By  on March 11, 2002

NEW YORK -- When Katie Couric accessorized her suit with a pair of black lace tights on NBC's "Today" show last Thursday, she confirmed to legwear vendors what they had been preaching all along: Fashion tights are a hot trend and a timely way to update a wardrobe.

Bearing that in mind, many executives were hopeful that the category's downturn has finally bottomed out, and some even claimed that this was one of the strongest markets since sheers were still common business attire in the late Eighties.

That said, many stressed that the real work to rebuild some of the damage of the past few years now starts, which will likely include:

A continued focus on marketing to further strengthen consumer awareness of legwear as an accessory.

Efficient inventory management to make sure popular styles can be shipped to stores quickly.

An emphasis on helping retailers merchandise their hosiery departments.

"The stores are still keeping inventory very low and they are missing opportunities," said Karen Schneider, president of Wolford USA. "If you have an 80 percent sell-through, the customer is responding, but the reordering is too slow. Stores missed much business this past fall."

Wolford's fall collection is celebrating America with each style named after a U.S. city, state or icon such as Alaska, Montana or Christopher Columbus. Top-booking styles included Wall Street, fine pinstripe tights; Central Park, graphic tights with different layers of Op Art stripes and Rodeo Drive, tights with a thigh-high floral pattern.

"In fall 2001, pattern was such a strong sell-through that most retailers said they could have had more business if they had had more inventory," said Pat McNellis, president of women's brands at Royce Hosiery Mills, which makes the licensed Nine West and Dockers hosiery lines.

Royce introduced its new licensed line for Nine & Co., which consists of fashion socks retailing for $5 to $7.

"Fashion continues to be a key direction for fall," said Regina Littles, national sales manager at Gerbe, which offered a variety of styles, such as polkadots, vertical textured stripes and leaf motifs for fall. The company also introduced 15-denier invisible sheer tights at $11.10 wholesale.

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