By  on January 19, 2007

ORLANDO, Fla. — Surf Expo is riding a big fashion wave with women's surf lines that are positioned as lifestyle brands and junior, contemporary and resort areas that are growing.

The four-day show, which ended Sunday at the Orange County Convention Center here, featured 2,474 booths where 1,000 companies displayed surfboards, equipment and everything related to the boardsports lifestyle. Buyer attendance at the event, which draws mostly East Coast boutiques and surf shops, increased 8 percent over last year.

Apparel is 80 percent of the show. Women's wear, not long ago mostly a spin-off of men's, now makes up almost half the apparel offerings.

Surf lines have evolved from their origins in board shorts and T-shirts into full lifestyle collections of dresses, jeans and accessories, and sometimes children's wear and home items. As surf's influence filtered into nonsurf fashion boutiques in recent years, the show established a new area, called She, of juniors and contemporary fashion.

Exhibitors showed summer lines and some fall collections. Trends were broad, ranging from breezy, feminine dresses, tunics, tanks and short-shorts for summer to preppy plaids and argyles mixed with homespun crochets and embroidery. Sportswear generally was less embellished and exotic than in recent seasons, aiming for a casual, California-girl vibe.

Deanna Jackson, senior vice president of sales for Roxy, said the company, which has five divisions and sales that exceeded 2006 expectations, had transcended surf to compete with Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister and major lifestyle brands.

"Our challenge is to tell our story in the Midwest and areas where we have less penetration," she said.

This year, more of the California company's marketing will be generated in New York as a gateway to untapped regions.

Many brands have launched product extensions, building brand identity beyond surf roots.

"This sector's been on a roll for six years," said Dick Baker, president of OP, a men's and women's brand bought by Iconix in November. "The core market is insular and not subject to peaks and valleys, as other apparel categories."

Baker said controlled distribution had protected the category from showing up in discounters or lower-end stores.

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