A trio of business trends are giving casual lifestyle producers a chance for a sales turnaround.

Casual lifestyle companies aren’t letting a spat of bad weather turn sales sheets gloomy, as well. In fact, the weather has influenced at least one trend in hopes of luring sales — seasonless clothing. Many also are keeping business on track by incorporating extras into designs, such as beading and novelty yarns. And, of course, stepping up wholesale customer services is a tried and true way of securing sales; now companies are doing it aggressively.

  • A LINE FOR ALL SEASONS: Seasonal sales have been so affected by weather this year that several casual lifestyle companies have been pushed to sell lines throughout the year. At Dallas-based sportswear resource Apparel World, new transitional styles have driven spring 2003 sales and are expected to do the same for fall. “We’re trying to put the past two seasons behind us and move on with newer items that will build business back up to where it was a few years ago,” said owner Tanuja Chhabra. “When sales are down and figures aren’t looking good, you have to diversify and tap into new markets to move ahead.”

    At WWDMAGIC, 15-year-old Apparel World will introduce its third new line this year, Sarina, which features woven rayon and linen-based lightweight separates in misses’ sizes in related styles, suitable for year-round sales. The collection was created to supply resort retailers, who often order only spring items, Chhabra said. For spring 2003, Apparel World launched two successful lines: Simran, with novelty printed sportswear, and fashion knitwear-based Savan, both of which pumped sales up 20 percent over last year to date. Chhabra expects double-digit sales gains for Apparel World and estimates wholesale volume to reach $1.9 million this year.

    Longmont, Colo.-based Icelandic Designs also is branching out into seasonless clothing. However, the goal is to increase territory. The predominantly wool-based label will introduce lightweight silk/rayon, linen and ramie knits into the mix in order to reach warm-weather markets, said director of sales Doc Porter. “We’re diversifying our yarns in order to do more business outside the Northeast, where most of our client base is located,” he said. “This will allow us to become more attractive to accounts that don’t always buy year-round because of warmer temperatures.”
  • NEW FRONTIERS: To spark business growth and increase sales in the casual lifestyle market, producers are amping up novelty and perceived built-in extras. At New York-based sportswear label Kaktus Inc., a new line featuring items with detailing and increased embellishments is expected to drive fall business, said Raj Tewani, vice president. The line will include new activewear bottoms and stretch cotton T-shirts with edge embroidery and beading, as well as rayon/linen-blend capris with embroidery and novelty buttons.

    “Right now, women want something that has a different, unique look and are willing to pay for items that set them apart,” Tewani said. “People feel like they are getting more for their money when they buy items that have extras added in.”

    Of The Earth, an 11-year-old Bend, Colo.-based label, is adding new styles to its current collections by increasing women’s apparel items by 30 percent, said vice president of sales and marketing Gary Bracelin. The company, known widely for its organic and natural fiber-based casualwear, is also offering many new fabrics and fabric blends, including soy, Tencel and hemp.

    “We’ve always been a leader in the natural fiber market and we want to continue to be the ‘go-to’ for natural fiber-made products,” said Bracelin, noting that new items are expected to generate roughly 37 percent of total sales. In recent months, the company has been asked to increase production of private label items for a number of outdoor companies. Demand has been particularly high with organic hemp T-shirts and cotton activewear items. Currently, Of The Earth’s sales are up 15 percent over last year.

  • SERVICES RENDERED: Along with most other apparel manufacturers, casual lifestyle firms are putting an emphasis on customer service. Earth Creations, a T-shirt and loungewear resource based in Bessemer, Ala., improved its Web site last spring to allow wholesale buyers to access collection and item information and place orders online, while consumers can locate local retailers. National sales manager Martha Hunter said, “Buyers aren’t traveling as much as they used to and this is a great way for us to go to them.”For those buyers who are traveling to the regional markets and trade shows, Apparel World has added more national sales representatives to its staff in an attempt to reach additional stores, said owner Chhabra.

    To encourage sales from anxious retailers nervous about overbuying, Icelandic Design’s Doc Porter said basic communication with customers is key. “People are cautious about buying right now and we want to know why,” he said. “We want to make sure they know we are here to help them, if possible.”

    The company vigilantly calls retailers about placed orders, as well as new products, and works individually with accounts that may need extended payment dates. Porter said customer service representatives regularly contact nonbuying accounts to offer discounts and purchase incentives. “Keeping customers happy with new, updated items is fine and well, but keeping in touch with them and creating a true relationship is just as important.”

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