By  on January 7, 2002

NEW YORK -- After an anxiety-filled fourth quarter, lingerie and foundations vendors are facing their first market week of the new year -- for transitional/early fall merchandise -- with plenty of hurdles to overcome.

Having weathered a litany of problems at retail -- ranging from cancellations for holiday and spring merchandise, as well as travel and budget restrictions, increased chargebacks and a depletion of open-to-buy dollars -- vendors continue to be apprehensive about collateral damage from several other factors.

Among them is the fate of The Warnaco Group, following the firm's bankruptcy, and how the woes of the troubled foundations giant could impact overall innerwear business. In addition, there is the continuing sour economy and the pressure on independent firms from the sectors' corporate giants, who have the marketing muscle and clout to squeeze out smaller players.

Despite the hardships, a majority of manufacturers said they expect retail traffic will be brisk at showrooms this week, and the main topics of conversation will generally revolve around markdown dollars, recaps of spring buys and previews of fall 2002, and advertising and promotional campaigns for the second half.

However, vendors privately complained that it is unclear whether buyers' budgets have been set -- or, for that matter, if budgets will be focused exclusively on a few resources that performed well during the crucial holiday selling period. Others fear they could be locked into a smattering of key items that could turn out to be major hits or misses, which would erode their standing at stores.

Retailers are expected to order merchandise that stands the best chance of selling at full price, offsetting the losses incurred during the holiday season, which was packed with deep discounts and a multitude of promotions.

Ideas expected to be strong for early fall include:

Styles that will make consumers feel comfortable, warm and cozy, such as microfleece pajamas, brushed cotton nighties and chenille robes.

Silk at-homewear that has a glamorous, dressed-up look; knits that have a cashmere-like hand, and soft microfibers like Tactel.

An array of special treatments, including metallics, rhinestones, beading, embroideries, appliques, printed sheers and fake-fur trims. Color also will be key.

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