By  on May 27, 2008

Alan Sealove, president of Victoria Royal, is shifting focus to international markets. And with the struggling U.S. economy and the weak dollar, he's advising everyone else to do the same.

The New York-based company was started by his father, George Sealove, in 1955, and is now owned by Alan and his brother, Elliot Sealove. The company produces the Victoria Royal eveningwear line; Mary Bays, contemporary day dresses, and Hayden, a day-into-evening collection.

This spring, with sales of just under $30 million, the company discontinued selling to U.S. accounts, and is now producing only private label and special orders here. Victoria Royal will now focus on expanding its European business, which previously represented 20 percent of sales. With 80 stores, mostly in the U.K., business is growing, as retailers look to U.S. lines as a bargain given the weak dollar. Plans are to expand sales for Victoria Royal, which wholesales at $199 to $299, and Hayden, at $150 to $299.

Sealove said that multiple challenges, including casualization, competition from Internet discounters and the current economic and retail climate, had made business in America too tough recently. At its peak, the line had 500 specialty store accounts, but he lamented the demise of independent specialty stores, which couldn't compete with big-box discounters and the Web.

"There are fewer fine clothing stores today, and more jeans stores," he said. Sealove doesn't buy the old idea of special occasion dressing as a "recession-proof" category.

"With the exception of mother-of-the-bride, when the economy is bad, people will make do with last year's dress," he said. Despite widespread challenges here, the potential of the European market is encouraging, said Sealove.

"Buyers find the value attractive and there's less of a bargain, discount mentality in Europe. Stores are less cautious and less affected by discounters and the Internet," he said. He said day dresses had been bright spots in the U.S. during recent tough times, and are a growing category in Europe, especially in cotton prints. The eveningwear brands offer a range of looks, from contemporary short cocktail styles to beaded ballgowns.

In March, the brothers launched Sealove Consulting, a firm that targets women's apparel manufacturers, including start-ups, to help them establish global sourcing and sell to stores in Europe.

 

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