NEW YORK--Swimwear has been running hot and cold this year. Some vendors report solid sales, with trendy suits leading the way and increasingly frequent distribution turning it into more of a year-round business. But others say business has been tough--a reflection of a still-troubled economy. They are keeping prices very tight and keeping their fingers crossed for a brighter performance next season. Michelle Czopp, president of Pilpel, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based swimwear manufacturer, said business was not terrific this summer. In fact, she called it "a tough year." Czopp attributed this to three factors: Poor East Coast weather through the cruise season. Manufacturers "dumping last season's merchandise in the market at low prices." A tough economy in general. As a result, Pilpel has lowered its prices by 15 percent for next season. It also will continue to make its own coverups, which wholesale for $16 to $29. Czopp said retailers are now buying as many coverups as swimsuits. The Gideon Oberson line is a new addition to the Pilpel group. Although it is slightly more expensive, Czopp said the line will not exceed $59 to $89 retail because price is still an issue for many consumers. "Poor weather on the East Coast made the last season rough," concurred Scott Smith, vice president of sales for Christina USA, a swimwear manufacturer here. The silver lining, however, is that consumers should be more eager to purchase suits next season, he said. "Over the last season, our Contempo line has been strong. This line is younger-looking," Smith said, "but it has sophisticated construction, which is key for its customer, the 30-to-50-year-old." He also pointed to the Super Bra as an important feature in separates for juniors. Christina plans to maintain its moderate prices. It is also introducing Christina Performance, a line with the look of high performance gear, but a fit for baby-boomer bodies. These suits feature strap adjustments, tummy control and the Aqua Bra, which provides support without underwire or cup. It has the frame of a bra with cutouts of the cup in 1/4-inch foam. On the other hand, Ritchie Swimwear of Miami, which markets junior swimwear under Pan Dulce and a contemporary line under the Ritchie label, expects a 20 percent increase for 1997. Ray Bird, sales manager, attributes strong sales to the firm's pursuit of key trends, such as this year's floral prints. It also has maintained a wholesale price of $34. Bird also noted that stores are now pushing swimwear as an all-year-round business. For example, Ritchie Swimwear is now shipping cruise in September, one month earlier than usual, based on department stores' requests. Ritchie Swimwear is projecting a wholesale volume of $8 million to $10 million for the 1997 swimwear season. Cover Style, a junior swimwear coverup line in Miami, expects to continue with solid gains this year. "We had a good year this past year, but we are expecting a really great year next year," said Lourdes Suarez, sales manager. She noted that the company benefited from its first try at trade advertising. She added that stores pushed for a continuous flow of goods. Some of the hot looks were HotPants and halter tops. "We almost never stopped shipping," said Suarez. She added that Cover Style started shipping to specialty chains over the past two weeks, about a month earlier than usual. About 75 percent of the business is in specialty stores, with the remainder in department stores. The line wholesales from $7 for Lycra sarongs to $22 for embroidered dresses.
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