By  on February 9, 2010

ATLANTA — Preliminary signs of recovery were evident at the Atlanta Apparel show, as buyers loosened their budgets and bought a little further out from season.

Many show visitors agreed that a more aggressive approach to business was necessary, despite their concerns about troubled lenders and cautious consumers. Manufacturers allowed retailers to make smaller orders and offered discounts as deep as 20 percent.

Buyer attendance at the show, which was held at AmericasMart from Jan. 21 to 25, increased compared with last year, mart officials said, without providing figures. Lori Kisner, senior vice president of leasing since last spring, said, “It’s the best show we’ve had since I’ve been here.…I think people have decided to stop participating in the recession.”

Kisner reported strength in ready-to-wear, updated misses’ looks, children’s apparel and accessories, adding the gift market earlier in the month generated crossover business for permanent showrooms in the apparel building.

Trends in sportswear included cute day dresses for summer, bright tops in silk or cotton and worn-in shorts with feminine details. Accessories styles ran the gamut, and buyers opted for vivid scarves, statement necklaces and belts to update existing merchandise.

Jordan Chadwell, buyer for Meringue, a contemporary specialty store in Atlanta, shopped for early summer deliveries and wrote orders for Ella Moss, Rebecca Beeson, Corey Lynn Calter and Parameter. In addition, she picked up Joe’s Jeans, a new line for the store.

Key styles included bright tanks, printed silk tops, summer dresses, lightweight denim and shorts. Chadwell said manufacturers were willing to offer deals, such as 20 percent off an entire order. She increased her budget, partly because of the launch of the store’s Web site, which will feature e-commerce.

Chadwell has dropped lines that didn’t perform well and is now banking on in-store events and e-commerce to generate business.

“The hardest part is not knowing what consumers’ spending patterns are going to be,” she said.

JSong International, a $2.5 million better-to-bridge New York manufacturer that specializes in embroidery, reported steady traffic from buyers eager to bring fresh product into their stores.

Edward Kwang, who directs trade shows for the firm, showed spring and immediates and said bestsellers included a sequin skirt set with butterfly embroidery, a ruffled tango-style dress and a colorful Rainbow Suit style, all for $129 at wholesale.

Kwang said buyers ordered no more than four of the same piece to keep merchandise fresh. To service them, Kwang said JSong International was making weekly shipments and constantly introducing color variations on merchandise.

Julie Routenberg, owner of Potpourri, a modern bridge boutique in Atlanta, bought with a slightly increased budget and sought early fall deliveries.

“I’m not buying closer to season because if you do that, it’s a crap shoot,” Routenberg said. “Manufacturers need some kind of commitment from you or they’re basically doing everything cut-to-order and they can’t sustain that.”

She ordered tops from Veeca, including printed tank styles and jackets that retail for $100 to $150.

Routenberg said sales last year were up slightly over 2008, and she’ll continue to focus on in-store events and customer service.

AmericasMart emphasized special events during the market, holding fashion shows in the building’s atrium so that looks were constantly visible to buyers as they walked the floors.

Kisner said the mart plans to create a lounge-style area on the second floor for buyers, with wireless Internet access, seminars and on-site events at night.

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