By  on February 18, 2009

ATLANTA — Buyers arrived at AmericasMart last month with withered credit lines and tighter budgets, but focused on finding special items to entice recession-battered customers.

Retailers had specific strategies, including writing smaller orders, cutting back on inventory, buying only wear-now items and seeking less-expensive lines in place of high-end sportswear.

Accessories and dresses at lower price points got most of the action at the market, which ran Jan. 24 to 27, particularly at Premiere, a contemporary juried show on the second floor made up of 80 percent women’s wear and 20 percent men’s.

Many contemporary stores that have carried only high-end sportswear scoured the market for young contemporary product, said Chuck Corvi, project manager of apparel trade shows, citing the huge availability of trendy styles at lower price points.

“Sure, the economy is part of this buying trend, but it’s also just because we’re getting better young contemporary exhibitors now,” he said, citing Wish Collection, Nelli and Frenzii as top performers.

In sportswear, looks were pared down with cleaner silhouettes and fewer embellishments. Cute summer dresses reigned, with lots of bright color and prints, airy fabrics and flirty details such as pockets and carefully placed buttons and bows. Other hot items included yoga-inspired apparel, leather or faux-leather handbags in jewel tones, and transitional pieces such as scarves that update a look in one step.

Prom, pageant and cocktail resources such as Tony Bowls, Sherri Hill and Jovani piled on the glamour with vivid colors, plenty of embellishment and looks that were more tasteful than overtly sexy. Many attendees reported a boost in confidence, attributing it to President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

“With the economy as it is, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many stores were more optimistic at market,” said Janine Weil, a rep who exhibited five lines at Premiere. “Coming to the show right after the inauguration gave people a hopeful attitude.”



Weil said buyers were more receptive to new product and wrote more and bigger orders than this time last year.

Weil’s top bookings included Sledge tie-dyed tops with peace signs for $24 to $34 wholesale, Eva Varro’s reversible printed dresses from $58 to $72, reversible cotton cardigans from Lotus Seed for $60 and printed mesh and chiffon peasant tops from 6 Degrees for $39 to $59.

Addressing buyer demand for fashionable items at lower prices, Sheppard & Tucker, a multiline showroom, brought in resources such as Martini, a line of trendy date-night tops and summer dresses starting at $19 wholesale.

“You have to offer your buyers something exciting right now,” said Kathy Tucker, principal. “It’s sink-or-swim time. Retailers that just sit back and don’t pick up any new merchandise will go under.”

Tucker was offering her retailers advice on how to deal with the economy, including holding in-store events for longtime clients and their friends, serving cheese and wine and giving a 20 percent discount.

Bill Alverson, owner of Beau Monde, a specialty shop in Andalusia, Ala., said, “I have cut back the number of resources I carry, and buying is more difficult for me in January than it has been in 15 years. When you buy short, it’s got to be on the money, as every sale has to go through.”

Alverson shopped with a 20 percent decrease in budget and sought lines with a young contemporary and junior sensibility. He reordered Beija Flor, a Brazilian premium denim label that features contoured waists and a vertical illusion wash for a slimming effect, although he went with a lighter wash for spring-summer, adding that denim sales slow down for him in warmer weather. He also picked up core lines such as Michael Stars, KLD and Karlie.

Marigail Mathis, owner of a namesake specialty store in Florence, Ala., found the market “exhilarating,” particularly when it came to accessories, and wrote orders for spring and summer.

Scarves were her most important accessory item, including ombré and dip-dyed styles. Mathis wrote a 50-unit order with Michael Stars, whose scarves wholesale from $25 to $95, and wrote about 75 pieces with other scarves lines.

Mathis came to market with a slashed budget and said she cut her inventory 30 percent. In addition to scarves, she picked up lightweight washed linens ideal for belting from lines such as CP Shades, crocheted wraps from Pure & Co. and whimsical belts from Suzi Roher.

Michelle Harrison, a 20-year mart veteran who owns a namesake special occasion showroom on the ninth floor, did not open her smaller showroom on the 10th floor. “We did put a sign on the window up there that instructed buyers to come see us in the regular showroom, but we didn’t have anyone trickle in that way,” she said.

Harrison said that while eveningwear was lacking, spring dresses sold well. Evening pieces that did move were mostly with Harrison’s international accounts, stores such as Collecion Moda in Spain and Sue Stephens in Mexico.

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