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Putting Some Razzle Dazzle in the Pool

NEW YORK — With the airline industry facing upheaval, terrorism still weighing heavily on the minds of travelers and cruise ships plagued with sick passengers, vacation-dependent swimwear firms are employing a variety of strategies and special...

NEW YORK — With the airline industry facing upheaval, terrorism still weighing heavily on the minds of travelers and cruise ships plagued with sick passengers, vacation-dependent swimwear firms are employing a variety of strategies and special promotions to attract shoppers.

And with this year’s retail sales expected to be flat or slightly up from last year’s $1.8 billion, executives are breaking away from well-worn formulas in favor of new practices.

Peter Rubin, president of the Swimwear Manufacturers Industry Association, expects travel to pick up next year.

“A lot of people didn’t travel last year because they were afraid to get on planes,” Rubin said. “Now people feel it’s necessary to get away. They might not go see the pyramids, but they will drive or get on a plane to go to Florida.”

There is a tremendous amount of pressure on manufacturers to keep prices down, said Brenda West, vice president of Manhattan Beachwear, the maker of the Hot Kiss, Hobie, Surfside and Ocean Avenue junior lines. The company also produces VM Sport, a misses’ label.

Department stores have seen retail prices of junior swimsuits creep up to $70 and $80, which is too pricey, she said. “Price is the number-one concern,” West said.

To keep retail prices in the $50-to-$70 range, Manhattan Beachwear is doing more manufacturing in Mexico and Brazil, and is sourcing fabrics from a greater range of locales. The company is using its four factories in the Los Angeles area to chase trends, West said.

Department stores and mass marketers like Target and Mervyn’s are increasing their private label business, with suits that retail from $40 to $60, West said. Private label sales account for 30 percent of Manhattan Beachwear’s business. Overall, the company expects sales to increase by 20 percent, but West was quick to point out that Sept. 11 took a toll on last year’s business.

To mark its 75th anniversary next year, Speedo plans to highlight that milestone on hang tags, its Web site and in its first consumer catalog, said Craig Brommers, vice president of marketing. A sweepstakes will be held for consumers to win a trip to Australia, the place where Speedo was founded in 1982.

This story first appeared in the December 5, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

For the first time, the company is also looking into doing consumer advertising in May or June. The brand may also run some commercials during NBC’s coverage of the “Duel in the Pool,” a swimming showdown between the U.S. and Australia in April.

On the product front, Speedo Endurance, $70 reversible suits made of PBT fabric and available in “brighter, fun” colors, will be the focus, Brommers said.

Sunset Beach, a junior label owned by Speedo Authentic Fitness, will be trying its hand at special events this spring. The brand has teamed up with the cosmetics company Hard Candy to develop a tie-side bikini with Hard Candy-inspired charms like plastic hearts, and a gift-with-purchase: nail polish dyed to match the swimwear.

In February, Sunset Beach will hold a sweepstakes at Gadzooks, encouraging shoppers to design their own suit. The winner will be flown to Los Angeles to select the fabric for their suit, which will be produced on a limited run.

For 2003, La Perla has produced a few hundred extra swimsuits because this year the company sold out of almost everything, a company spokeswoman said. For the first time, there are plans to run print ads this spring for La Perla Mare, swimsuits that retail for $250 to $600.

To make the line more glamourous, the emphasis will be on suits embellished with sequins, jewelry and hand embroidery. There will also be plenty of colors like bright pink, orange and red. Variations of the bikinis that were especially made for Halle Berry to wear in “Die Another Day” are expected to be important at retail.

Swimwear sales are slightly ahead of last year, and the new La Perla store in New York’s SoHo district, its seventh store in the U.S., should help boost 2003 sales, the spokeswoman said.

Amahlia Stevens, designer of Vitamin A, lists Minnie Driver and Britney Spears among her brand’s fans and is working to provide her bikinis to the entertainment industry. On the East Coast, the brand is represented by the Simply Chic showroom, which also handles Juicy Couture. Stevens prefers to focus on better specialty stores and has developed a lifestyle collection to layer over the swimwear for 2003.