By  on January 14, 2009

NEW YORK — The troubled economy may create an opening for the trend-heavy, price-light junior market.

Buyers whose bread and butter is usually contemporary brands said they left more orders at this month’s junior/young contemporary show FAME than ever before, as they looked to spice up their assortments with lower-priced items.

“We did better at FAME than we normally do,” said Ashley Kane, assistant buyer of Wish List,a four-unit contemporary teen boutique with Connecticut stores in Greenwich, Westport, Darien and New Haven. “From FAME, you can bring in new things, because the price is so easy. They were hitting on the trends that they had at [contemporary-focused shows] but at a much better price, which is really important right now.”

Marcia Kraus, who owns Carlton’s, a women’s and men’s boutique in Rehoboth Beach, Del., was also willing to take a chance on some of the trendy items at FAME. “I don’t usually buy from FAME, but I did check it out this show because the price points are a little lower,” she said.

Benefitting from the shifting buyer mentality, Mike Song, sales manager of Los Angeles-based junior line Glam, which has participated in FAME for eight years, said he was surprised with the show, which he came into hearing that many of his New York retail clients had closed in the second half of 2008.

“Folks who used to carry higher-end contemporary lines are coming down to our level,” Song said of the line, which wholesales from $20 to $70. “They are now incorporating more lower-priced items into their offerings.”

Song said buyers were looking for “very versatile items that can be worn to work as well as a cocktail party.” He added retailers were ordering “immediates more than normal — folks are scared.”

At FAME, the junior/young contemporary portion of the show continues to grow, up about 10 percent to more than 80 percent of the total exhibition. By May, the goal is for the show to be 100 percent focused on that segment, said Britton Jones, president and chief executive officer of Business Journals Inc., which owns Moda and FAME.

FAME and Moda Manhattan were held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Jan. 4 to 6. The total exhibitor space of FAME remained the same, while Moda was down between 10 percent and 15 percent, Jones said.

“We feel great about the show size, in light of what’s going on in the economy and comparison to the market in general,” Jones said. “We’re confident we’re picking up market share.”

Exhibitors at Moda reported the show exceeded expectations. An Ren has been attending Moda for years, and said the show was better than she expected. “We’re doing great, considering the economy,” said the novelty designer, whose designs wholesale from $75 to $165. “Everybody is talking negatively about the economy and is taking longer to place their orders. The orders are shrinking a little, but not that much.”

“I didn’t expect a lot of traffic, and it’s been better than I expected,” said Zsa Zsa, who started her eponymous New York-based novelty brand about two years ago. “Lots of our repeat customers’ orders remain the same, but there are less total customers.”

Zsa Zsa novelty jackets, which she called “more of an investment” with a wholesale price range of $85 to $120, were the best sellers for the brand, which she hopes will maintain its $325,000 in wholesale volume this year. One of her advantages is that she can turn product from her China factories in as little as 10 days, which is helpful at a time when buyers are ordering immediates, she said. “I’m small, so it’s easier to survive,” Zsa Zsa said. “I’d like to see 20 percent growth every year, but this year, I’m just trying to stay the same.”

Coming off the worst fall season in memory, buyers reported they were being cautious with their lower open-to-buys and waiting longer. Immediate orders were being placed for February through April, but even for the spring period, buyers were placing smaller orders with a wait-and-see attitude.

“When we need more merchandise, we’ll hustle at the last moment for immediates,” said Wish List’s Kane. “We aren’t a company that normally buys immediates, but we think that’s when deals will be done this year.”

With lower open-to-buys, Kane said she was placing orders through March 30, scouting brightly colored printed scarves, tops, dresses and T-shirts. But she said she was also waiting more than ever.

Kraus also was looking for scarves, tops and tunics in novelty prints and bright colors. But she waited to place some orders.

“Once you are in season now, there’s a lot of off-price thrown at you,” Kraus said. “It’s a double-edged sword: You don’t want to miss the good stuff, but there’s nothing more frustrating than buying something, and before it’s even delivered it’s already off-price. Based on my numbers, I probably could use more. I am going to be conservative and wait until in season and see if people are shopping. If I miss out on things, it’s the way things have to be. I’m just too nervous.”

Some vendors are trying to respond by keeping price points lower, as buyers and consumers are more price sensitive than ever.

At Moda, Jana Wang, a New York-based silk jersey dress line that launched for spring 2009, in its first season has produced 16,000 dresses for an average wholesale price of $98. For fall, the line is adding cashmere and silk fine gauge separates.

“I purposefully kept the price point down about $50, working with a smaller markup, to be attractive in this economy,” said Harald Jonassen, president and co-owner. “People want to look at February and March right now — fall is a thousand years away.”

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