By  on February 3, 2009

With disappointing holiday sales lingering in buyers’ minds, expect back-to-school offerings at MAGIC to remain reserved in just about every category: price, depth and style. Many are citing “crossover” as their catchword in a market where young men’s shopping habits are in constant transition.

That transition will be reflected on the show floor this time as young men’s and streetwear vendors, along with S.L.A.T.E., MAGIC’s progressive streetwear area, move from their former home in the South Hall to a consolidated Central Hall locale. Activewear, outdoor, licensing, sourcing and Magia, the company’s new Latino-skewed show, will also be relocated.

The format will make it easier for buyers, said MAGIC president Chris DeMoulin. “From S.L.A.T.E. through traditional streetwear, surf and skate, subculture and MMA, it will be flowing on one floor,” he said.

Judging by some of 2008’s teen retail results, it’s evident that buyers need to be more creative when stocking their shelves. Chains from Zumiez to Man Alive turned in disappointing sales all year, and many are forecasting that 2009 will be just as difficult. Already this year, the 64-door urban specialty retailer Against All Odds filed for bankruptcy, and other embattled chains could soon follow.

There were bright spots for young men in 2008, however: The Buckle Inc., Hot Topic Inc. and DTLR finished off the year with a bang, proving that, with the right product, teens still want to shop. “Our business is very healthy,” said DTLR’s vice president of merchandising Scott Collins. “We had a great Christmas. We’re going to spend a lot of time at MAGIC seeking out new vendors and new looks, just the way that we always do.”

Ruth Buenaflor, men’s buyer at the 25-door streetwear chain Up Against the Wall, has a must-buy list that includes novelty and branded T-shirts and nylon jackets, and will also be shopping for premium denim at moderate prices. “I think the streetwear consumer is still out there shopping but he has definitely cut back on spending.”

Price remains paramount for all. “We’re going to continue being trend-driven in our fashion ideas for fall ’09, but there will be an increasing balance between price and fashion,” said Robb Perry, president of the preppy, suburban young men’s brand Company 81. “Business did come for Christmas, but it came at a price, so we know we need to offer value.”

Perry expects retailers to flock to plaids “in all ways” from buffalo checks to tartans. Company 81 will also offer premium-inspired denim — a category that is still driving sales at hot teen chains like the Buckle — but at introductory prices.

Unionbay, a midtier department store mainstay, will also increase its premium denim offering, while remaining value-priced. “It’s all about better washes, better denim and details like back-flap pockets,” said Unionbay’s president Connie Maynard. “Our customers have two influences: the skater and the rocker.” They both want premium denim, she continued. “The rocker would pair that with a screened T or a graphic woven button-down and the skater will pair it with a buffalo check or fleece.”

Mecca, a value-priced urban brand, is counting on its affordability to be a selling point. “For spring ’09, we introduced opening price point T-shirts at $12.99 and plaid or denim shorts at $19.99,” said Kelly McNamara, Mecca’s divisional president of men’s. “We’re going to continue that for fall.”

McNamara also is focusing her efforts in expanding Mecca outside of its traditionally urban realm by shrinking the brand’s sizing and specs. “We’re not even doing a loose fit anymore. Now we’re just doing a classic, relaxed fit and a vintage fit, which is more of a slim fit,” explained McNamara. “We see ourselves as a crossover brand and think we can definitely pick up additional customers.”

While the urban market will likely have a more subdued presence this season, other segments will have larger representation including mixed-martial arts.

“MAGIC is definitely the market for MMA — the show is absolutely mandatory,” noted Luke Burrett, president of MMA-skewed Silver Star. Silver Star is using the opportunity to expand from T-shirts and fleece into a full cut-and-sewn program. With a new designer on board, the brand will be showing off flannel shirts, hoodies and three styles of denim.

As for prices, Burrett reports that Silver Star upped its quality, and thus, its prices — one of the few young men’s brands doing so. “I don’t see the economy affecting us one bit. There’s so much passion for this sport. Somebody will scrape together his last $15 to buy an MMA T-shirt.”

Bad Boy is another MMA vendor that will bring all of its licensees — including both performance and lifestyle MMA apparel and accessories — together in one booth at the show. “We have a strong awareness within the MMA community,” said Brad Horn, Bad Boy’s head of brand development and licensing, “but MAGIC is our opportunity to get in front of a more traditional retail community.”

Initially established as a “showcase for established and emerging skate, surf and street lifestyle brands,” S.L.A.T.E. (whose acronym stands for select, lifestyle, apparel, trends, emergence) debuted last August with about 200 brands including Stüssy, 10.Deep and Obey.

Kim Hall, Element Skateboards’ vice-president of merchandising and design, opted into S.L.A.T.E. this time because, “our peers are out there and our buyers are shopping the show. Fall is our biggest season, so it seems like a move worth trying.”

Streetwear mainstay Stüssy will be back. “S.L.A.T.E. is still a great concept. MAGIC taking the time to differentiate the urban from streetwear benefits both markets,” said sales director Scott Terpstra.

Crooks & Castles marketing director Chris Natalio also will return to S.L.A.T.E. with a new shoe collection and a debut women’s line. For those shopping Crooks & Castles’ men’s collection, design director Emil Soriano put together a refined line of streetwear-inspired basics with updates on military, equestrian and workwear themes. “I don’t think people are going out flashy with the economy the way it is,” he said. “The majority of consumers are playing it safe.”

LRG designer Jonas Bavacqua also is erring on the side of “creative design and a clean aesthetic” with his collection at S.L.A.T.E. The brand will push a new mc47 “modern classic” denim, which features a loose straight fit, as well as an expansive accessories program ranging from backpacks and laptop cases to socks and boxers.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary this year, LRG will release a small capsule of “vintage LRG” to complement each fall ’09 delivery, referencing items from the brand’s first three seasons.

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