By  on January 9, 2006

NEW YORK — This month's market is a milestone for the intimate apparel industry. It will be the last January edition after decades as a traditional sleepwear, robe and warmwear venue.

That will be a main focus this week among retailers and vendors, as they discuss strategies to alleviate the pressure of presenting concepts and samples of fall collections a month earlier than previous years. The market dates in 2007, which will be consolidated from five to four sessions are: Feb. 5-9, May 7-11, Aug. 5-10 and Nov. 5-9.

This will offer challenges for vendors that have increasingly been required to speed up lead times for deliveries, giving manufacturers a tighter time frame to source, design and produce goods.

However, the transition is expected to offer two perks during a typically frenetic period: Merchants and manufacturers will have time to scout for fashion trends in Europe and Asia, and vendors that will have more time to source and manufacture merchandise in China will not be beleaguered by a shutdown of factories during the Chinese New Year when all production comes to a halt for about two weeks in January.

Another issue that will continue to be on the front burner for vendors is the fate of innerwear companies and brands being squeezed by retail mergers, including the Federated-May department stores union, the Sears-Kmart deal and the Bon-Ton-Carson's merger.

Among the categories that concern suppliers is branded sleepwear and robes, an area in which more major retailers are turning to private label, accounting for as much of 70 percent of merchandise on the selling floor. Still, bra makers are not out of harm's way, as it is anticipated large retailers will begin assessing how many national bra brands creating similar-looking seamless, molded-cup bras are needed on a retailer's matrix.

In response to these concerns, vendors are addressing the need for newness and differentiation of product. They are either building niches such as young, contemporary bridal like Flora Nikrooz, creating fashionable lifestyle collections of dual-purpose lounge separates like Cruz by the Natori Co., or focusing on a must-have brand in sleepwear such as Oscar de la Renta and Lauren by Ralph Lauren at the Hochman Design Group.

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