CASUAL LOOKS LIFT VENDORS' MARKET HOPES

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK--Despite lagging sales for basic sheer hosiery, several hosiery and sock manufacturers expect the August market to generate double-digit increases.
Thigh-highs, knee socks and other fashion and casual items should spur sales for early spring, manufacturers said, as a growing number of women opt for alternatives to pantyhose. The market will generally move into gear Aug. 8.
Hanes Hosiery is planning to launch Silk Reflections Casual, a collection of banded tights, trouser socks, thigh-highs and other items.
"This casual trend is a fact of life. Some women are wearing these styles to work," said Debbie Hobbs, vice president of sales.
Hanes will also introduce Silk Reflections Petites to be tested in six markets, she said. In addition, two queen-size styles of Smooth Illusions, another pantyhose line, will be launched.
"One size [range] doesn't fit all anymore--neither does one look," Hobbs said. "We knew we needed to have products that fit all our customers."
Hanes will also launch its first hosiery care product, a laundry rinse called Expert Care.
Hot Sox expects to generate $1 million in orders during August market, a 20 percent increase over last year, according to Gary Wolkowitz, president. Textured microfiber cotton and Lycra spandex knee-highs, anklets and fishnet tights are expected to be strong performers, he said.
With shiny yarns becoming more popular, Hot Sox is introducing socks and tights made of monofilament nylon and rayon to update its early spring collection. In terms of color, pink, lemon, turquoise, royal and other brights are being used to freshen up the sales floor, said Wolkowitz, noting solids comprise 30 percent of the line.
Ribbed, crocheted and other variations of textured tights should help increase sales for CK Calvin Klein Hosiery and CK Tights by 5 to 10 percent, according to Keith Mabe, vice president of Kayser-Roth Corp., licensee for the designer's legwear.
"Men's wear looks are still very strong, and that's very Calvin," Mabe said. "As we move into spring, there should be more feminine styles in naturals in gauze and cotton." The company has enhanced its offerings for CK Hosiery by adding one new basic style and three fashion items. Five fashion items have been added to the CK Tights collection, which will retail for $2 less than last year.
"Pricing is an important factor. Women are demanding that," Mabe said.
A 10 to 15 percent increase is expected for Hue, another one of Kayser-Roth's licenses, Mabe said. Boot socks, over-the-knee legwear and thigh-highs done in tights fabrics should be best-selling items through spring.
At Gold Toe, here, a 10 to 15 percent increase is projected, according to Jodie Morine, executive vice president of women's sales. Offerings for trouser socks, thigh-highs, boot socks and fashion styles have been increased substantially, she said.
Meanwhile, athletic sock sales are 45 percent ahead of last year, and Morine said that trend should continue through the spring. A surge of multi-pack sales has helped to make athletics one of the firm's fastest-growing categories, she said. Plus-size socks is another expanding category that should bolster sales.
"We are optimistic about it, because department stores haven't focused on it yet," she added.
August market should generate a 10 to 12 percent increase for the Evan-Picone hosiery line, according to Joni Zeller-Claxton, vice president of hosiery design for Ithaca Industries, the licensee. The line will be making a big push with its Teddy Hose collection, featuring lingerie-inspired styling.
Three new items have been added to the collection, which range from $6 at retail for sheers with built-in lace panties to $18 for bodyhose, a semi-sheer bodysuit with its own pantyhose.
"I think sexy hosiery will be the next wave after the shaper category," she said. "One category doesn't have to take away from the other."
By placing a greater emphasis on socks and knee-highs, Giorgio Armani Calze expects to increase spring sales by at least 30 percent this year, according to William Bell, president and chief executive officer. This year the company launched a lower-priced line of pima cotton and Lycra socks that start at $7.50 retail. Other key items include rayon and cotton socks with piqued stitching, floral lace knee-highs and rayon and nylon bouclÄ anklets, Bell said.
Having added its first thigh-highs and over-the-knee offerings, TrimFit, a sock resource, here, is planning a 10 to 12 percent increase for the upcoming market, according to Martin Kramer, chairman. He pointed to plaid cotton nylon pointelle socks and cotton chenille knee socks as other key items.

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