By  on August 29, 2005

Increasing year-round business and the continued crossover of swim- and beachwear into sportswear are just some of the key factors affecting the burgeoning resort market now. While swimwear companies are optimistic about a rebound from the bad weather in key vacation destinations last year, resortwear companies also are concentrating on growing their businesses across the country. Several of the 71 vendors exhibiting at WWDMAGIC weighed in on the business climate in the once-fair-weather category.

Glenn Nelson, president of For Her Body, a Tampa, Fla.-based distributor for Thai swimwear line Raquel Raquel, Spanish resortwear line Elena Lardi and Australian swimwear line Aztec Rose, said he is optimistic about the upcoming season. 

“I think the swim buyers at independent stores are looking for product not found in the majors because, with the consolidation of major stores, the independent is realizing they can’t compete and they need to offer more,” he said.

But he noted specialty store business for swim is faring better than department stores because products there aren’t subject to the early markdowns.

“What is making the swim business difficult is the necessity of the major players to maintain high gross margins, therefore marking goods down before we even get into season. If you are a big [brand], the only way you can survive is to sell to these stores, but they are getting killed,” he said. “I do not believe that there is reason to mark goods down before July 4. If you look at what’s going on today weather-wise, where New York City is hotter than Florida, there’s no reason to put wool coats on the floor in August.”

Mary Goudie, general manager of apparel for the Irvine, Calif.-based retail marketing firm BDS Marketing, noted swim is a quick-turn category with a limited window to sell in some parts of the country. “Ultimately, these stores want to sell full-priced goods, but there is so little time to do that, and if you can’t, you mark it down so it’s not left on the floor.” Goudie’s company deploys sales specialists to stores to get inventory on the floor right away, and then to make sure it sells in the designated window.When consumers find it nearly impossible to find swimsuits at department stores in mid- to late summer, they turn to specialty shops. Those stores, in turn, are beefing up their offerings to include ancillary items, such as tunics and tote bags, that can be worn on the beach and on the street.

As a result, the items on exhibit at MAGIC aren’t limited to swimwear and apparel; there are also flip-flops, sandals, bags and loungewear. And vendors hail not just from California and Florida, but also Toronto; Montreal; Lake Forest, Ill.; Boulder, Colo.; Somerdale, N.J., and Grand Prairie, Tex. Dror Zipken, owner of the Miami-based shoe company Dizzy Inc., thinks “people just want to be comfortable.” He said more and more resort specialty stores are adding footwear to the mix. His fabric and wood flip-flops embellished with rhinestones and flowers wholesale for $4 to $20 a pair.

Also popular are items that can be customized to particular resorts, such as pajamas from the Minneapolis-based company Creative Apparel Concepts, which feature prints of flamingos (for Florida), lobsters (for New England), wolves (for the Midwest) and sea otters (for Alaska).

Still, pieces that can be worn over swimsuits or alone are getting the most attention from buyers. “Cover-ups and accessories are the growing end of the swimwear business,” Nelson noted, adding that, with limited dollars, the consumer is looking for fewer suits and more versatile pieces.

However, Simon Southwood, owner of Sauvage Swimwear in San Diego, said consumers are less price sensitive than some swimwear makers may think. “If consumers find something they like, price isn’t an object.”

One of his best-selling items at the July SwimShow in Miami was a red and brown animal-striped silk tunic that wholesales for $60. “We also do well with pull-on pants, pajama pants and tie-front blouses. You can’t just have a swimsuit; you need something to go with it.”

Ellyce Zolt, a partner in the multiline Los Angeles showroom Ronnie and Ellyce Sales, says the cover-up category is “on fire” right now. “Even when swim is slow, that’s kept on going. A lot of our stores tell us they wish they’d sell more swim, but they are still selling cover-ups.” She added that the style has shifted from boardshorts and pareos to longer skirts and dresses, and manufacturers such as Bing Bang are meeting the need with quick turnaround pieces at moderate prices.Keeping price points low is a concern, she said, given the competition from big-box retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart. “In our opinion, those stores have a big impact because they are price-point driven,” she said.

“Many tend to view the emergence of the megachains as the death knell to our industry,” said Gregory McDougall, vice president of Miami swim line Chica Rica. “Although they will continue to have a substantial impact on overall swimwear sales and may even put a few of our mom-and-pop customers out of business, in many consumers’ eyes, swimwear from the megachains has very poor quality and isn’t very stylish. It has been said that much of their difficulty may lie in the fact that they cannot respond to trends fast enough, and that’s good.”

BDS Marketing’s Goudie said competition from discount chains has its benefits. “Stores like Target force everyone to be better product developers. While it can make the job of manufacturers more difficult, it benefits the consumer.”

Thanks to a resurgence of leisure travel, population growth in the warm-weather states and the nationwide acceptance of the SoCal look — bathing suits mixed with streetwear, relaxed pants, skirts and T-shirt dressing — resortwear is heating up. And it’s not just the surf brands such as Quiksilver and Roxy that make an impact, although their influence is considerable.

Island Company, a two-year-old women’s swim line based in Palm Beach, Fla., is designed for a young traveler with a clean, classic style. “A lot of the resort stuff looks older, but there wasn’t a line out there that wasn’t too aggressively surf and not too plain,” said creative director Spencer Antle, explaining the inspiration for the line of pastel striped, floral and polkadotted bikinis priced at $45 wholesale.

This year, the company is rolling out men’s resortwear and has plans to follow with a women’s collection. “We started creating a men’s line to fill out women’s swimwear, because we’re trying to move into other products that don’t limit us in a seasonal cycle, plus you want to expand your line to sell more stuff,” he said.Even more conservative companies like the Boulder, Colo.-based Fresh Produce are reaping the popularity of the casual lifestyle. The easy cotton pieces in vibrant colors can go from the beach to dinner and back. The company is beefing up its collection of screen-printed T-shirts and shorts, while also adding more dressy pieces such as capri pants and jackets. Wholesale prices for the line hover just below $30.

“More people are vacationing and looking for these pieces year-round,” said marketing director Jennifer Deutsch. “We saw a shift after 9/11 and it took about a year to come back, but now it’s strong again.”

She said that, due to strong demand from consumers, the company added a well-received swimwear collection two years ago to complement its summer pieces. It is wholesale priced at $36 to $40.

Deutsch noted that some of the company’s biggest accounts, such as Nordstrom stores in Illinois, Ohio, Missouri and Minnesota, are in the Midwest, indicating that the clothes transcend vacation destinations.

“There are definitely more year-round fabrics now,” said Goudie, “because you can escape winter by dressing a certain way.”

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