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The Edge aims once again to provide one-stop shopping for the Next Big Thing.

This story first appeared in the August 26, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Customers are shopping for eye-grabbing items that don’t follow a well-worn trend, as well as less-expensive pieces. That’s good news for vendors in the The Edge category, where the one thing they have in common with each other is an unspoken mandate to not follow the crowd.

The Edge has been a major focal point for buyers over the years. They shop the section looking for what’s next in the world of fashion, hoping to be the first store to carry the next big thing. This season, many vendors are offering stores exclusive items to differentiate their store’s mix from what’s across the street. Makers are hoping their products will bring in a whole new breed of consumers into the stores.

Here, a look at how Edgeites plan to continue growth in the coming months.

Ross Labelso, owner of the Gardena, Calif.-based Buckle Down, seems to understand exactly what stores need to do in order to boost numbers.

“In this soft economy, we have started doing a lot of custom work,” he said. “And now more than ever, stores are asking for smaller orders, which we can easily provide for them, since our finishing is done right here in America.”

Buckle Down, a nine-year-old accessories firm that does the majority of its business selling belts, is also adding many new styles to its collection. Consistent bestsellers include a leather belt with a removable cigarette lighter in the buckle, seat-belt buckles (modeled on those in cars and airplanes) and a new hit for the company: personalized buckles, many of which are sold on the company’s Web site, beltsdirect.com, according to Labelso.

“Companies order a bunch of the belts with their logos on them, or consumers can go on the site and personalize a belt any way they want to,” Labelso said.

“They are really inexpensive and make great gifts. We sell a lot of them as gifts on the site because when people receive a personalized gift like this, it looks like they spent a lot of time thinking about it. Custom-made pieces are very important in this economy.”

While this was not the company’s first trip to WWDMAGIC, it was, Labelso said, the first time it presented the collection at The Edge.

Cookie Puss, a Richmond-based cosmetics and accessories firm, owes its rosy outlook to the cosmetic category’s typically low price points.

“Business has been great,” said Robin McVoy, owner of the company. “I think I am really lucky, and I hear that cosmetics tend to sell in a recession.

“When a woman is feeling kind of down, and she can’t splurge on a new dress, she can spend $10 on a new lipstick and feel that pick-me-up.”

While she admitted that her numbers were slightly down around Sept. 11, she stressed that they are now on the rise. Part of this has to do with the fact that the company’s customer base tends to be ageless.

“We pride ourselves on being a very versatile brand,” she said. “We have junior shoppers as customers, but we have also received letters from mothers of these teens who like the products, too. The packaging is also attractive, and the name is catchy, which helps.”

Three years ago, McVoy bought the company with a partner, and business was on the right track. Then, eight months ago, she bought her partner’s half of the firm and now runs it on her own. Although this was a major change for such a small company, she said the transition has been relatively smooth.

“I bought the remainder of the company and moved it from Atlanta to Richmond, where I am now,” she explained. “I was nervous at first because a lot of our clients knew [my partner] very well and I was preparing myself for some lost business. Well, that wasn’t the case, so I’m happy.”

This season marks the first time eight-year-old body jewelry firm Body Gems chose to take out a booth at WWDMAGIC. According to Josh Collins, director of marketing and advertising, “business has never been better.” As a result, he said, the company could afford to splurge on its first trip to WWDMAGIC.

“Body piercing has been around and popular for many years, but it seems that regular jewelry stores are just beginning to take notice and show interest in selling it with other types of jewelry,” he said. “We used to just sell to tattoo and body-piercing shops. Now we sell to a much broader range of stores.”

Collins said the company is no stranger to the trade show circuit.

“We always showed at tattoo conventions,” he said. “People just started telling us that we should be showing at MAGIC.”

While Collins said the company sells every type of body jewelry there is, gold belly rings with heart charms are by far, the best sellers.

“We sell a lot of belly rings, and all girls love hearts,” he said. “But we have everything.”

Ben Schacter, owner of Ben Ryan, a four-year-old men’s streetwear label, just launched a women’s contemporary sportswear collection at the WWDMAGIC show. While the core of the new line includes novelty denim jeans, there are also T-shirts to match.

According to Schacter, there was a niche to be filled with the women’s line.

“After four years of the men’s wear doing so well, customers started asking for a women’s line,” he said. “Now just seemed to be the right time.”

So, while this is the right time to launch, Schacter said he took the plunge into women’s wear once before, but it didn’t work out as planned.

“We just weren’t ready for it. We didn’t have enough staff, and the fit wasn’t right,” he said. “Now we have grown over the last two years and can support a women’s line. We have a new team working on it, and I expect it to do quite well.”

Besides the launch of the new women’s line, Schacter said he has made some other changes at the company in order to get noticed. First, he has changed the hangtags and upgraded them. Instead of being made of paper, they are done in suede and carry the company’s logo.

Also, because it is still a small company and the advertising dollars have yet to roll in, he works closely with clients and provides them with in-store signage. Also helping the business is an advertising strategy that has the label hitting the club circuit.

“Deejays spinning around town wear the clothes, and we provide them shirts with the Ben Ryan name on them,” Schacter said. “That’s been great for us to get our name out there.”

Overall, he said the firm is doing “better than it ever has.” While he admitted that July was, as usual, a slow month, there has been continued interest in the new women’s line as well as in the existing men’s line. So, Schacter isn’t worried.

“It seems like we are on the right track for a good holiday season,” he said.

At the three-year-old contemporary T-shirt label Skeleton Art, managing business properly is a priority.

“Business is doing very well in this economy,” said Loren Schoel, owner of the Santa Fe-based firm. “The only real complaint I would have is my retail business.”

In fact, Schoel acknowledged that his freestanding store in Mexico isn’t doing well, but he has still managed to use it to his advantage.

“I use the store as a tool to see what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “I get a lot of feedback from the customers.”

Retail is on the back burner for now, with the focus being on building a healthy wholesale business.

The company specializes in T-shirts inspired by images of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Think T-shirts emblazoned with skeletons strumming mandolins, a skelton bride and groom, or even a skelton mararichi band.

“I would love to open an account with Hot Topic,” Schoel said. “That is my [target] customer.”

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