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Retailers’ Confidence On Display in Atlanta

Retailers ordering spring merchandise during Atlanta market were buying with more confidence than usual, reflecting a boost in business this fall.

ATLANTA — Southeast retailers ordering spring merchandise at AmericasMart Apparel were buying with more confidence than recent seasons, as they reported a pickup in consumer spending this fall.

This story first appeared in the October 29, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

With fall sales boosted by color, buyers said spring’s lively palettes would continue to generate business. Buyer attendance at the show, which ran Oct. 16-20, increased 2 percent compared with last October, according to Lawton Hall, senior vice president of AmericasMart Apparel.

“We had many stores that are just starting up, which is an encouraging sign for business,” Hall said. “We’re focusing on attracting quality stores, from all geographical areas and adding lots of new product, so stores can stay an extra day to sample new resources.”

The mart’s reach continues to widen beyond the Southeast territory, attracting buyers from California, Montana and the Caribbean. Central to the mart’s new product focus is Premiere, a biannual, juried show-within-a-show. Premiere offered around 135 lines, mostly upscale, contemporary and young designer apparel and accessories, in a hard-wall temporary setting on AmericasMart fifth floor.

The DIVA awards gala, held Saturday night in the Grand Atrium Theatre of AmericasMart, honored 10 design categories voted on by retailers at the August market. The DIVA award for women’s apparel retailer went to The Carriage House, a Decatur, Ala., specialty store.

Exhibitors reported strong traffic and increased sales, boosted by picking up new accounts.

Sales representative Dan Strauss said, “We worked 25 new accounts and saw around 40 stores that are just starting up business, especially from the Carolinas.”

Fifties and Sixties looks are big for spring and summer, from circular and pleated skirts to simple sheath dresses with special touches including ruffles, lace, polkadot prints, and trims in satin and silk. Buyers applauded the resurgence of dresses and skirts, in a variety of lengths, shapes and styles that address multiple occasions and needs.

They also praised the abundance of color for spring from dresses and sportswear to handbags and jewelry. Prints were also important, as were mixed textures and patterns. Novelty T-shirts were among the hottest items, to be paired with spring’s new skirts or cropped pants. Jackets, especially shorter, blouson styles, were often embellished with metal details, including zippers and D-rings.

Color, prints, novelty and embellishment have improved business for Suzi and Rodney Dunetz, owners of Suzi Saint Tropez, a specialty store in Boca Raton, Fla.’s Mizner Park center.

“We used to sell 10 black pieces to every one in color, but now it’s reversed,” Rodney said. “Last year, we couldn’t give black dresses away.”

The couple picked up new lines, mostly in casual and novelty sportswear. They bought bright pastel capri pants and tops from Sortie des Classes, printed silk mesh T-shirts by Topsy Turvy, printed T-shirts by MK Sportswear and T-shirts with Italian phrases from Bella Chic. They opted for tie-dyed tops paired with loungewear and spa by Hippie Skivies, and colorful, low-rise jeans and pastel satin-trimmed sweatsuits by Hollywood.

In special occasion, the owners shopped for trends such as beaded embellishment, asymmetrical hems, off-the-shoulder and bustier tops from Jovani and Demetrios.

Julie Routenberg, owner of Potpourri, with two specialty stores in the Atlanta area, said she was “more confident and comfortable,” as consumers have spent more this fall, with pent-up demand from the last few seasons.

Routenberg bought new lines from the Premiere show, including Judy Lee Cole’s high-end casual sportswear, with a variety of pants silhouettes and textured, tone-on-tone patterns. She also picked up shawls and scarves to throw over sleeveless dresses by Carolina Amato, and chose Liliu’s high-end sportswear collection, in shiny cotton stretch fabrics, pastel colors and zipper details, groups from Renfrew, a line that “keeps evolving and getting better,” she said, as well as lots of skirts with movement, new shapes and details from Cynthia Steffe and Nicole Miller.

Traci Tharrington, co-owner of Le Montage in Raleigh, N.C., ordered from about 15 new resources. citing as a key trend the resurgence of dresses and skirts, in fresh color combinations and mixed fabrics and textures. Concentrating on younger, contemporary looks, she bought skirts, such as athletic-inspired cotton jersey styles with roll-down waists by Poleci and Beau Bois.

In dresses, she picked up a variety of looks from Betsy Johnson and Poleci. From her favorite new line, Parameter, she bought versatile novelty jackets that work for careerwear or that can be paired with jeans.

“Customers want versatile looks that can be dressed up or down, so that their money goes to something that can work for career or special occasion or casualwear,” she said.

Tharrington bought pastel jersey groups by Dina Bar-el and off-the-shoulder T-shirts by James Perse.

Paige Blackwelder, co-owner of Tuni’s in Winter Park, Fla., shopped with a budget slightly up over last year. Blackwelder bought sheath dresses from Ruth, and elaborate blouson and ruffled numbers from Tracy Reese. She ordered heavily in skirts, which have been the fall’s best-selling category, shopping for lines such as Kingslee Greene that offered options from pleated minis to long pencil shapes and in-between lengths with asymmetrical hems.