NEW YORK — As teens continue to be the most fickle group of spenders, junior apparel firms are planning to offer them plenty of must-haves in 2004.

But they better come up with these items fast. With the technology industry after the teen dollar just as much as the beauty and fashion sectors, the $4 billion junior apparel market has to be more compelling than ever.

According to a recent study from market research firm NPD Group, teens and tweens are spending less on apparel and more on technology items such as cell phones, Internet subscriptions, MP3 players and portable DVD players. While gadgets like these may be appealing to teens, Jane Rinsler Buckingham, president of New York-based marketing consultant Youth Intelligence, said teens, especially girls, will continue to be interested in fashion as long as brands and stores offer them what they want.

“Technology is the new jewelry right now,” Buckingham said. “It’s the coolest new accessory and when a teen has the newest piece of technology it says they are smart and on top of things. But I also think they are still very much into fashion. The problem is that they are not excited about it right now. They do have money to spend, but they are smart about how they spend it. They may spend their money on a really cool new coat or T-shirt, but they know the trends happen so fast and don’t want to spend their money on something that will be out of style next week.”

Buckingham said teens have always been interested in innovation in all product categories.

“Teens go to where the innovation is,” she said. “If they can’t find it in fashion, they will go to technology.”

Ady Gluck-Frankel, owner and creative director of Necessary Objects, said she does think teens are spending money on technology, but that isn’t the only industry they are after.

“They are spending money on products for their rooms, like sheets and candles,” she said. “You see that catalogues and magazines are devoting more space to show fun stuff to put in your room.”

But Gluck-Frankel, who has been in the junior apparel business for more than 20 years, is planning to make some changes in the first half of next year. She will launch her first line of lingerie for spring selling. This being her first license, Gluck-Frankel said she is looking into signing licenses for handbags, activewear and accessories. She’s also planning to launch a contemporary label next year.“I really think there is a lot of opportunity in the contemporary market,” she said. “And it is our customer. I really don’t design with a 12-year-old girl in mind, but really a more contemporary customer.”

Overall, Gluck-Frankel agrees that stores need to make some changes to win the junior shopper’s money.

“I would love to see the clothes merchandised in the stores,” she said. “The Gap is doing well again because their vision is clear. Department stores should allow the vendors to send the message of the brand and everything should fall into place.”

While it has only been in business for about two years, the JLo by Jennifer Lopez brand will pick up some major steam next year as the company preps for the launch of more product categories, the next being handbags for spring retailing, and its first freestanding store.

According to Denise Seegal, president of Sweetface Fashion Co., the holding company for the JLo brand, the company is concentrating on a pickup in international business, which has already proven successful as sales continue to rise throughout Canada and the Caribbean. She said the brand is also well-positioned through South America, which is quite a feat since the economy in South America is in such a poor state.

Seegal said the company will open its first freestanding store in Moscow in either March or April.

“We are working with a great developer, the Crocus Group in Moscow, and we really believe this is a terrific beginning for our retail concept,” she said.

Seegal said the company is set to reach more than $250 million at retail by the close of 2003, a major leap from the $175 million at retail that was the original goal.

Also in the works for next year at JLo is a plan for a line of body products with the Glo by JLo label, a line of lingerie produced by Warnaco and an array of new trends. She said she expects denim to continue to perform well through next year with black denim still doing well. The JLo signature tracksuit has gone through some changes as velour and terry cloth have slowed.“We are doing the tracksuits in new, soft innovative fabrics,” she said. “Also big are novelty Ts, soft feminine tops and dresses.”

Chris Griffin, president of the Los Angeles-based Chica brand, said he has some major plans for growth in 2004, starting with his first foray into licensing. The company has hired the Los Angeles-based Grove Group to rally licenses in categories such as junior denim, wovens, intimates, sleepwear, shoes, accessories and home products. This is a major step for the Latina-inspired junior knits line.

“We are at a major advantage in this Latin demographic,” Griffin said. “It seems like everyone wants a piece of it now…Thalia and Kmart, etc. We are going to enter Kohl’s in the spring, a big deal for us.”

Griffin said that while his fourth-quarter bookings were down, the trends he is offering for spring selling are bringing in some positive results. He said Chica is offering ribbed tanks in bright neon shades; still booking well are glitter-screened hoodies.

At the Los Angeles-based Miken, surf-inspired board shorts are still booking, according to Mike Bobbitt, president. The new twist on the look, however, is reversible board shorts and skirts to be showed with matching screened T-shirts. While Bobbitt said his activewear sector of the business has slowed down a bit, he is feeling positive that next year will be a good year.

“My bookings are up 10 percent from last year, which is a nice surprise since January and February are usually pretty slow,” he said. “Teen girls are always shopping for new clothes and the stores are really liking what we are offering.”

Self Esteem is looking to 2004 with the goal of becoming a full lifestyle brand. On target to bring in $125 million by the end of 2003, president Richard Clareman said he is looking to sign licenses for products like denim, sweaters and swimwear. The company is also working on a new ad campaign to follow the one it launched last year, highlighting its butterfly logo.

“We are working on a new ad, also showing the butterfly,” Clareman said. “But this time we are going with a graffiti artist to create a new vibe.”Clareman said the activewear division has been performing well and booked in great quantities for spring selling. Also big for Self Esteem are screened T-shirts, something for which the company has become known.

“There is still that cut in teen spending,” he said. “But girls are still going to want to buy clothes, so what we have to do is give them a reason to buy Self Esteem. They have a lot of choices today and retailers need to work hard to give them a compelling shopping experience.”

Dickies Girl’s president Masud Sarshar said he is planning to use 2004 to develop strong relationships with the stores the brand is already in.

As for advertising, he said, “We are continuing to stay underground as far as the marketing goes. We don’t go after the customer with ridiculous advertising. We stay true to what we are and that works.”

It seems to work well for Sarshar, since he said his volume will reach $120 million this year.

“Our customer spends money on clothes,” he said. “Maybe they buy other things, too, but they will always buy new clothes.”

For spring, Dickies Girl will offer its signature pinstripe stretch twill pants and tanks.

“We used to call them gangster stripes and beater tanks,” he said. “But we got some heat from the parents, so now they are pinstripes and tanks. But really, that is the only major change we are making.”

TRENDCAST

The junior market is known for offeringa variety of seasonal trends to entice teens to buy. Here are some highlights of what’s on tap for 2004.

  • Ribbed tanks in Eighties-inspired neon colors.

  • Tracksuits in new fabrics like jersey.

  • Black denim jeans.

  • Stretch twill pinstripe pants.

  • Basic screenprinted T-shirts.

  • Surf-inspired board shorts and skirts.

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