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Looking for Action: Hot Colors, Hipper Fashion at ASR

Junior clothing brands in the action sports industry replaced the "surf's up" slogan with a more fashionable one for spring: "Think pink" — and teal, yellow, purple and any other bright color pulled from a Pop Art palette.

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SAN DIEGO — Junior clothing brands in the action sports industry replaced the “surf’s up” slogan with a more fashionable one for spring: “Think pink” — and teal, yellow, purple and any other bright color pulled from a Pop Art palette.

At the ASR Trade Expo, which ended a three-day run at the San Diego Convention Center here Sunday, vendors turned back to the Eighties, replacing the once ubiquitous hibiscus with geometric prints such as triangles and hexagons. Fox overdyed jeans in turquoise and purple, Hurley gave voile slipdresses more gravity with colorblocking and Insight contrasted red oversize buttons on a royal blue jumper.

These trends exemplify the action sports labels’ efforts to offer more fashion. And it seemed that items such as high-waist denim, which emerged just two years ago in the contemporary market, have trickled down more quickly to the sector often associated with boardshorts. For instance, Volcom introduced denim shorts with a rise so high the waistband hits the rib cage, and O’Neill offered a jean with a 9.5-inch rise, 24-inch leg opening and double-yoke detailing on the back. Both wholesale for less than $30.

“We just want to make sure we keep our customer interested [with trendy items],” said Volcom spokeswoman Amy Lee. “You’re not just competing against Roxy and Hurley. You’re competing against Old Navy and Forever 21.”

In the face-off against vertical retailers, Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Volcom plans to open a new branded store in Japan in October and another in Berkeley, Calif., next year, expanding its roster of six shops.

The dress was updated in new fabrications and silhouettes, such as baggy T-shirt styles wholesaling for $13 and $14 from Volcom, a $22 satin tube minidress from Irvine, Calif.-based Lost and a $24 maxi dress enhanced with smocking at the chest from Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Roxy.

Vans and Few tried designing frocks for the first time. Cypress, Calif.-based Vans introduced three styles, including a $24 black-and-gray checkered minidress with a cutout back, and New Zealand’s Few also offered a trio, sprucing up a $36 long halter dress with colorblocking and a screen print of a tree in kelly green or electric blue.

This story first appeared in the September 12, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Manhattan-based Zoo York veered away from hoodies and fleece by introducing a $29 nylon windbreaker printed with tiny colorful lip marks.

To keep abreast of trends and the competition, several companies made personnel changes. Irvine-based Ezekiel added the position of a women’s brand manager. Vans transferred the apparel designer from its men’s business, Jane Diiullo, to its women’s side starting with this fall’s collection.

Even as bright colors leavened moods, companies acknowledged that economic uncertainty could damage an already challenging retail climate. Laura Thomsen, a sales representative at Roxy, defined retailers’ buying strategy as “narrow and deep.” Rather than ordering a broad range, they bought bigger quantities of their favorite pieces.

Still, Roxy’s parent company, Quiksilver Inc., took the opportunity to preview the young contemporary line it will launch with higher prices and better styling for next fall to key accounts, including Macy’s and Nordstrom. The response was “very good,” said chief executive officer Bob McKnight, noting the line, branded under the parent company’s name, will target sportswear labels such as Diesel and Guess, instead of surf brands like Billabong and O’Neill.

To be sure, designers realized the limits of pushing trends. “If we get too trendy, our customers don’t understand it,” said Mandy Robinson, senior design director for juniors at Billabong.

But retail buyers like Mary Bradley approved the move toward hipper styles. Checking out collections from Split and Element, the buyer for Yellow Mart in Blythe, Calif., said she liked “baby-doll dresses and anything real casual.”

SWIMWEAR

A year ago at ASR, swimwear took cues from men’s wear and, in seemingly endless variations, plaid emerged as a potent force. Although no dominant theme emerged for next year, several trends from among the 160 exhibiting swim brands were apparent, from feminine accents, metallics and Eighties-inspired details to traditional motifs such as logos, stripes and dots.

Femininity crept into swimsuits in the form of ruffles, smocking, laser cuts and ruching. Lucky Brand Jeans’ swimsuits, which start at $20 wholesale per piece and are made by Anaheim, Calif.-based Lunada Bay, featured flowers etched by lasers. Ruffles spiced up Split’s aqua two-pieces that wholesale for $20 to $22 per piece. “This year we added feminine touches,” said Carrie Seifert, public relations manager for Split’s swim licensee, Manhattan Beachwear, based in Cypress.

Swimwear makers took risks with silver, gold and gunmetal in fabrics, hardware and prints. Vitamin A, based in Costa Mesa, used metallics in every way possible, but Hurley opted for a silver foil logo on a bottom and top wholesaling for $20 and $21, respectively. Billabong accentuated a striped bikini wholesaling for $39 with gold Lurex, and L Space sprinkled gold and silver into suits with foil circles and hardware. “I got a lot of my inspiration from jewelry,” said Monica Wise, designer and founder of Lake Forest, Calif.-based L Space, which wholesales each piece for $26 to $35.

Many designers had a flashback to the Eighties, when Madonna strutted her stuff to “Like a Virgin.” Hearts and geometric designs adorned several of Salinas’ suits, which have an opening wholesale price of around $40 for sets. Lost Enterprises’ debut collection of 32 swimwear styles, priced from $38 to $41 at wholesale, got a jolt from rainbow graphics and a bright palette of blazing pink, yellow, orange and green.

Retail buyers scoured ASR for swimsuits in vivid hues. “I am happy with the color scheme,” said Jerrod Alcaida, a buyer for The Beach in Parker, Ariz., singling out Volcom, Hurley and B. Swim. Jewelry ornamentation appealed to David Ngo, owner of Murieta, Calif.-based online retailer Bikinideals.com, where swimsuits retail from $30 to $130. “We are looking for high-end vendors,” said Ngo, who ordered from Anika Brazil.

In core surf brands, well-tested stripes, dots, plaids and logos remained critical. Billabong’s Robinson said allover logo prints would be bestsellers for department stores.

Reef, showing its first swimwear collection at ASR, found luck with stripes derived from Mexican blankets on bikinis wholesaling from $19 to $21 per piece. Reef “has boutique styling with competitive prices,” said Brooke Rauch, a buyer for Revolution Surf Co. in Camarillo, Calif.

The absence of busy prints in swimwear had retailers feeling relieved. “We’re coming out of a plaid overload,” Rauch said.

ACCESSORIES

Not long ago, ASR stuck to the utilitarian variety of totes. There are still plenty of beach basics, but there’s also a crop of chic handbags for next spring.

Fox took the lead in the higher-priced bag category by unveiling the Gold Digga, with a retail price of $40, about two years ago. Fox, which has headquarters in San Jose, Calif., and houses its women’s design team in Newport Beach, Calif., aims even higher with a limited edition collection of 500 bags, including a quilted fake patent leather carryall to be sold only online for $100.

“This industry is becoming more a young people’s fashion industry than a sports industry,” said chief creative officer Pete Fox, explaining the move to offer more fashionable bags. Tiana Becker, Fox’s girls’ merchandising manager, said the move has paid off with a 150 percent year-over-year increase in accessories sales.

Ezekiel strove to up the ante for handbag styles as well, with distressed fake patent leather bags wholesaling at $26 for a tote and $27 for a duffle. To be sure, it will continue its staples, including checkered bags that evoke Louis Vuitton’s originals but with much lower wholesale prices ranging from $18.50 to $20. “We always do really well with the little knockoffs,” said Jessica Rush, international sales director for Ezekiel.

Aside from bags, action sports brands made fashion statements with headwear. Alpinestars USA, based in Torrance, Calif., has two cotton fedoras in eyelet and woven straw, wholesaling for $16 and $19, respectively. The fedora “has been so strong for so long,” said Denise Focil, women’s clothing designer at Alpinestars, which started selling fedoras nearly three years ago. “It has replaced the trucker hat.”
— With contributions from M.P.

TRENDS

– The dress proliferates with T-shirt styles or with hems falling to the floor.
– Colors are amplified to be almost fluorescent in hot pink, kelly green, teal, purple, jade and electric blue.

– The five-pocket blue jean makes way for skinny or cropped styles in colored denim, acid washes and other treatments.

– The rises in shorts, skirts and pants climb as high as 14 inches.

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