By  on August 27, 2007

Escalating demand from consumers for versatile and stylish casual lifestyle clothing has led to increased competition in the marketplace, said vendors attending WWDMAGIC. The Las Vegas trade show has become an ideal window in which to demonstrate to this burgeoning customer base what each company has to offer.

"Casual lifestyle is gaining in popularity and has recently surpassed other styles of clothing that have been staples in the apparel market," said Barbra Quanstrom, chief financial officer of Couture Active Wear Inc., in Miami Beach, Fla. She cited a July 2006 study — commissioned by Lucy, a Portland, Ore.-based lifestyle apparel company — that states that 50 percent of American women ages 18 to 50 dress in activewear regularly, and one in three women prefer activewear when running errands on weekends.

The casual lifestyle market "is one the highest-grossing sectors in the apparel market now versus previous years," Quanstrom said. "As with any other sector, competition breeds success and forces current companies to maintain higher standards." This competition also encourages vendors to focus on "user-friendly, high-performance clothing that meets consumers' needs," she added.

Couture Active Wear hopes to build on the success achieved at previous shows. "We have experienced a 50 percent increase in sales at each show and expect the same at the upcoming show," Quanstrom said, adding that she expected to secure 10 to 15 new wholesale accounts and exceed $50,000 in new business. As of June 30, sales are running 200 percent over last year for the same period, she said.

To boost growth, the company plans to introduce new fabrics and embellishments "to be more fashion-forward," said Quanstrom. Couture Active Wear also has created a new line, Couture Sport, which she called a "crossover streetwear collection." Additionally, the company has expanded its corporate offices and warehouse facilities to house larger inventory, and is hiring additional sales staff to accommodate recent sales growth.

Claire Powell is showing at WWDMAGIC for the first time this week, and hopes to find an expanded customer base for her eponymous footwear and resortwear line. "I will be happy with 12 new customers and sales of $500,000 to $1 million," she said. Powell added that she expects to more than double her sales this year as a result of the show. According to Powell, the Sydney-based company's increasingly popular product may also be an advantage. "I use beautiful embroidery work on my shirts and pants, which gives them a real point of difference along with the special fabrics I use," she said of the hand-loomed silk and cotton she developed with mills in India, Taiwan and China.WWDMAGIC has helped returning exhibitor A Touch of Class Clothing of Irwindale, Calif., increase sales exponentially, according to company president and designer Nina Tolentino. "In previous years, we experienced an average of $100,000-plus in order writing [at the] four-day show, not including the possible contracts landed from our biggest mail-order catalogue accounts," she said.

To prepare for WWDMAGIC, the company prints catalogues and sends out approximately 400 reminder postcards to existing customers. The extra expense of materials has been worth it, she said — for the past five years, the company has increased its sales annually by an estimated 10 percent. "We are hoping that the combination of repeat customers as well as the new customers that MAGIC will bring will make all our hard efforts in preparing for this big show worthwhile," Tolentino said. She expected to land at least 25 new accounts in Las Vegas.

In order to diversify its merchandise and ensure growth, the company recently added a handbag and belt division with products made of fake crocodile, snake and alligator.

At Rochester, N.Y.-based Emerson Street, artist Emerson Quillin keeps the line of nightshirts, pajamas and other licensed products fresh by continually adding new designs, said head of sales Joanne Hanna.

At each edition of the show, Hanna said, "we write about 1 percent of our year's total sales." She said the company hopes to open one new major account and match last year's numbers in other areas.

"We have written the same dollar amount at every show over the past three years," she said. "We would like to acquire at least 20 new accounts and write at least 20 new reorders," said Hanna, adding that the company's sales increased 35 percent over last year.

For the last few years, competition has been fierce in the "glitzy apparel" section of the casual lifestyle market, said DeeDee Hanson, president of Simply Hot Inc., in Graham, Wash. The most successful merchants in that category appeal directly to the customer, she explained. "Our customers know which vendors stand behind their products and ship on time, and as requested," she said, adding that higher-end garments, including her pieces, are made with the highest quality products and the most thought, while a lower cost line oftentimes may put together items based on what they have in stock instead of using the newest fabrics and the best quality components. "The trend for sophisticated casualwear is what our customer is looking for, and the budget lines do not have that taste level." Simply Hot's wholesale price points run from $25 for a T-shirt to more than $50 for jeans.Simply Hot has shown at WWDMAGIC for a decade, and growth resulting from the booth has mimicked yearly sales growth of 20 to 50 percent, Hanson said. "This is a must-attend market for us," she said. "Our customers count on seeing us here so they can view the entire line."

This year, Hanson's goal is a 20 percent increase in sales over last year and an addition of 50 accounts at WWDMAGIC. "This is a huge show for us, and we know our key customers will see us there. The energy of the show adds to the sales," she said.

Simply Hot sales are already up more than 10 percent over last year, and Hanson said the company had booked 30 percent more business compared with the same period last year. To continue that growth trend, the company has expanded into treatments on denim and knits, and is using distressed, screen-printed and appliquéd fabrics for added appeal. As for the company's specific growth goals and how WWDMAGIC helps achieve them, Hanson said, "We would like to maintain our 20 percent growth rate over last year, as we have since 2001. MAGIC is a place that helps add new accounts that we may never have known existed. They find us by word of mouth and by noticing a busy booth with great energy around it."

New York-based Antilia Sportswear first attended WWDMAGIC in February 2006, where it acquired approximately 65 accounts, said Tom Hoffman, sales executive. "MAGIC offers us a great opportunity to increase our distribution and continue our excellent growth," he said. Hoffman added that the 10-year-old company has a good chance of increasing sales up to 50 percent from last year. "This visit, we hope to work with the same accounts as we did in February and add additional accounts," he said.

Hoffman plans to open 25 to 30 new accounts at this edition of WWDMAGIC, based on what he called Antilia's overall growth strategy of "fashion newness."

Antilia approaches "fashion newness" through its fabric selection, which includes polyester stretch charmeuse, cotton voile with silver and gold shine and cotton with novelty embroidery. The company also keeps its eye on the worldwide market and trending color schemes, Hoffman added.New York-based Verdina, a first-time exhibitor at the show, launched in January 2006 for customers wanting something new from casual lifestyle apparel, said company president Dana Coppolino. The company entered the apparel arena via the golf marketplace, with a line that could easily transition off the course. After two years in the golf category, Coppolino said, Verdina is poised to take on the rest of the retail world.

"There is an uptrend in consumer spending in the casual lifestyle market. Though competition in this area has increased, so has the demand for the products we offer," she said. "Customers are looking for comfort, as well as the ability to mix and match new pieces with their already existing wardrobe."

To grow the company, Coppolino said she and her business partners incorporate trends in style, color and fabric "to freshen things up a bit." Verdina also has added more dresses and is using more natural fibers such as Modal, Tencel and bamboo, she said.

Coppolino said Verdina, which has grown more than 200 percent in the past year and anticipates doubling sales over the next year, expects at least $100,000 worth of business and between 30 and 40 new accounts at WWDMAGIC. "We envisioned a launch into this marketplace with our product and the versatility of the collection two years ago." Thanks to the breadth of new customers from the show, "we see ourselves fit and ready to begin a new venture and expansion," she said.

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