By  on December 27, 2005

NEW YORK — It may have been a tough year at retail, but innerwear executives are bullish about business prospects in 2006 due to strong sell-throughs of fashion items and luxe merchandise.

Manufacturers said they will focus on more innovative products that offer comfort, fashion and fit, specifically items in daywear, foundations and loungewear that will whet the appetite of retailers and consumers. Key elements will be fashion colors, contemporary styling and a new generation of ultrasoft microfibers and textured treatments.

With consolidation at retail, new ideas will be paramount as national brands are expected to battle for a smaller yet more potent portion of the marketplace and smaller, entrepreneurial firms struggle to find a niche.

Here, four innerwear executives offer their views:

Stan Herman, loungewear and robe designer and president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America
Disappointments: An accident while playing tennis that affected his tennis game for five months and a "difficult changeover with the executive director [Steven Kolb] at the CFDA."

Goals: "[Next year] will be a major change for me. I'll be leaving the CFDA after 15 years as president in October 2006, but I'll continue to be an important member of the organization and try to continue to build New York as a major design destination. I'll also be writing my memoirs, which I hope will be published in '06, and I'm planning on expanding and doubling my Stan Herman business at QVC, where I began selling my loungewear and robes in 1992."

Josie Natori, chief executive officer of Natori Co.
Accomplishments: "We had so many initiatives in 2005, from Josie Girl children's wear to the Josie Natori launch this fall and an expansion of what we call our marshmallow family of supersoft microfiber products. We also launched our home textiles license with JLA, and that is a really big deal for me. We'll have to top all of that in 2006. We really haven't been focusing on licensing, but we'll definitely be implementing a strategy of expansion in the licensed product arena, whether it's fragrance or home accessories."Disappointments: "You always want to be better. We are working on the Cruz line and we think we can do better with the whole lounge thing."

Goals: "Take off Christmas and New Year's. The pressure is really dumb before the January market and in 2007 it will be a lot better when there will be a February market and no January market." The market dates for 2007 will be downsized from five to four: Feb. 5-9, May 7-11, Aug. 5-10 and Nov. 5-9.

Designer Eileen West
Accomplishments: "Sometimes you get pigeonholed, but it's been a really good year for us because we've been able to get a lot of new concepts off the ground. They include younger-looking sleepwear that's bias-cut, has spaghetti straps and is a lot sheerer. We've also introduced lots of new fabric classifications such as Modal and finer cotton knits that have been very well received."

Disappointments: "I didn't have a personal life in 2005, traveling from San Francisco to New York for retailers and fabrics, market weeks and store appearances. Next year, I'll strive to find more time with friends and have a more balanced life."

Goals: "For 2006, I believe our new bra license at the Chelsea Group will do well. It ships in April and we're already seeing some good things happening with Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom and Dillard's, who have been very supportive." West noted that she began selling her sleepwear on the Home Shopping Network this month.

Richard Murray, president of Wacoal America
Accomplishments: "We were very fortunate to have a good year. Business was good, thank God, although there have been issues with raw material deliveries. But that's been an issue for four or five years." He said corporate sales in 2005, which include the licensed Donna Karan Intimates and Donna Karan Underwear lines, grew 16 percent over a year ago.

"The i Bra, which has no stitching, seams, labels or wire, was our biggest success this year, by far; maybe the biggest launch in Wacoal history. We launched i Bra the second half of the year and so far have shipped over 200,000 units. That makes it a major challenge for next year, because it's not realistic to think you'll have something else to replace it or anniversary it."Goals: "Our challenge in 2006 will be to try to increase sales over 2005 and that will be a big challenge." Sales gains in 2006 are projected at around 8 percent.

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