ACTIVEWEAR: GOING EASY

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK--The dressing-down of America is ringing up sales for activewear makers.
Heading into WWD/MAGIC International, several firms are reporting double-digit gains and said they plan additional growth through the end of the year.
While basics continue to be an important part of most manufacturers' collections, embellished looks appropriate for resort wear are essential for some companies. Women are wearing activewear as workout wear and streetwear, so the category's sales should climb, they said.
My Body & Me, a San Diego activewear maker, has seen its sales triple in the past six months and plans for additional gains in the months ahead, according to Barbara Diskin, president.
Wholesale prices range from $7.75 for a cotton and polyester tank top to $19.95 for a cotton and polyester hooded sweatshirt.
The 15-piece collection is sold in specialty stores and pro shops, with about 85 percent of the company's 500 accounts reordering, she said.
The line features elasticized waistbands, ties and Velcro closures instead of buttons for a slim silhouette. A cotton and polyester wraparound skirt at $12.75 and a cotton and polyester sweatshirt wrap, which is worn around the waist--not as a pullover--are expected to be bestsellers at the show.
Domestic distribution accounts for 80 percent of My Body & Me's volume; the rest is sold in Germany, Japan, Switzerland and Mexico. In the next two years, exports should grow to about 40 percent, Diskin said.
Swell Fashions, which produces activewear under the Rhoda Lynne label, hopes to open accounts with major department stores at WWD/ MAGIC.
With a wider assortment of items and a restructured sales force, the company's business is running 15 percent ahead of last year, according to Michael Rubin, vice president of sales.
"Society is in a very casual mode. We attribute the increases in our business to the fact that people aren't dressing up," he said. "Activewear has to be pretty, functional and washable. It's not just a sweatshirt anymore."
The resort business is a key component for some activewear firms.
Elise Alessio Design, a Reno, Nev.-based firm, sells embellished looks primarily to specialty stores in resort areas and upscale boutiques, according to Elise Alessio, designer and owner.
She said 92 percent of the company's accounts place reorders.
Wholesale prices range from $17 for a cotton T-shirt with Austrian crystals to $55 for a cotton tank dress coverup. Oversized T-shirts and shorts are bestsellers, she said.
In 1994, the company saw a 20 percent gain and comparable growth is planned for this year.
"We want to dress women to and from the gym," she said. "Coverups are a major part of our business."
Business is running 50 percent ahead of last year, said Lee Irvine, designer and president of En've Wear, and the company expects to maintain that growth through the end of the year. Resort activewear is an important element of her business. Middle-aged women who favor conservative looks account for the bulk of the company's sales, she said.
Cotton leggings at $18, cotton warmup pants at $20 and a cotton and polyester sherpa jacket at $50 are popular styles.
"We sell to a lot of resort areas," Irvine said. "The economy can go up or down, but there will always be buyers there."
Steering away from bright colors, the company opts for soft silhouettes in slate blue, charcoal and earth tones, which are popular, she said.
Saddle River Sport, an activewear maker here, aims to open at least 15 accounts during the show, according to a company spokesman. Introduced in January, the 125-piece cotton and Lycra spandex collection should ring up $2 million in sales in its first year, he said.
With wholesale prices ranging from $5.25 for demi-shorts to $9.75 for a bike unitard, the line features cropped tops, T-shirts, boxer shorts, coverups and pullovers.
"The activewear business is no longer one-dimensional," he said. "The customer has many needs and even more choices. We're taking the workout-walkout approach."

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