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Knits’ New Energy

Knits are boosting sales in the Southeast and promising big things for the future. Here, a look at the top trends, last season's retail bestsellers and a preview of what's coming up.<BR><BR><STRONG>RETAIL IN REVIEW</STRONG><BR><BR><STRONG>BONNIE...

Knits are boosting sales in the Southeast and promising big things for the future. Here, a look at the top trends, last season’s retail bestsellers and a preview of what’s coming up.

RETAIL IN REVIEW

BONNIE WHITE, owner of BONNIE WHITE, an Atlanta women’s bridge-to-designer store with three locations: “Knits grew from 25 percent to 35 percent of total business last year. We’ve always done well with silk knit sweaters by Belford Cashmere used as underpinnings for jackets. Cute, casual cotton knit separates, from resources such as Fitigues and Johnny Heaven, have also performed well. The newest category for us is two-piece daytime knit dressing that can be worn to work, from resources such as Bettina Riedel, Endice, and Beau Tricot. The category is an alternative to jackets, suits and dresses, and it’s something women don’t have in their closets. For spring, I’m buying clean, unembellished looks in easy, roomy silhouettes.”

Bestsellers for fall-holiday:

  • Bettina Riedel’s cardigan, tank top and pants — 150 units.
  • Belford’s silk knit sweaters — 600 units.
JODY RUCK, vice president and general merchandise manager, McRAE’S, a Jackson, Miss.-based department store chain: “We have a broad-based knit business that has done well in many areas, including juniors, moderate, moderate update and better categories. Two-piece knit dressing in cotton cashmere has been particularly strong this year and is building momentum. Key resources have been Jeanne Pierre in better and Michael Carrie in moderate update, U.S. Sweaters in moderate and One Step Up for juniors. Sweater sales had been flat last year, but have been revived this year, as they have added texture. We’re building a strong business around long, easy tunic sweaters, with pants and skirts that can be career or casual wear.”

Bestsellers for fall-holiday:
  • Cotton tunic sweaters and two-piece knit dressing from various resources — 5,000 to 15,000 units.
JENNIFER ISAACS, owner, MY FRIEND’S PLACE, a Nashville, Tenn.-based better women’s specialty shop with five locations: “For spring, we’re increasing our knit business from 30 to 40 percent, based on strong performance. Knits travel well, are easy-care and, with new textures, they are a good alternative to wool, which many people don’t want anymore. Cotton and silk sweaters by Erik Stewart and Chaval have flown out the door. Silk ribbed knit separates by Wayne Rogers are lightweight and machine washable, and have sold well. Cotton cashmere separates in silhouettes such as palazzo pants, cardigans and boatneck sweaters by Eileen Fisher have also performed well. A new resource for me, Beau Tricot, adds newness with updated silhouettes such as dusters. Pairing knit sweaters with sheer skirts has also added freshness to the category.”

Bestsellers for fall-holiday:

  • A basic Beau Tricot turtleneck priced at $40 — 300 pieces.
MANUFACTURERS: LOOKING FORWARD

BETTINA RIEDEL, Bettina Riedel, designer: “We’ve done knits for 13 years, and comfort and versatility have always been the most important factors. Although we still use Lycra, we have expanded from mostly stretch to more loose and flowing silhouettes. In recent years, new fabrics, such as rayon knits, Micromattique and Tactel nylon have resulted in less shrinkage and more versatility. For spring and summer, we’re offering texture, in crinkle knits and knitted linen, and rayon knits with lace. Silhouettes are light and easy, often accompanied by shawls. Natural colors, such as black, brown and white, are staples, but we always offer brights, such as red, blue and teal, for the Southeast and California.”

ZERO II SIXTY, Leonard Stern, vice president: “We’ve been known for cotton cashmere for an updated, contemporary customer. Three seasons ago, we began updating our look through more texture. We knit our own yarn and are incorporating more looks, such as chenille and rayon jersey. We’re using more shine and color variations.”

BELFORD CASHMERE, Herb Cohen, sales manager: “Sweaters are our biggest classification. Within that, classic silhouettes such as turtlenecks, jewel necks and mock turtlenecks have been strongest in natural fibers, including cashmere, silk, cotton and merino wool. For fall 1994, ribbed turtlenecks and cable turtlenecks that fit close to the body are the biggest trend. We’re also doing well with two-piece knit dressing. It’s a head-to-toe dyed-to-match look including a sweater, jacket, pants, skirt and scarf that is sold in three or four units. It can go to the office or be worn on weekends, and there’s a huge audience for it. We’re getting many requests for this, particularly in Atlanta.”