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Trade Show Trio Sings Upbeat Tune

Vendors were upbeat about business conditions at three New York trade shows, but some buyers were showing restraint.

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NEW YORK — Vendors had a positive outlook on business conditions at a trio of trade shows here this week, although some retailers were exercising restraint in their ordering.

Despite fall and holiday seasons that were complicated by a host of factors, including the ongoing turmoil in Iraq and the presidential election, many were confident enough in the economy and their creativity to launch brands targeted at specialty stores.

“Business has been awesome, customers are returning,” said Debbie Weiss, a sales representative for Stoosh, a wovens line with an emphasis on pants that began shipping in August.

The Los Angeles-based line, which wholesales for $35 to $57 and also has an assortment of skirts and blazers, was showing at the Fashion Avenue Market Expo here.

The show, produced by Business Journals Inc., ran from Sunday through Tuesday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and featured 390 exhibitors. This is the first time FAME had a January edition. The show attracted more than 6,500 buyers.

Not everyone at the show was as exuberant as Weiss.

Shanon Hokaj, owner of Earthshine, a store in Edinboro, Pa., said her business was down 40 percent from 2001 and wasn’t necessarily getting better, especially since a Wal-Mart recently moved into town.

“I’m just riding it out,” said Hokaj, who was primarily at the show looking for cash-and-carry accessories.

Hokaj is placing some bets on bright camisole tops with a lingerie feel. “It looks like you’re wearing your underwear, but that’s what’s supposed to be in right now,” she said.

That soft look with feminine detailing such as lace was also a draw for buyers at Moda Manhattan. Moda, which is paired with AccessoriesTheShow, ran concurrently with FAME at the convention center and also is run by Business Journals. Moda had 120 booths and attendance that exceeded 10,000.

“We’re still selling peasant looks and ruffles and anything romantic,” said Robert Graves, national sales manager of Berkeley, Calif.-based Two Star Dog.

The casual sportswear line features a lot of linen and wholesales for $39 to $69. “Any midcalf skirt length seems to be selling well,” Graves added, noting that retailers were choosing where to spend their dollars carefully. “They’re really editing the collections down.”

Many vendors at the shows noted stores were taking on an item orientation, wanting a single piece in several different colors.

This was the case for Kathryn Peters, president and owner of Charleston, S.C.-based Kayon Corp. that introduced a line at Moda called S.H.A.G., which stands for “sexy hip and gorgeous.”

Additionally, Kayon produces Whitewash, which was also at Moda, and Putumyo, which showed at FAME. Overall, Peters said there was “a focus on going back to that hippie-chic look.”

The S.H.A.G. collection features young, trendy styles embellished with hand beading, sequins and tattered, distressed fabrics. Knits wholesale for $19 to $29, while dresses range from $44 to $88.

The Samuel Dong line also was doing well with some of its embellished looks, especially a contemporary off-the-shoulder sweater with rhinestones, said Rosana Quiroz, sales manager.

“Some retailers are still cautious when they buy,” said Edward Kwang, J. Song International Inc.’s controller. “They are buying, but they look for something really good.”

At J. Song, buyers were snatching up long white dresses with sequins.

“Nowadays, they want something unique that is at the same time elegant,” Kwang said.

Many retailers use their seasonal trips to trade shows to hunt out new designers or to add a little bit of spice to their assortments. Susan Booi, who owns five stores in Aruba under the Anouk name, was at Moda looking for resort looks and accessories.

“I’ve seen companies I don’t know, so it’s broadening my outlook,” she said.

Susan Hiett, owner of Trés Chic in Germantown, Tenn., was at Moda hunting out form-fitting looks for “the woman who works out.” Trés Chic opened in September and in its first month, raked in $70,000 in sales in its 1,300-square-foot shop.

“Germantown is a tiny little city with an awful lot of money,” Hiett said.

Buyers and sellers at D&A Annex at the Starrett Lehigh Center said they came off a solid holiday season and were heading into 2005 with momentum.

The show, which featured 40 booths and about 1,500 attendees, is produced by Designers & Agents and also ended its three-day run on Tuesday. D&A specializes in young, funky lines and caters to that crowd with a laid-back vibe, including a DJ.

Jen Ripley, owner of Luxe in Atlanta, which has a lot of trunk shows, said she likes dealing with smaller, hip companies because they’re often more flexible.

“We’re doing more of the bohemian-type thing, lots of ballet flats,” said Ripley. “Rachel Roy might be on my hit list this season.”

Sara Brenner, senior merchandiser at Rachel Roy, said the line features vintage-inspired looks embellished with beading, crystals and embroidery. The line launched for spring in 40 doors and wholesales for $45 to $195.

“For this type of price point, there is still space for new designers to come on board, especially if they have a strong point of view,” Brenner said. “We wanted to make the collection obtainable. You can go and buy a whole outfit.”

Also shopping the show were Christina Cerwin and Eliza Jenkins, co-owners of Fleur in Chapel Hill, N.C. The pair was looking for bright and bold colors, continuing the strong trend from last year, and metallics such as gold, as well as tunics.

The store, up and running for about 18 months, has enjoyed a strong start.

“This fall was amazing; holiday sales were great,” Jenkins said.

Sara Rachlin, sales person for The Aubrey Co., which had three lines at D&A, said the show had been busy.

“It’s unlike most January [editions] where everybody’s on sale and sitting on things,” she said, referring to retailers’ promotional stance and inventory position. “I’ll keep my fingers crossed because everything is perfect.”

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