BUYERS GO FOR ISAM'S VARIETY

Byline: Kim-Van Dang and Alicia Hankes

LOS ANGELES--It's in the mix.
That was the verdict at this month's International Swimwear and Activewear Market at the California Mart, an event that was jammed with buyers discovering trends that ranged from pastels to neons, thongs to boy-cut bikinis and vampy, low-cut suits to sleek racing tanks.
Armed with increased budgets, most buyers said they were happy with the selection, which included offerings from 19 new ISAM exhibitors. Some 173 lines were shown at the four-day market, which ended Oct. 13.
"Last year, we sold 36 temporary showrooms," said ISAM coordinator Barbara Brady. "This year, the number is 55. With three concurrent markets [ISAM, the Los Angeles Junior and Contemporary Market and Big Blu, a new denim market], mart space was sold out for the first time. It's exciting."
An ISAM party called "Coast to Coast" was also filled to capacity. Held Oct. 10 at Union Station, it attracted about 1,000 swimwear industry members who viewed three theme fashion shows, did some country line-dancing and enjoyed casino-style entertainment.
Randy Farris, owner of Tan Lines, three swimwear stores in Memphis, Tenn., was a first-time ISAM shopper.
"I usually shop Miami, Orlando and Atlanta," he said, "but business is so good that I can't get all of my buying done. My buying budget is double a year ago."
The retailer attributed the increase to new merchandising strategies. He has increased his stock from 6,000 to 10,000 suits per store.
"There are more choices now," he said. "If you walk in, you're going to walk out with two suits."
While his 10-year-old business used to feature major lines, he is taking more chances these days and leaving paper with smaller companies. Shopping wholesale price points of $22 to $45, he ordered thong bikinis and T-back maillots from several resources, including Bikini Joe's wholesale line, American flag print suits by Rebel Flag, plaid swim separates by California Waves and Sunsets and boy-leg suits by Sirena.
Manufacturers were also upbeat.
"The market was tremendous!" said Howie Greller, executive vice president of Beach Patrol. He said he had more appointments than he could handle. Greller pointed out that he has just launched the Mighty Bra to stay abreast of the push-up trend.
"We have nothing to complain about," he continued. "Big orders were placed, and things are up from last year, which was also a good season, by 35 to 40 percent."
Jantzen Inc. saw an increase in traffic over a year ago. It had an average of 20 to 25 appointments per day and increased business about 30 percent over last year.
"This ISAM is the best market we've seen in a long time," said Cindy Waddell of Jantzen's Strategic Business Unit. "There were no slow moments."
Joe Clinard Jr., owner of Bikini Joe's, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., swimwear store with locations in Atlanta and Myrtle Beach, S.C., said he was focusing on smaller lines more than in previous years.
They included East Coast Annie, which featured suits in wet-looking fabrics with mesh inserts, and Too Hot Brazil, which showed thong bottoms with bows and ruffles in bright primary colors.
"Sales are about 8 percent over a year ago and my open-to-buy is up 10 percent," Clinard said. "Specialty stores that will survive have to find their niche. Our niche is now futuristic junior swimwear."
Suits with heat-appliquéd sequins, holographic detail and surface textures also caught Clinard's eye. D-cup suits account for 30 percent of his business, he said, adding that he buys them in five underwire styles and six colors from California Waves. Shopping price points of $19 to $36 wholesale, he said the hottest looks at market, however, were Ritchie's cotton suits that resemble Calvin Klein underwear.
Deborah Hampton, owner of Exposure, a swimwear and activewear store in Glendale, Calif., shopped wholesale price points of $10 to $40. She said she liked offerings by Beach Patrol, Shok and Mossimo.
"We are after broad styles--everything from G-strings to boy legs, plaids to pastels to neons and primary bright colors," she said. The buyer said she was going to experiment with Beach Patrol's Mighty Bra, which is fashioned after the Wonderbra. Hampton said her business was up 10 percent and that for the first time, she was buying children's swimsuits and swim separates.
Joseph V. Marini Jr., owner of Marini's at the Beach--a Santa Cruz, Calif., women's and men's swimwear store with four locations there--found a lot at market. He liked some of the sexier items, including suits in sheer fabrics, designs influenced by lingerie such as Wonderbra looks and thong bikinis. With business reportedly up 2 percent, he favored such resources as Mossimo, Quicksilver, Tango Rose, Darling Rio, Shok, Raisins and Sunsets.
Jill Jensen Clark, activewear buyer for Nordstrom in Salt Lake City, said she was looking for colors from hunter green to pastels and fluorescent tones. She found them in cotton swimwear by Daffy, Tango Rose and Mossimo. Clark liked the idea of push-up bra-style suits with removable pads, noting that the store likes to give its customers options. All of its two-piece suits, for instance, can be purchased as separates.
Similarly, she ordered flippy skirt coverups that can double as ready-to-wear. Clark said she was not bound by price points, adding that her sales are up 5 percent over a year ago.
Judy Binoeder, women's sportswear buyer for Bigg's, five sportswear stores based in Cincinnati, said her budget was 5 to 15 percent higher than it was a year ago.
"I'm buying more prints and textures," she said. "I still have to be somewhat conservative and stick to one-pieces because we're in the Midwest, but I like underwire suits with pads."
Shopping price points of $17 to $28 wholesale, she ordered plaids and floral prints from Daffy, California Waves and Hobie.
Lynda Vanover, buyer of junior tops and swimwear for Elder-Beerman Stores, a Dayton, Ohio, department store chain with 49 doors in the Midwest, also favored sheer fabrics. At the same time, she sought silhouettes that afforded more coverage, especially for large-busted women.
With a buying budget up 20 percent because the weather cooperated this year, she left paper for textured goods by Hobie, Sassafras and Daffy.
Julie Monarrez, buyer, and Allan Szto, owner, of Beach N' Volley, a swimwear and activewear store opening later this fall in Northridge, Calif., looked for suits that were fashionable yet functional. Colors they liked ranged from denim shades of red and forest green to brights.
Sports bra tops and suits with underwires by Raisins, Tachee, Mossimo, Take Cover, Speedo and Jag all made the cut.
"We're not worried about opening in an earthquake-ravaged city because, believe it or not, the economy in Northridge has been boosted. The government is giving people money to rebuild," said Szto.
A prime location next to California State University at Northridge won't hurt either.

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