By  on February 9, 1994

SAN FRANCISCO -- Retailers scouted the summer market at the Fashion Center here last week looking for good deals -- affordable merchandise to help them weather this area's rocky economy.

Many favored natural fiber fabrics in items wholesaling at under $50. Although the center's fashion shows featured baby-dolls and short slips, most buyers said they were sticking with longer dresses.

The four-day summer market ended Feb. 1, with attendance up about 2 percent over a year ago, according to center management.

Among those reflecting the West Coast's economic problems -- which seem to affect a wide variety of pastimes -- was Sandy Andersen, owner of Kokopilau, a women's boutique in Eureka, Calif.

"We are in a depressed area dependent on fishing and logging, two industries that are going downhill," she said. "Our customers are more discriminating and they want more timeless things. We are being pickier, too."

Andersen said she was looking for long floral-print rayon dresses and vegetable-dyed cotton knit sets. With a flat budget, she shopped for merchandise at $20 to $50 wholesale and ended up ordering from her regular resources -- Ruff Hewn, Olive and Putumayo.

Another set of economic problems was noted by Joanell Hall, owner of Lorene Scala, a misses' boutique in Santa Barbara, Calif.

"Business is tough," she said. "Most everyone in our area is in the aerospace research industry. They are being laid off. Those who have money are hanging on to it. They are uncertain about the costs of mandatory health care and new taxes."

Hall said she was looking for inexpensive items to mix with more upscale sportswear. She shopped price points of $13 to $100 wholesale.

"Dresses are moving slowly right now," she said. "I'm doing best with small sportswear groups -- cotton shorts and sweaters; palazzo pants and vests in cotton gauze, silk and rayon."

Pat Goehring, owner of P.G.'s Boutique in Sonora, Calif., also searched for clothes in washable natural fabrics, especially rayon. Her shopping list included long romantic dresses, jumpers, vests, wide-leg pants and long straight skirts at $30 to $50 wholesale. She favored shades of sage and soft plum and ordered goods from Putumayo and Cut Loose.

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