By  on June 1, 2005

NEW YORK — On trend, on time and moderately priced.

Stores and vendors better be all of those things if they want to maintain a share of the moderate apparel market, now and for fall. Gone are the days when trends started on the designer runways and a season or two later trickled down to the mainstream floor.

As Paul Charron, chairman and chief executive officer of Liz Claiborne Inc., said at the company's annual meeting last month, "As we look ahead, we must acknowledge that the one constant in our business is change and that it is happening at an accelerated pace. New fashion trends come to market faster. More than ever, consumers manifest declining channel loyalty and demand greater value, even as they spend less of their discretionary income on apparel and accessories."

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group, agreed. "The world has become a smaller place as the Targets and Kmarts of the world are becoming more trend-driven, the moderate vendors are really starting to feel the pressure to match that kind of competition. They can no longer put just anything on the floor. They have to be fast and think more about fashion trends. Retailers aren't taking the sorts of risks that they used to take, even private labels are no longer offering just the basics. These moderate vendors have to step up."

With that said, Cohen said the moderate market makes up for a tremendous portion of the women's apparel industry, which by the end of 2005 will bring in $97 billion in sales. He said while the designer market accounts for only 7 percent of what women buy, national brands make up 58 percent. The moderate market takes up about two-thirds of that 58 percent.

So for spring and summer, consumers want plenty of colorful, flowy embellished skirts, sexy camisoles and cropped jackets and pants. For early fall, they are only looking for more of the trends in heavier knits and embellished blouses.

"Skirts and lace tops are very strong, as well as the novelty jacket and cropped pants," said Denise Johnston, president of Liz Claiborne Inc.'s Emma James and JH Collectibles moderate divisions. "Tunics and pretty blouses are very good for us, too. Feminine details continue into fall."

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