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Taking Innovative Steps for Fall

NEW YORK — Eager to entice consumers and avoid more troublesome runs at retail, legwear makers are stepping out this fall with a slew of new product innovations and marketing strategies.<br><br>Fall and winter are by far the biggest legwear...

NEW YORK — Eager to entice consumers and avoid more troublesome runs at retail, legwear makers are stepping out this fall with a slew of new product innovations and marketing strategies.

Fall and winter are by far the biggest legwear seasons, accounting for about 70 percent of annual sales — estimated to be $3 billion last year — as people dress for cooler weather and break out their formal looks for holiday events.

Overall, vendors are approaching the second half of the year with the hope that women will rediscover the benefits of wearing socks and hosiery, particularly sheers.

But it won’t be easy, as legwear continues to face shrinking space at retail. In recent seasons, several large retailers have removed, relocated or reduced their legwear departments — among them Saks Fifth Avenue, which has moved its legwear department from its busy main floor to the eighth floor, following main-floor banishments at retailers such as Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue and Macy’s Herald Square.

In addition, the category found itself battling high inventory levels and early markdowns last fall as a result of the mild winter and the decline of in-store traffic.

“Last year, [stores] had high inventory levels and started to mark down fall early,” said Karen Schneider, president at Wolford America. “Because the retailer educated customers to buy promotions last year, we need to reeducate the customer to buy regular price by not taking markdowns too early.”

Wolford, she explained, increased its production capacity and started to ship 80 percent of fall earlier than usual to prolong fall selling and give the firm more time to handle reorders.

On the product front, this fall Wolford is launching Individual Nature, which features tights with a fine, semisheer appearance made with rayon. The launch will be supported by an advertising campaign in trade and consumer magazines, as well as poster, radio and in-store promotions for specialty and department stores and a Times Square billboard. Fashion photographer Marino Parisotto shot the campaign, which features models in a natural desert environment.

DuPont, meanwhile, has a number of initiatives under way to boost business.

“We have been doing a lot of work to promote hosiery as more than a functional item,” said Bill Amadio, the North American legwear business manager for DuPont Textiles & Interiors. “We want customers to view hosiery in a different light, as a way to help them look and feel better.”

As reported, the legwear division is now part of DTI. Earlier this year, DuPont unveiled an ambitious plan to strengthen its hosiery and legwear business on a global scale with some new concepts, including products designed to boost curves and products that offer a natural look and feel in socks, knee-highs and other legwear knits. DuPont is also for the first time hosting a design contest in August as a way to encourage students to get involved in the legwear industry.

Overall, the company has stepped up its research and development endeavors and is putting more effort into discerning what customers are looking for when it comes to legwear, Amadio noted. Among its new products is one simply called Type 403, an elastic fiber made for athletic socks. Amadio said T-403 stretches farther than textured polyester so it covers a wider fit range.

Spanx, meanwhile, is stepping up its assortment with Super Spanx, which features the original footless pantyhose with additional tummy support made with Lycra Soft yarns. Super Spanx has the same features of other Spanx products, including a nonbinding waistband, all-cotton gusset and body-shaping support. Super Spanx retails for $24 and will be sold through department and specialty stores.

Some vendors said inventory management continues to be a key challenge for the second half.

“It’s important for us to keep inventory levels appropriate and to support the ongoing business, as well as the new opportunity segments,” said Howard Upchurch, vice president of marketing at Sara Lee Hosiery.

This fall, Sara Lee’s Hanes Hosiery division is launching Body Enhancers No Hose, a lightweight collection of figure-enhancing products with flexible construction and nonbinding features, which includes a seamless panty, a capri hose and a midthigh panty. The products are available in nude and black, while the panty is also available in white. It is priced from $7.95 to $12.95 at retail and will be shipped to department and specialty stores.

The launch is supported by a $3 million, four-month print advertising schedule with 13 magazines and a $1 million “Out-of-Home” campaign with a Times Square billboard and bus posters in Manhattan and the five boroughs.

For its licensed Donna Karan hosiery line, the company is adding two anticellulite toner styles with special microbeads containing a special formula that is slowly released onto the skin. The 20-denier hose will have a retail price of $21, while the midthigh length with nonbinding adjustable leg band is available for $17.

“The biggest concern for us is maintaining the appropriate level of retail support to help push the category recovery higher,” Upchurch said. “This primarily includes inventory and in-store service.”

Other vendors also introduced new strategies to keep inventories in check when dealing with vendors.

“We have installed a return-to-vendor policy where we will let customers exchange merchandise at the end of the season,” said Wayne Lederman, president at Leg Resource.

To better track inventory levels, the firm recently invested in a new computer system.

“With profit margins getting tighter and tighter, it’s becoming more critical to have less inventory waste,” he said.

At E&E Hosiery, sales are significantly ahead of last year at this time, driven in large part by Planet Sox, the company’s contemporary brand, said Elie Levy, president.

“We developed the line to be in the middle between junior products and women’s, and that is proving to be a good place to be,” said Levy. “We are finding that novelty yarn has been a strong selling point and we are now about 60 percent ahead of where we were last year at this time.”

E&E also sells the Rosetti brand and makes private label legwear for a number of large retailers. The company will also debut for fall a new sock line called On the Verge, which targets tweens, and is being produced under license. Wholesaling for $1 to $2, the line has fashion-forward styling with plenty of lurex and appliqués, Levy said.

On the marketing front, E&E has updated its packaging to include bolder graphics to make it easier for customers to see what they are getting, Levy noted.

TRENDCAST

NEW YORK — Vendors have worked several fall fashion trends into their legwear lines. Here, some of the top-booking looks:

Luxury yarns and metallic touches.

Men’s wear and prairie influences.

Dots with lace and three-tone stripes.

Leaf and other foliage-inspired motifs.

Knee-highs and slipper socks.