NEW YORK -- As the erratic pace at retail continues, sportswear manufacturers are bracing for a tough second half.

Nevertheless, it's a period for which many forecast sales gains of 10 percent or more.

One strategy is to develop a constant stream of strong items -- such as jackets, shorts and knits -- that will overcome what some say is retailer reluctance to reorder. Another challenge is the maintenance of price points in the face of rising natural fiber costs, an issue that is seen as particularly crucial in the moderate and better-price arena.

Bridge and Designer

Buoyed by an early rush of business at trunk shows, designer collections presently seem to be a particularly upbeat sportswear segment. Bridge lines are sharing some of this optimism, although makers acknowledge the category has gone through some rough times lately.

Andrew Rosen, president of the Anne Klein Group, said Anne Klein II's fall bookings are flat with a year ago, but he expects the line's retail performance to be much better than last year's.

"Last fall and resort, the whole bridge category was a disaster. I believe this year our line is better. It's focused on the career segment," said Rosen.

Turning to the Collection, designed by Richard Tyler, Rosen said, "It's been tremendous. Bookings are almost double a year ago. At retail, we've held some early trunk shows that were fabulous, doing $100,000, $125,000, $140,000."

He further noted A Line's bookings will be up 50 percent versus a year ago. "The line is much more focused, and its a purely casual business."

"Our business is very strong," said Stuart Kreisler, a consultant to Ralph Lauren Womenswear at Biedermann Industries Corp. Kreisler said the Collection will do twice as much business in the second half as it did a year ago. This includes a new Classics segment added to the Collections business that is currently being shipped to stores.

The Ralph business, which also includes Ralph active sport, accounts for 80 percent of the Lauren Womenswear business. Fall represents the second season for Ralph, and for fall, the line was "92 percent sold out at full price. We're currently booking holiday-cruise and expect the same proportion."

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