Individuality, newness and being able to get the product shipped out on time are the criteria cited by resort vendors across the country as a way to counter the effects of a sluggish economy.

That said, makers of resortwear are largely optimistic about the year ahead.?With people traveling again and occupancy rates at spas, resorts and hotels increasing, business, for the most part, is holding steady.

Another factor that’s working in vendors’ favor is the current consumer demand for roomy, comfortable and versatile loungewear, for which buyers are turning to makers of resortwear to source. Many producers in the resort category are citing first-time interest from department stores.

Robert Hadeed, director of sales for Alegre Fashions based in Miami, says that being able to provide something quirky and unusual is a key to flourishing in what are potentially difficult times.?

In addition to the usual stable of designers, his company has brought on a few artists to create original watercolor art that is then used on garments. (The line is called Peanut Punch).?

"Everything we do is an original," said Hadeed. "And every garment has a painting to match in the artist’s gallery. If a woman likes a particular piece of art, she can wear the fashion to match. She can be a walking museum."

Business has been fairly brisk for the company, after a depressed couple of years.

"Things are definitely picking back up, and we are seeing motion again. This year is better than last year. Our customers are upbeat, and we are a lot busier."?

In addition to the current trend toward wearable art, Hadeed said he anticipates a demand for ruffles and front slits on dresses, skirts and tops.

At Calispia in Costa Mesa, Calif., president Lee Ann Stevens is seeing more of a crossover from resort into sportswear.?While continuing to focus on relaxed, easy clothes, she is also introducing prints into the collection — a brand-new endeavor.

"We have a lot of new details on garments, such as smocking, and we will also be doing prints for the first time," Stevens said.Her target customer is the 35-to-65-year-old who does not want the fitted and sculpted styles often prevalent on store floors.

"A lot of women are getting more interested in loungewear," she said. "So many people target the junior market that there is not much out there for the woman with a more mature figure."?

With an emphasis on comfort and a high-fashion quotient (blousy poet shirts, floral embroideries, new dying techniques resulting in novelty prints and colors), Stevens anticipates business building as yearend approaches.

"After Sept. 11, people weren’t traveling, and the market was very quiet. But now, coming up to fall, it’s going to be huge," she said, citing a 15 percent increase in business over the last 12 months.

"I consider that really good."

Innovation is key, said Sharon Kopin of Buffalo Grove, Ill.-based Audace Fashions. "People are looking for something new. The old has been exhausted," she said.

Kopin has developed a new line, called Towel-Tide, where the emphasis is on relaxation.?

"Not everything should be tight. The tightest jeans in the world are already out there. This is more of a comfortable loungewear," she said.

Kopin described Towel-Tide as something to work out in, relax in, stay at home in or take the kids to school in. Made from chenille or a terry velour, the collection is enjoying a healthy response from boutiques at casinos and spas.

"It’s more response than I’ve ever imagined," she said of the collection, which is for men, women and children. Capris, pants with rope-waists and large pockets and breezy tops are the core of the collection.

Motifs on plain backgrounds include sunsets, palm trees and flamingos.

"Themes are important, and they mean something to a store," said Kopin.

"Newness is the key to everything," said Christie Fish, sales manager in the junior division of Los Angeles, Calif.-based Apparel Ventures.

"Old-school is two deliveries a year," she said. "Companies now have to keep giving consumers what they want."Apparel Ventures produces swimwear for such companies as Citrus, Nautica, Anne Klein and Tommy Bahama. Overall, the company has seen a strong retailing season over the past several months and expects that to continue.?

"We’ve had a great buzz and are really excited to get to market," she said. "Juniors are still shopping, and they are buying when the sun is out. It’s a positive market, and customers seem happy with us."

The current surfing craze has positively impacted sales at Aloha 808, based in Carson, Calif. Apart from selling at hula festivals in Hawaii and resort stores, the label is enjoying crossover appeal.

Comprised of sweatshirts, T-shirts, pants, visors and jackets, the brand-new collection has tapped into a market hungry for colorful, festive fare.

"The whole concept is to get the Hawaiian community intermingled with other communities," said owner Keiko Nakano. "It’s a unisex collection that extends all the way from toddlers to adults, and we’ve so far had a good reaction in the market."?

Nakano makes the line trendy by using a small Aloha print as an appliqué design instead of the traditional allover motifs.

"The line runs more along the surf theme, with tank tops, sweatshirts and warm pieces," Nakano said.

She is also being courted by prospective stockists in Asia, including Japan, where she has been told that "anything with Aloha on it sells well."

Keeping production as close to hand as possible is one of the most effective ways to stay on top of the market, said Mary Wong, assistant to the designer at By Taylor, based in Los Angeles, California.

"Otherwise, turnaround time is much longer. And it’s very important to our customers to get the goods on time. They don’t want to project too far out."?

The company has had its best year ever, primarily because they can ship within a month of an order being placed.

"Customers don’t have to plan six months in advance. If they want something quickly, they should be able to get it," said Wong.For next season, the sporty components the company makes will be given an antique touch, with colors like sage and wicker and fabrics like lightweight twill. Wong said being able to provide variety was also crucial in a competitive market, with a palette that extends to some 40 colors.

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