By  on October 29, 2007

The November market is typically a tricky one, as retailers prepare for the Christmas selling season, and vendors evaluate what their hits and misses were during the year.

Next week's market is no exception, but there's a heightened sense of uncertainty among manufacturers. The reason is that apparel sales, including innerwear, have generally been soft over the past several months. Some blame it on unseasonably warm weather, while others cite the volatile financial markets.

Designer Flora Nikrooz at The Age Group, assessing the upcoming market, said, "My philosophy is no matter what the talk is about excess inventory, we know this inventory will eventually be gone. The name of the game right now is items, and as long as we have interesting items, we'll have a good holiday."

Nevertheless, brands that have been performing well at retail are optimistic over the market week, where executives will be reviewing spring and summer buys, evaluating marketing, advertising and promotional strategies, and getting a preview of spring.

Seth Morris, president of The Carole Hochman Design Group, said, "Historically, November has always been a tricky market. We are sitting in the calm before the storm, before the holiday season begins. Everybody's minds are on what's going on at stores right now compounded by unseasonable weather over the past three weeks. If business doesn't pick up, retailers will come in a little bit on edge."

John Bowman, president of Dana-co, maker of the licensed bras by Natori, Josie and Josie Natori, said, "I'm very optimistic about this market. It will be the second market with the Josie [bra] brand and sell-throughs of Natori bras have been strong at retail. Our calender is pretty full."

Michael Herman, vice president of sales and merchandising at Natori Co., said, "For us, this will be a strategic market. We'll be talking concepts with retailers, and will be discussing marketing and advertising strategies for spring 2008. We'll also be discussing concepts for fall 2009."

Bob Vitale, vice president of sales and merchandising at Wacoal America, which includes the Wacoal and licensed DKNY Underwear and Donna Karan Intimates brands, said, "November is a major market for us and we expect a very good market. We'll be previewing fall for [June 20] to [September 20] deliveries and go over recolors for the season."Linda AuBuchon, vice president of sales at Chatsworth, Calif.-based Felina Lingerie, said she is looking forward to a "strong" market.

"There will be a lot of resources, but business at Macy's with our Jezebel brand has been extremely strong, and our Felina [bra] brand continues to do plus business, double-digit business," said AuBuchon.

Despite immediate issues of the November market, a certain amount of friction is festering over the second edition of the February market that will feature two competing trade shows at different times: CurveNY, which is scheduled for Feb. 3 to 6 during market week, and Lingerie Americas, which is slated to run Feb. 24 to 26. This past February, the move of the Intimate Apparel Council to consolidate the January and March markets into one edition caused consternation among smaller vendors and specialty stores that operate on tight budgets and have limited resources.

Addressing the issue of trade shows and market week dates, Marc Sandler, chairman of the IAC, said, "As with all of the industry trade shows in New York and around the world, they are independent and commercial entities. At times in the past, there were unsuccessful attempts made to coordinate timing with the various show companies. As a result, it became incumbent upon the Intimate Apparel Council to establish dates that best serve the council members and their customers. We then work hard to make everyone aware of the official New York market week dates. The timing decisions made by the various trade show companies are out of our control."

Last year, a number of boutique owners passed on the February and May markets, and showed up in August. This year, the potential absence of independent shops is generating angst among small and large innerwear companies, so the upcoming trade fairs in 2008 have smaller, entrepreneurial firms, as well as their larger counterparts, weighing their options.

Jim West, director of merchandising and product development of Eveden USA, sized up the trade show issue in February this way: "It truly is a conundrum. We've been approached by both CurveNY and Lingerie Americas, and we're still trying to figure it out. It's a hard decision."Carole Hochman's Morris said, "At this point, we still haven't made a decision about the trade shows. We think as an industry they obviously are very important. But the frustration of two shows is making it very difficult not only for suppliers but for retailers. We did a lot of surveys and found a lot of frustration. The stores are split half for one show and half for the other."

But Victoria Vandagriff, president of Bendon USA, a part of New Zealand-based Bendon Ltd., which has the licensed Elle Macpherson Intimates and Stella McCartney lingerie collections, said she's made up her mind.

"I feel more confident with CurveNY," Vandagriff said. "They don't have a permanent location, but they are looking for one. I'm confident they are very competent. Yes, we'll participate with CurveNY in February."

Designer Leigh Bantivoglio also shared her decision regarding the issue of trade shows.

"I'm going to stick with what works for us and that's been Lingerie Americas," she said. "But I think a real problem right now is a lot of people are very nervous about their [smaller specialty] buyers and if they'll show up. So I don't think they're really concerned about the timing of the shows."

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