By  on February 19, 2002

NOW THAT LEISURE TRAVEL IS PICKING UP, RESORT AND SWIM VENDORS ARE BACK IN BUSINESS AND ARE EXPANDING THEIR WARES BEYOND RESORT SHOPS.

Bookings of resort and swim fashions are showing improvement after last fall's cataclysmic drop due to the plunge in air travel following the Sept. 11 attacks. Retailers have cleared inventories, and the travel industry is slowly improving, makers said.

But the market isn't out of the woods yet, and most makers don't expect it to bounce back to normal until June or July, when the vacation season hits.

To capture orders during difficult times, vendors have focused on improving the style and fabrics of their products. Some vendors are trying to broaden their distribution to specialty and department stores, instead of selling primarily to resort shops. Others are trying new marketing tactics.

Here, a look at what some vendors predict for the rest of the year:

When business took a dive last fall, Anaheim, Calif.-based Buzia didn't pull back. Instead, owner Tom Bochnynski invested in novelty packaging and new exclusive prints for his line of T-shirts. He also shaved $1 off the price of the shirts.

Gift-oriented packaging is what distinguishes Buzia's scoopneck T-shirts from its competitors. Some tops, printed with hearts and sentimental phrases, are tucked into white frosted plastic heart-shaped boxes. Others, such as floral print T-shirts, are rolled up and placed in neon green plastic flower pots or bundled by rubber band with a flower pen.

"We're holding our own, which is pretty wonderful," said Joey Evans, director of merchandising at La Mirada, Calif.-based Wek Enterprises, which makes garment-dyed cotton sportswear.

"We're trying to go to more fashion boutiques versus resorts," Evans said. "One thing going for us is we are made in America, and that is helping us be well received."

Wek's woven cotton sportswear is cut into simple silhouettes, including capri pants and drawstring sweatshirts. Wholesale prices range from $11 to $24.

"Resorts have been hit, but at the same time, people are driving to destinations," Evans said. "They may not be flying to Europe or Hawaii, but they will go to the local lodge or beach."

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