CHICAGO--Beyond the performing in-line skaters, the glad-handing professional sports personalities and the tons of hype at the National Sporting Goods Association trade show here, some manufacturers showcased activewear for the uncelebrated athlete.
And while they still represent a minuscule part of total business, women are commanding the attention of a growing number of resources that are making lines specifically for females.
Adidas, New Balance and Avia are three examples of companies whose lines reflect a growing commitment to women, and each was on view at the three-day NSGA event, which ended Tuesday at McCormick Place.
Sport-specific apparel, cross-training lines and streetwear looks were presented by 1,500 exhibitors spread out over 1.2 million square feet. The show drew 91,500 people, about the same as last year's event.
In an effort to quell buyers' complaints that women's activewear is often too masculine, some manufacturers featured functional and feminine women's lines in bright colors and polyester microfibers.
With their business running as much as 28 percent ahead of last year, several retailers said their show budgets had increased accordingly.
Despite some improvements in silhouettes and colors, a few buyers complained about the number of women's resources, which was noticeably smaller than the men's offerings.
"Business has been tough, but activewear across the board has shown a bright side," said Jim Glik, owner of Glik's and Glik's Sport, a 45-store chain of moderate-priced apparel based in Granite City, Ill.
With only 10 percent of Glik's activewear designed exclusively for women, men's products are popular among women, said Glik, who plans to increase women's offerings to replace slower-selling license goods.
Nike T-shirts are the number-one sellers to women at his stores, especially among those who favor men's apparel.
Looking for bodywear, Glik said he liked Champion and Fila.
"I see activewear coming back as street fashion," he said.
Patrick Cutler, owner of Osceola Sport Station in Osceola, Wisc., said he also planned to broaden women's offerings.
"We're thinking about expanding women's apparel because in most sporting goods stores it's an overlooked market," Cutler said, while shopping at the Danskin booth. "Women are tired of going into a sporting goods store and being given a men's small and medium."
Cutler said he planned to scale back on licensed products that have not been performing well at retail to increase offerings for women's apparel by 15 percent.
Reebok's $14 T-shirts and $22 shorts are bestsellers in the 1,000-square-foot store, he said, adding that Adidas activewear, Speedo swimsuits and Columbia sportswear are also important.
K. Waki, women's sportswear buyer for the Japanese division of Oshman's Sporting Goods, said annual sales were slightly ahead of last year's despite a drop in summer sales because of unseasonably cold weather. Waki said he attended the show "to get a feel for the market."
Danskin's workout wear and any brand of biking apparel from padded shorts to crop tops are bestsellers at Oshman's in Japan, he said.
A few specialty store retailers were on the lookout for specific items.
At Spirit Warehouse in Miami, a 1,200-square-foot cheerleading and gymnastics specialty store, business is 28 percent ahead of last year's, according to owner Janet Shaffer. Shopping at the show for new resources, Shaffer said she picked up Big Ball, a line of slogan T-shirts. Spirit Warehouse's average wholesale price point is $12.
Shaffer said she was pleased with the show's offerings, especially because "skirts are in style," a nod to sportswear's swingy and schoolgirl looks.
Not everyone was pleased with the offerings.
"Volleyball has grown so much, but the activewear hasn't kept up with the girls in the sport unfortunately," said Christine Beltzhoover, who was at the NSGA buying volleyball clothes for the 100 girls who belong to her Uno Volleyball Club in Joliet, Ill.
"They are offering the same T-shirts and shorts. We're looking for something different in custom spandex and polo type shirts," she said.
Beltzhoover said Jammin' and Reebok are two of her favorite resources.
Some manufacturers used the show to introduce lines.
Last month, Danskin and Canari Cycle Wear, a 15-year-old manufacturer of cyclewear based in San Diego, began a licensing agreement to produce a 60-piece cyclewear collection under the Danskin label that bowed at the show.
Sales of cyclewear for women's account for about 12 percent of the category's sales, but women purchase 50 percent of all cyclewear, according to Skip Pogan, marketing and sales manager for Canari Cycle.
Volume for the new line is projected to reach at least $1 million, he said.
With wholesale prices ranging from $12 for shorts to $29 for a jersey, the eight-piece line consists of classic jerseys, tights and bike shorts as well as a tank dress and a sarong mini to wear after cycling. Two Danskin prints--"Rain Forest" and "Stars and Stripes" --have been incorporated into the line.
Danskin, which sponsors triathlons for women, considers the Canari agreement to be a good match, Pogan said, adding that the new line will not consist of any items that would compete body-for-body with Danskin.
Showing streetwear style, Reebok introduced a denim-influenced tennis group that wholesales for about $19 and $20 per piece. The company tapped Venus Williams, a 14-year-old emerging tennis star, to promote the collection.
Made of lightweight white cotton denim with blue top-stitched seams and snap closures, the line borrows silhouettes from denim jackets, vests and miniskirts. The only actual denim piece, an overalls dress, is targeted for a junior market, according to David Chandler, apparel marketing director.
Active Apparel Group Inc., which introduced a volleyball line and a soccer line for its licensed Converse label, also aimed to create versatile products.
"Everything we design--even if it's sport-specific--has to cross over [to casual wear] because only 12 percent of the women use it specifically for exercise," according to Rita Cinque, vice president of Active Apparel.
For example, the polo shirt in the soccer line is boxy and cropped with several color panels and the volleyball tank has a halter and racing back for extra support.
Adidas, which launched its new workout collection, is planning for double-digit percentage increases, according to a spokesman.
"We're not designing an aerobics line for that glow-in-the-dark spandex/Lycra kind of look," he said. "We're looking at fabrics that have breathability and support for the way they train."
Yellow, navy and purple were introduced to the spring fitness line in fabrics such as cotton jersey, cotton and Lycra spandex, polyester and fleece.
"We've designed the cut for a woman's silhouette in the true spirit of how she's performing her sport," he said of the sport-specific fitness line, which includes a women's basketball group in cotton/polyester mesh.
Adidas also debuted a new polyester taffeta five-piece windbreaker group and exhibited its tennis collection as layerable separates with compression shorts under traditional dresses.
New Balance unveiled its new women's running line--formerly licensed and recently brought in-house--made of Microft Light, a breathable, water-resistant and wind-resistant microfiber.
"Just as footwear has become performance equipment for athletes, apparel is becoming a system too," said New Balance apparel product manager Karen Clark.
Warmup jackets are offered in colorblocks with solid bottoms including wind pants, running shorts and workout shorts. Wholesale prices range from $12.50 for shorts to $35 for a jacket. The fall 1996 line will include reflective piping on the front and back of jackets.
Clark said the company is targeting cross-training athletes with the collection. Canadian orders exceed domestic ones by 50 percent, based on the weather conditions and the popularity of triathlons, she said.
New Balance executives declined to project volume, but the company sold $310 million in merchandise in 1994, according to a spokeswoman.
Discus Athletic, a division of Tultex Corp., will test its first line of women's activewear for spring 1996, with a national rollout planned for fall '96, according to Jane Pace, director of marketing for Discus Athletic.
Executives from the Martinsville, Va.-based Tultex briefly outlined the plan after meeting with financial analysts here Tuesday.
Made of Lycra, jersey and fleece, the line will carry the Discus Sport label. Sports bras, shorts, bodysuits, T-shirts and sweatpants will be available. The line will feature pastels along with basic core colors of black, ash, navy and white, she noted. Prints and stripes will also be available.
The prices of the new line should be competitive with Danskin and Champion Jogbra, said Pace.
Having introduced feminine-styled activewear in technical fabrics and offered more bodywear separates, Avia plans to double its women's spring sales, according to Russell Moore, marketing manager.
"This is the first spring of putting the technical expertise from our Tinley heritage together with the Avia name," Moore said. Avia acquired Tinley, a men's technical line, nearly two years ago.
In technical activewear, feminine prints--including a black and white "Trail Blossom" print and a blue-based "Hidden Floral"--appear on jerseys, shorts and bra tops. A "gabled weave" updates a staple tank in Akwatek, a wicking, lightweight fabric used throughout the line, he said. Wholesale prices range from $12 for a tank to $45 for a cycling jacket.
Avia dropped leotards from its bodywear line in favor of cross-training separates.
"Separates are the biggest growth area in bodywear," said Moore.
With wholesale prices ranging from $7.50 for a sleeveless jersey mock neck to $17.50 for a zip-front jersey jacket, bodywear is available in cotton, fleece and French terry.
Combining fashion and performance, TYR Sport showed an extensive swimwear collection with retro looks, vertical stripes, woven plaids, ethnic prints and reversible workout bikinis.
Having seen double-digit percentage gains for 10 years, David Rosen, vice president of sales, said the firm is planning for a comparable increase this year.
For spring, TYR added a chlorine-resistant microfiber called Microtep-25 to its fashion-influenced competitive line. Designed to repel water and reduce drag, the swimwear is ideal for competitive swimmers.
The popularity of triathlons, which will become an Olympic event at the Summer Games in 2000 in Sydney, Australia, should continue to strengthen swimwear sales, Rosen said.

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