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NEW YORK — Retailers shopping the Moda Manhattan and Fashion Avenue Market Expo trade shows this week were filling needs in their inventories — having bought closer to the season than in years past — and looking for products with a spark to keep their offerings fresh.
For the most part, their searches for fall, holiday and spring goods were successful at the shows, held here at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. In the course of their buying, though, retailers also stirred — of all things — a faint optimism on the part of some vendors.
While a portion of that upbeat outlook could be the product of difficult times — the accompanying altered expectations that can make any trickle of business seem like a gusher — some of the busier booths suggested the good vibrations, although strained, were something more than blind hope.
In another good sign, vendors and retailers said consumers have grown more at ease lately, finally freeing themselves of much of the stress that permeated life after 9/11 and the beginnings of the war on terror.
Sonia Santiago, who was selling for Exquisite Apparel, Nicole Miller’s loungewear licensee, at FAME, said, “In one day, we probably did the same business as in the better two days last year.”
Tommy Choi of Beau Bois was more tempered, though. “It’s OK,” he said of the show. “It’s like last year and the year before. Buyers are taking their time and being careful.” Plaid, pleated minis were selling well at the booth.
Shorter skirts were drumming up business throughout the show. Allen Gauthier, vice president of sales for Hollywood the Jean People, added, “There’s still demand for long, full skirts, but the short skirt is where the action is going to be [in the fall].” Cargo pants, as well as cropped pants, due to the importance of boots to many wardrobes, were also moving well.
In all, exhibitors at FAME were showing nearly 1,000 lines, 35 percent of which were accessories, over a four-day stretch that ended Tuesday. Net square footage devoted to the show was on par with a year ago at 32,000, while attendance was projected to be up 5 percent to 6,800.
To some, the show was too small with disappointing traffic.
“So what, it’s small,” countered Richard Evans, whose business card bills him as El Presidente of San Cristobal Imports, based in West Haven, Conn. “You get more exposure. The people who are here are here to shop and you get seen by everybody.”
Retailer Jeanne Quintile, the proprietor of Things We Like in Clinton, N.J., said she crossed the Hudson River to the show to “do fill-ins” for her store and to “get a hint of spring.”
“Our business hasn’t been terrible,” she noted. “We’re still buying.”
Ralph Magwood of Carolyn Porter Designs in Rockport, Mass., was at FAME looking to buy transition merchandise. And the economy? “We had a lousy spring,” he noted, adding, “It’s been fine since the Fourth of July.”
Bob DePula, co-owner of Pretty Woman in Ewing, N.J., which specializes in plus-sized fashions, conceded that the economy has been difficult for the store. “We’re shopping for bargains,” he said.
Across the convention center, buyers and sellers at Moda Manhattan experienced much of the same, though with a somewhat brighter outlook. This could be due to Moda’s leaning toward the better price points, while FAME is more moderate.
Britton Jones, president of Business Journals Inc., which puts together the shows, noted, “We’re trying to keep them very focused.” He’s also trying to raise the shows’ profiles during market week.
“We are extremely aggressive in our marketing,” noted Jones. “We spent more on marketing for this round of shows than ever before.”
Those advertising dollars went toward Web sites for the shows, as well as new letters and a direct-mail campaign. Business Journals also has begun to personalize invitations to buyers with the buyer’s name and the store name.
Moda, which is packaged with Accessories The Show, carried 163 apparel lines, 29 of which were new to the venue. The Moda show doubled in size to about 8,000 square feet from last year. While the final numbers were yet to be tabulated, show organizers said more than 8,000 attended Moda, which ran Sunday through Tuesday, an 11 percent rise from last August.
“What the numbers don’t tell you,” noted Jones, “is that a number of exhibitors at all three shows commented that buyers are optimistic. They’re not as cautious as they have been in the last two seasons.”
Andy Orliner, a sales rep with a booth at Moda, noted, “August is one of the rougher markets, but there’s a lot of activity here — it’s humming.”
Sales executive Cammie Kirk added, “The better customer seems to have come out of the woodwork. She’s come alive again.”
Consumers are finally beginning to loosen up after nearly two years of terrorism-induced stress and that’s made them more apt to buy, she noted, echoing others at the show.
Kirk is finding retailers who held tight reign on the order book going into the season, but are now coming back for goods to ship immediately. From her perspective, though, retailers are still being conservative.
“They’re scared,” she said. “They’ve come off of two really bad years.”