combination of the inordinate cold weather and a product that fits today's casual, active life-style resulted in everything coming together. While there is always worry that the sponge could be saturated, so far there is nothing to make us feel the momentum will not continue in 1994."

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