By  on January 3, 2005

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The hosiery industry can no longer ignore what consumers really want, nor can it continue to tell them what it believes women should have. College girls are just not likely to go for the “Flashdance” legwarmers or pop stars’ showier look.

These were the major points made to nearly 100 top hosiery executives during The Hosiery Association’s annual marketing symposium here last month.

At the conference, hosiery executives admitted they are increasingly competing for consumer dollars with other fashion categories, as well as areas such as entertainment, travel and home decor. To that end, several speakers warned that legwear manufacturers must commit more closely to working with their retail accounts to tap into consumer interests.

The overall consensus: Today’s consumers are barraged with three-minute sound bites by every industry except hosiery. Marshall Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group, chided the hosiery industry for not showing consumers what benefits their products offer.

“Calling it just pantyhose means little,” he said. “Why not dub them leg enhancers or tummy trimmers? After all, toothpaste is called oral care, shampoo a hair enhancer, and it works for them.”

A highlight at this year’s symposium was a panel of four college women offering insight into the motivations of college women where fashion, specifically socks, is concerned. The scantily clad Britney Spears look and the revival of Eighties legwarmers are both becoming passé with most young women today, they said, and are being replaced by a move toward dressing up. Many women pointed to the growing trend of wearing high heels with jeans and young men wearing well-designed khakis as indicators of this interest in more elegant dress codes.

While casual comfort remains a major factor in their overall apparel decisions, the quartet emphasized there are several levels of casual, with some meant to be accessorized and dressed up.

The four agreed their fashion information usually comes from magazines, Hollywood celebrities, catalogues and in-store displays. The words “Sale” or “Coupons off” are also effective in their total wardrobe decisions.

Does the 18-24 group buy socks and hosiery online? Not according to the panel. The four women agreed that hosiery must be seen, felt and studied for value, quality and suitability to coordinate with their wardrobe. As for fashion socks, the panelists agreed they complete an outfit and put a look together.In his annual visual presentation, David Wolfe, creative director at Doneger Group, said he believed the elegant simple styling of Audrey Hepburn and C.Z. Guest is returning to fashion and will have a positive impact on hosiery in coming seasons.

“Thank goodness, we’re readdressing the idea of dressing up,” he said.

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