By  on March 29, 1994

LAS VEGAS -- Fall prints -- often bright, sometimes soft -- were top attractions at the recent edition of the Big and Tall Woman's trade show here.

Buyers often talked about active business in their stores and increased budgets, as they shopped this specialized market, which ran through March 16 at the Tropicana Hotel. Several retailers said their open-to-buys were up from 10 to 25 percent over a year ago, and they appeared to be actively placing orders among the 220 plus-size lines and 90 tall-size lines on display.

Lin Anderson, owner of More to Hug, a plus-size boutique in Camarillo, Calif., was ordering fall merchandise as well as immediate goods for her second store, which she is just opening in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

"Business is fabulous," she said. "Through television advertising and word of mouth, we pull in clients from 100 miles away."

With a budget for her established store up 17 percent, Anderson sought a wide range of merchandise, from innerwear to dresses, at price points up to $185 wholesale. She gravitated to geometric and Monet-like floral prints in soft colors, including dusty blue, mauve and sage. Among her finds were crinkle rayon and challis prints from 2 Rare and soft print dresses at Masone.

Canadian retailer Terry Short, co-owner of Simply Grand in Burnaby, British Columbia, said business has been erratic in her area. Sales are up 20 percent one month and down 10 percent the next, she said. Still, because of what she perceived as a strong demand for plus-size clothes, she planned to increase her fall open-to-buy at least 10 percent.

"I buy here what I can't get in Canada: super sizes [above size 20]," she said. Short looked for versatile items at up to $200 wholesale.

"The garment must have value. It must be something that can be worn to different functions," she said. She favored classic sportswear and dresses by Wild Rose as well as offerings from Vikki Vi.

Another Canadian, Stephanie Goulet, co-owner of Suzanne Bell Fashions in Vancouver, looked for casual sportswear in super sizes, preferring bright colors including fuchsia and gem tones."We tried 3,000 ways to sell neutrals," she said. "It doesn't sell. Our customers have come to terms with their sizes, so they love prints that stand out. We don't just sell clothes. We sell a whole attitude."

Goulet said her store posted a 10 percent sales increase last year. This year, she is expecting 50 percent growth. The buyer said she recently acquired a computer system to help her track customer needs. In addition, the store advertises in local magazines and puts out its own newsletter. Circulation is now at 5,000. Among her buys were T-shirts by Invitation to the Dance and bold printed coats.

Elaine Walz, owner of Talls of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio, was pleased to find new tall lines at the show and expressed interest in knitwear by Poltermann Fashions. She also ordered a printed duster coat from Sharon J's and beaded blouses by Victoria Harbor. She reported an open-to-buy up 10 percent.

"We're holding our own, " she said. "The auto industry in our area is picking up steam."

Betty Shaykin, president of Tall Modes -- which has two stores, in Chicago and Brookfield, Wis. -- gave a strong thumbs up to the merchandise she was seeing and also noted that exhibitors were eager to please.

"Manufacturers who don't make talls told us, 'Give us the specs. We'll see what we can do for you,"' she said.

Shopping price points of up to $225 wholesale, she looked for cocktail clothes as well as wool suits and coats. "We sell 500 coats every winter," she said.

With a slightly increased budget, she ordered party dresses from Vikki Vi, knitwear by X.E.S.-N.Y. and coats by Arbetman Bros.

A group of buyers from three tall stores were shopping for bright prints and solids. They sought dresses and sweaters at $70 wholesale and coordinated their order-writing to meet minimum requirements from several vendors, including I.B. Diffusion.

"We came with money to spend," said Maurine Efurd, owner of Tall Girls of Tyler in Tyler, Tex.

Her shopping colleagues were Lataine Garrick, owner of Tall Fashions West in Renton, Wash., and Sandy Benes and Penny Gaetzi, buyers for Tall Fashions by P.S. in Jackson, Mich. They all reported increased open-to- buys."We had a good year," Garrick said, adding that her budget was up 10 percent. Benes and Gaetzi said their open-to-buy was up 25 percent.

Show management, Specialty Trade Shows, Miami, would not disclose attendance, but traffic generally appeared healthy. A dinner fashion show held as part of the market drew 550 buyers.

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