MIAMI--The melting pot of Miami is serving up new lines that are targeting juniors and contemporary markets with the flavor of South Beach street culture. Their direction is coming from "the kids on the street," said Carol Shogren, president of Gus & Max, a two-year-old manufacturer here. Reborn from a company that once served the mass market, the new South Beach Apparel also offers trends from its namesake neighborhood, such as retro looks that company president Alex Leiter believes will peak for spring and summer. Although 807 production continues to increasingly power the Miami apparel engine, both of these companies say that they need turnaround that's even faster than 807. Both firms rely on Miami contractors to respond quickly to the latest trends and to provide fast reorders that are key to their growing specialty store clientele. Close-ups of the two companies follow.
Gus & Max "We're in Miami Beach to see what's happening with trends on the street," said Carol Shogren, president, Gus & Max, a juniors line launched two years ago. "We take tremendous inspiration from what we see around us." The South Beach fashion scene is so instrumental to the line that Shogren regularly meets with "focus groups" of local young people to get inspiration and feedback for her line. "Buyers, particularly in department stores, may not always understand a trend, but we can convince them if the kids back it up," she said. Department stores account for about 50 percent of the firm's business; specialty stores and chains make up the other half. Although Shogren would not give figures, industry sources estimate volume at just over $3 million. Shogren came to Miami three years ago from Los Angeles, where she was in sales for L.A. Gear, and she notes that she mixes her Miami Beach with her Southern California background. When she started up Gus & Max two years ago, she had an initial hit with what she called the "thousand button shirt." It featured a row of small buttons running all the way down the front; the buttons were novelty shapes such as hearts. For spring and summer, brightly colored Sixties and Seventies prints and stripes combine with novelty trims, zippers and buttons in fabrics such as nylon, cotton, Lycra spandex and polyester. Dresses, such as simple shift styles, make up over 30 percent of the line. Wholesale prices range from $8 to $22. Short shorts and pants and jackets in a wide variety of silhouettes are street trends Shogren has seen in South Beach that she will adopt for fall. Although she has considered offshore manufacturing, domestic production is essential to the juniors business, which demands quick response to trends and reorders, said Shogren. "In juniors, people want it shipped yesterday, because the trend may be dead by tomorrow," she said, adding that quality control is easier with domestic manufacturing. To attract a wider customer base, the company launched XYZ, a contemporary line, last August. The new line features 65 styles at wholesale prices ranging from $18 to $65. With better fabrics using such fibers as Tencel, and a more generous fit as well, XYZ adopts some of the trends from the junior line. "Trends filter and modify to other categories," said Shogren. "If a zippered mock turtleneck is happening in juniors, it will eventually show up in contemporary clothing, which spans a wider age range." XYZ now represents 20 percent of total business, but is projected to grow to equal the Gus & Max line.South Beach Apparel After years of swimming upstream in a sea of mass merchants, South Beach Apparel is aiming now to be a big fish in the smaller pond of specialty stores. After nine years in business, Cargo, a Miami-based moderate juniors sportswear manufacturer selling primarily to large discount chains, was reformed last year as South Beach Apparel. With more fashion-forward styling, better fabrics and quick turnaround, the company now targets the less volatile specialty store market. "It became a rat race, as big retailers' problems have worsened," said Alex Leiter, president. "You have to be a $50 million company just to play with them. The business was so price-driven that there's no loyalty. "Small companies like ours find it hard to survive," said Leiter, who owns the firm with his brother, Luis Leiter, its vice president. Cargo, combined with a companion T-shirt line called Tropical Cargo, reached total sales of $5 million in 1994. Last year was a year of reorganization. Projected 1996 sales for South Beach Apparel sportswear are $2.5 million, with the T-shirt line, now under South Beach Apparel label as well, projected at $2 million. "We're doing less volume, but we're able to build better relationships with smaller stores," said Alex Leiter. South Beach Apparel caters to specialty stores with a more fashion-forward styling inspired by the hip South Beach street culture. At wholesale prices of $7 to $15 for knit tops to $15-20 for dresses, the company sees itself competing with names such as Quiksilver, Roxy and Mossimo, at lower prices. Specialty fabrics, such as denim and polyester and nylon blends, are combined with novelty zippers and jacquard trims for cropped tops, skirts, shorts and dresses. Knit tops are the meat-and-potatoes of the line. Its retro zip-front "Kramer" shirts, like those worn by the Kramer character on the television hit "Seinfeld," have sold 700 units in the past three months. "Retro is the look of the moment, and will probably last through spring and summer," said Leiter. "But it's reaching the point of overkill." Jumping on new trends is more crucial in the juniors market than any other, said Leiter. At the same time, styling should not become so avant-garde as to not be salable, he said. "Middle America doesn't always jump on something because one girl is wearing it on 'Melrose Place'," he said. For specialty stores, quick turnaround is just as important as staying on top of trends. With no minimums, stores can test small groups and reorder successful styles. With manufacturing in Miami, orders can usually be filled within two days. The line has become a best-selling sportswear resource for stores such Maui Nix Surf Shop, a 15,000-square-foot surf, swim and sportswear shop in Daytona Beach, Fla., that caters to a young, trendy crowd. "We've had very good turnover," said Donna Fischer, buyer. "We get quick reorders, which is important to maximize our profit. And they've been right on target with what our customers want."
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