VENTURE, TARGET IN FASHION FACE-OFF

Byline: Holly Haber

IRVING, Tex.--Keen competitors Target and Venture are clearly attempting to deliver fashion trends inexpensively. Visits to the stores revealed that for spring and summer, they are sticking to casual weekend wear and capping prices at $30.
Both stores here, separated by only a few thousand feet in this area of massive retail development, had stocked up on shorts, twill pants, jeans, sleeveless tops, embellished vests, crinkled skirts and printed rompers. They carried a sizable selection of denim shorts at $15 to $20.
Despite similarities, the merchandising at the two discount chains revealed different approaches.
Target seemed intent on using its private labels to deliver clean contemporary looks in natural fibers--delving deeply into such key looks as neutral-hued knit and woven separates. Its own labels appeared to comprise more than half the stock.
"We have our own trend department that travels the globe researching and predicting trends in apparel and home furnishings," said Joyce Harris, a spokeswoman for Target in Minneapolis. In the last year, she said, the store has gone from "more Gap-like basics" to more trendy merchandise.
"We're all about giving people designer-looking things at affordable prices," she said.
Target officials declined to discuss the performance of the women's apparel business.
Target still looked a little like The Gap, with comfortably spaced displays of current commodity styles made chiefly of cotton, silk, linen and rayon. Signs atop racks had color photographs of models wearing suggested ensembles, with prices indicated by curving black arrows pointing to the respective pieces.
Target is obviously putting a lot of effort behind its Sostanza contemporary apparel label. Silk and cotton knit vests with interlaced ribbon trim and wood buttons, for example, were $15.99. Cotton thermal tank tops and bike shorts in solid black, forest, magenta and natural were $8.99 each. And mandarin-collar sleeveless silk shirts in solid colors were $14.99.
Most Sostanza styles were offered in a muted palette of solid colors, including natural, black, ochre, forest, burgundy, navy, magenta and blue. The occasional bright was a splash of yellow or red.
Denim dominated the front of the women's department, with a display of Sostanza short overalls in solid and striped shades of faded indigo, black and white for $21.99.
Target's other labels also looked updated. Its traditional misses' line, called Honors, offered a black and tan checked cotton knit boxy cardigan with loop buttonholes for $29.99 that looked like a Joan Vass knockoff. It was paired with a black cotton knit short skirt for $15.99.
Among Target's trendier looks were racing-striped shorts at $9.99 and matching sleeveless, hooded tops at $11.99 in red, white and black cotton and spandex under the brand Pro Spirit.
Venture, in contrast, offered a broader selection, including louder looks, more bright prints and embellishment. It seemed less intent on designer knockoffs, hitting some popular trends, including crinkled skirts, but ignoring others, such as athletic-inspired styles. Venture also carried more national brands than Target, especially Sasson and No Excuses.
Liz Levin, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for women's apparel and jewelry for Venture in O'Fallon, Mo., said the company wants to be first among discounters who have "the latest fashion looks."
To do that, Venture has gone to manufacturers Levin described as "major suppliers for specialty and department stores, so we always know what is selling in these markets."
She declined to reveal the store's business plan, but said, "We anticipate a very good apparel year."
Big fabric trends for fall, she noted, will include flannel, fleece, corduroy, thermal, ribs and velvet, as well as "denim and more denim."
Venture's women's sportswear department made a weak first impression because it was fronted by garishly printed T-shirts, and merchandise was jammed onto racks that stood close together.
Inside, however, was a big array of merchandise under a lot of labels, including Sasson Passport, No Excuses, Kikomo, Chic, Memphis, True Blue, Tangibles, Energie by Currants, Zoomers and Zanee. There were racks crammed with shorts, pants and crinkle skirts.
Venture also had a substantial stock of private label goods, including Headliners basic printed T-shirts and matching bottoms, Jessica Stevens brightly printed camp shirts and babydoll dresses and Ivy Club Classics, which offered embroidered patchwork vests in bright colors for $16.99, among other things.
Venture had a lot more printed denim than Target. Its short overalls by Ivy Club Classics, for example, were a patchwork of solid blue with a floral print in white, blue and green for $19.99. Many of its shorts sported bright floral prints and stripes or were accented with floral embroidery and trimmed cuffs.

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