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Despite pressure from low-price chains, designers are staying focused on the needs of young women.
The junior and young contemporary markets are all about providing trendy and individual looks at prices these cash-strapped consumers can afford. As mass retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target and Kmart try to woo teens with rock-bottom prices on private label and exclusive brands, many of the junior and young contemporary resources exhibiting at WWDMAGIC are standing their ground with unique, quality clothes at competitive prices.
“The key to staying ahead in this business is knowing who your target market is and giving them what they want, but with your personal style and flare. Young people easily adapt to trends, but it’s a matter of keeping up with their constant change,” said Tiffany Carter, owner and designer of Beverly Hills-based young contemporary resource April & Mae. “You have to change before they do by introducing one or two great trends in your line per season and mixing it with classic styles and basics that will keep your sales flowing.”
CHEAP BUT CHIC
Carter saw a keyhole in the market for lingerie-like apparel that could also be worn out of the house. “Loungerie is what I like to call it,” she said of the mini terry robes and satiny cami sets that wholesale from $42 to $80.
Although thousands of similar items are sold at mass retailers, Carter feels that juniors would rather wear her original butterfly logo. “They are still into labels and will pay for it,” she said of her line, which sells in Los Angeles area boutiques such as Blue Violet. “Wal-Mart and Target are great for add-on items and layering pieces, but I don’t think that their strong presence is going to hurt small boutiques. Boutiques will always be ahead of what’s happening in fashion and that’s where the young market wants to be,” she said.
New York’s Rubber Doll prides itself on providing juniors with innovative tops that, with wholesale prices of $9 to $16, are well below boutique prices. “Our customers are looking for a product with no duplication and we provide that,” said co-owner Steven Oshatz.
Among the looks Rubber Doll is bringing to WWDMAGIC are a white nylon top with horizontal pink and lime green mesh stripes, ribbed cuffs and an off-the-shoulder ribbed collar, as well as a soft ramie-cotton hooded, zip-front cardigan in two-tone pink with side pockets that is designed to be worn as an accessory rather than for warmth.
Oshatz expects the spring collection to do well. “We have had great success at WWDMAGIC. We always manage to pick up new business there, and find our business is up 60 percent during the past year,” he said. The line is available at major department stores and junior specialty chains, including Gadzooks, Parisian, Macy’s West and Nordstrom.
In an effort to grow with its customer, former junior resource To The Max, a division of BCBG Max Azria Group, has repositioned itself as a young contemporary line targeted at the 20- to 45-year-old customer who is fashion-conscious but financially conservative. The changes include more sophisticated styling and higher-grade fabrics.
“To The Max’s goal is to give the underserved consumer superior fashion at competitive prices, therefore making stylish clothing more accessible to even more women,” said Tara Hannert, spokeswoman for BCBG Max Azria Group.
With wholesale prices that range from $42 for shirts to $109 for novelty jackets, To The Max will use a national advertising campaign, Web site and direct mail to target the modern woman and win her discretionary dollars.
“Our customers are modern, savvy women who will go to mass retailer stores to save money on certain household items,” said Hannert. “The money they save by shopping at these stores affords them to shop at higher-end stores for clothing and accessories — the categories that they prefer to spend their money on.”
To The Max is sold in department stores including Marshall Field’s, Dillard’s, Dayton Hudson, Macy’s, Burdines and Nordstrom.
Los Angeles-based Mighty Fine has charted steady growth in sales over the past year. “Back-to-school is meeting our expectations and we expect a strong spring season,” said Patty Timsawat, vice president of operations for Mighty Fine, which produces licensed apparel featuring Peanuts and Disney characters that wholesales from $11 to $13 under the Doe brand.
Part of Mighty Fine’s success can be attributed to its diverse range of accounts. “We sell to boutiques, national specialty retailers and department stores, providing styles that are well suited to our customers shopping at each of these retailers,” said Morgan Ward, licensing manager for Mighty Fine.
The Doe line is available at Kohl’s, J.C. Penney and May Co. stores and doeworld.com.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
It’s Our Time, a $65 million-plus knitwear and denim division of Fashion Avenue Knits, has used information to its advantage in this fast-changing market. After researching trends, shopping extensively in the United States and Europe and benefiting from product development efforts in its private label business, It’s Our Time has added cut-and-sew tops and denim to its previously sweater-focused line. Wholesale prices range from $5 for a top to $15 for a sweater and $20 for bottoms.
The cut-and-sew division, in particular, is growing quickly, and company sales “could reach over $70 million” in the next year, said Todd Resnick, vice president of sales.
The company is expanding into trade shows, co-op advertising and charity sponsorships to help build the brand name. “We do a lot of co-op advertising with stores like Burdines, Macy’s, Dillard’s and Maurice’s, where we participate in their advertising campaigns as well as in their in-store promotions, either as an event or a [point-of-sale] giveaway,” said Resnick.
It’s Our Time has turned to novelty in the form of new pastel shades and casual tops with smocking and sparkles in a bid to create a sought-after look that will give shoppers a reason to buy.
“As long as videos, movies and celebrities emulate trends, then the junior customer will look to the specialty and chain arenas for the slightly edgier or trendy styles,” Resnick said.