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The Jet Set Returns

<CS:BOLD>NOW THAT LEISURE TRAVEL IS PICKING UP, RESORT AND SWIM VENDORS ARE BACK IN BUSINESS AND ARE EXPANDING THEIR WARES BEYOND RESORT SHOPS.<BR><BR>Bookings of resort and swim fashions are showing improvement after last fall's cataclysmic drop due...

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.”

Business has picked up in the last month for Minneapolis-based Creative Apparel Concepts, which produces printed nightshirts and pajamas.

“It’s still a little cloudy going forward, but we feel that sales are on a steady increase, and we expect to do as well as last year, if not better,” said Jeff Gray, president of the 18-month-old company, which does nearly $3 million in annual sales.

“The resort stores are starting to show life,” Gray said. “They were most affected and they are slowly coming around. They have told me they expect business to be back to normal by June or July.”

Adding pajamas to the line of nightshirts has boosted current bookings, and Creative Apparel has gotten more aggressive about sales.

January and February bookings are way up at Tustin, Calif.-based Line-Up, maker of casual sportswear lines Weekend Traffic and Line Two, as well as golfwear line Line-Up.

The reason is pretty simple: The company put a lot more effort into developing true fall lines this year, instead of coasting along on its mainstay spring and summer business, said owner Kevin Knight. A new printed stretch fake suede fabric in Weekend Traffic has had especially good response, along with a stretch woven tracksuit with piping in Line Up, Knight said.

Joanna Lee, owner of New York-based Z International, said the firm’s business has been fair, and she feels it’s an advantage that her products sell for moderate prices. The company’s hosiery wholesales from $2.50 to $11, while novelty lace and mesh tops are between $8 and $18.

“I think if you have the right merchandise, the business will survive, but it’s pretty tough,” she said. “We want the merchandise to be more ‘in,’ so it looks hot and people will spend their money to buy.”