By  on December 21, 2000

NEW YORK -- With the holidays approaching and New Year's resolutions looming, activewear retailers are seeing brisk sales for hooded sweatshirts, bra tops, snowboarding jackets and running apparel.

Shoppers are turning to specialty stores for novelty looks and to major chains for basics, according to a spot-check of nine retailers across the country this week.

At Blades Board and Skate Shops, a 16-unit East Coast specialty chain, shoppers like the looks of Spiewak's $169 fake-fur collar jackets with angle zippers at the neckline, Burton's $320 Tri-Lite shell jacket and Triple Five's $70 hooded jackets, especially ones with three-quarter length sleeves, said Evan Josloff, senior buyer.

"Snowboarding as a category is doing pretty well. That's influencing the brands," he said. "And the hooded sweatshirts are just on fire. The styles are classic and it's New York based and highlights Brooklyn and other New York logos."

The retailer is still "killing it" with black items, but gray, red and orange are also important, Josloff said.

Island Windsurfing, a 7,000-square-foot store in Middletown, R.I., is also seeing a lot of interest in $50 hooded sweatshirts from Billabong and $20 long-sleeve T-shirts with graphic designs from Roxy, said Nancy Johnson, owner.

Most shoppers know what they want when they enter the store, she said.

Other popular holiday items include jackets, hats, pants, watches, socks and shoes, as well as scooters and snowboards, said Johnson. As soon as the temperature dipped a few weeks ago, women started buying jackets from Roxy, Columbia Sportswear, Patagonia, The North Face, Burton, Betty Rides and Bonfire. About half of the customers are buying technical apparel for streetwear, Johnson said.

Equinox EnergyWear is also seeing strong sales for Blue Marlin's $60 hooded zip-front sweatshirt imprinted with New York. Another key look at the 11-unit chain is DeFeet's $9 Air-E-Ator novelty socks. Made with CoolMax nylon or MicroSupreme acrylic, the performance-oriented athletic socks carry colorful designs such as royal, magenta and green jokers or red and black chili peppers on yellow and black socks.

"They're flying out the door," an Equinox spokeswoman said. Skull caps are the rave at Crunch, a 19-unit health club and retail operation. There are two versions -- a $10 cotton cap imprinted with the company's logo,and a $19 wool blend carrying the logo and one of the seven deadly sins -- pride, lust, envy, sloth, wrath, gluttony or greed.The cotton version was a sellout at the Los Angeles health club, a Crunch spokeswoman said.

"People are tired of the same old baseball hat," she said. "The skull caps are tough, they're urban and they're definitely a cool little alternative."

Jimmy Jazz, a 36-unit chain that caters to fashion-conscious city shoppers, has seen sales climb for its private label frayed denim pants and skirts, said Jimmy Khezrie, president and chief executive officer. Sales of sandblasted denim are also gaining strength as another alternative to the dark denim trend, which has slowed down, he said.

Many of the retailer's female shoppers picked up on the frayed denim trend, after seeing it worn by Mariah Carey and L'il Kim, Khezrie said.

"We needed a change from the dark denim. It's a nice look and it's different," he said. "People have been living off basics for so long."

At Dr. Jays Ladies, sweaters are the must-have items and something the retailer "can't get enough of," said Jackie Booker, buyer. Shoppers are spending between $59 and $70 for "thick, beefy" styles in navy, black, red, yellow or hot pink from Polo Jeans, DKNY, Guess and Tommy Hilfiger, she said.

"They make great gift items and they're in season," Booker said. "Sweaters might have skipped last year [as a trend]. But what goes around comes around."

Sales of Nike are "great" at MacySport, where women are buying workout pants, fleece jackets, overlay jackets and ACG apparel, a company spokeswoman said.

Puma is "another standout" for its novelty T-shirts in tie-dye or with glitter, as well as its sueded fleece. Adidas is also popular mainly due to its microboot-cut tights.

"The strength of workout pants plays off the strength of yoga," the MacySport spokeswoman said. "Novelty T-shirts with tie-dye and glitter and overlay jackets have a very Seventies 'Charlie's Angels' feel. Fleece has a great luxury hand and it's a fabric that keeps you warm."

Basics are high on shoppers lists at Galyan's Trading Co. and Lucy.com.

Galyan's, with 21 sports superstores in the Midwest, is seeing continued interest in Nike, Adidas and its private label bra tops and "anything in bottoms, especially pants," said a company spokesman. One surprise this holiday season is the number of women who are shopping for themselves, he noted."There's not any one thing that is flying out the door. Our women's business is still very good and collection oriented," he said. "Running is an important category."

Nike DriFit -- moisture-wicking, high-performance activewear -- is in demand, since shoppers are most concerned about fabrics, the spokesman added. Given that, Galyan's customers are not showing any price resistance and the company has avoided heavy holiday markdowns.

"Our business is built on regular-priced goods. It can be done," the spokesman said.

Sports bras and yoga separates are driving sales at Lucy.com.

Sports bras "always top the list," due in part to the item's six-month shelf life and and that an estimated 75 percent of women wear the wrong bra size, said Dawn Eikenberry, product placement specialist.

Champion's $36 sports bra and Enell's $55 style are current bestsellers. Black and white are still the preferred colors.

In terms of yogawear, Zen and Nuala are popular labels with Lucy.com shoppers. Retail prices range from $36 to $88.

"The yoga trend is still surprisingly white hot," Eikenberry said. "People aren't price sensitive."

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