BUYERS RUN FOR COVERAGE AT ORLANDO'S SURF EXPO

Byline: Neal Turnage

ORLANDO, Fla.--Ready-to-wear influences grabbed retailers' attention as they shopped for not-too-revealing swimwear at the Surf Expo here.
While push-up tops inspired by the Wonderbra were getting a play, buyers, for the most part, sought somewhat subdued silhouettes offering coverage. They said that's what most of their customers wanted. Though nearly everyone agreed that the surf customer traditionally remains on the younger side, no one could ignore the fact that there was an effort on behalf of the exhibitors to address a slightly older consumer.
Other big ideas were street-style coverups in denim and lots of color--though mainly in deeper tones rather than brights.
Attracting buyers from the East Coast and the Caribbean, the three-day show ran through Sept. 18 at the Orlando Convention Center. According to show management, traffic was up 5 percent against a year ago.
Retailers often reported increased budgets for the upcoming season, some citing increases as high as 20 percent, but at the same time they seemed conservative when it came to vendor choice. They tended to stick to the more recognized labels, such as Shok, Limited Space, Mossimo, Take Cover and Beach Patrol.
Mary Ann Mixon was one of the buyers trying to negotiate the crush at Mossimo. Mixon, an owner of J. Cornell, an apparel store with locations in Bal Harbour and Key Biscayne, Fla., plans to open a 1,000-square-foot surf shop called Tsunami in Key Biscayne in November. She was one of those staying on the conservative side.
"I'm after the subdued look, nothing glitzy or flashy," she said.
She noted she was flexible as to budget, saying that she intended to spend in the neighborhood of $15,000 for start-up merchandise.
"I plan on staying under $100 for retail price points on swimwear and definitely will be after quick-drying fabrics, maybe the nylon and Lycra [spandex] blends," she continued. "The push-ups are cute, but probably shirts and T-shirts are going to be my biggest sellers."
Most retailers were shopping wholesale price points between $15 and $75 and were making a concerted effort to stay within the $20-$40 mark. Of course, there were exceptions.
Crystal Robson, a buyer from B Risque in Holiday, Fla., noted: "We have women who come in who want to spend only $40 on a suit and we have those who will go over $100. So we're looking at a few different options."
Among the vendors, Michelle Boylan, vice president of junior sales at Beach Patrol, noted that the sales of two-piece and one-piece suits were becoming more balanced. While two-piece suits had been taking 75 percent of the orders for a long time, it was now almost half and half and she projected the season could wind up with 40 percent of the business being with one-piece styles.
At Limited Space, one of the highlights was a group of suits featuring an underwire bra top called the Superduper. Another was the selection of the streetwise coverups, such as the baggy jeans to go with denim suits. The firm was also showing thigh-high hosiery in white or black cotton as part of the street look.
"They can't keep the thigh-highs in stock in California," said Tom McNeel, company president and designer.

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