By  on June 30, 2009

ATLANTA — Most buyers only had eyes for summer at the Atlanta Apparel Market.

The show at AmericasMart from June 12 to 15, once a mostly holiday and late fall exhibition, reflected for the second year a difficult retail climate and reluctance from buyers to stock excess inventory that won’t translate for more than a season.

Retailers hunted for summer dresses, knit tops to work with denim and accessories for instant updating, rather than looking ahead to fall.

In sportswear, popular items included colorful day and party dresses and knit tops, all featuring special cuts, draping and detailing. Buyers sought accessories at lower price points, including vintage-inspired necklaces for layering, belts in a variety of widths and colorful novelty scarves.

Sales representatives and buyers said activity was mostly low-key, but noted June is usually slower than the other four shows held each year at AmericasMart because of its positioning as a fill-in market. Mart officials reported strength in accessories, immediates and resort, and described show attendance as stronger than anticipated.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect with June,” said Lori Kisner, who was hired as senior vice president of leasing for AmericasMart in March. “I’d heard that it’s usually a slower market, so it’s hard to gauge [its success].”

Sonia Steffes, owner of Sonia Says, a contemporary-to-bridge boutique in Athens, Ga., came looking for party dresses, item jackets and accessories, and scoured the floors for transitional pieces with visual interest.

Steffes wrote fill-in orders for jackets with button and stitching detail by Three Sisters and Boho Chic, Linda Lundstrom pieces ideal for travel, chic pants by Silk Culture and party dresses by Phoebe Couture, a fashion-forward division of Kay Unger.

“The economy might be down, but people will always need a [social occasion] dress,” said Steffes, who also noted freshness in knit item tops and necklaces and belts. “Our customer isn’t buying as much these days, but she is updating what she has.”

Steffes is fine-tuning customer service, offering at least one special in-store event a month, regular trunk shows and delivery options.

“Customer service is the key to success right now,” said Steffes, who has forgone print advertising and direct mail in favor of e-mail blasts to boost the store’s marketing profile. “We held a cocktail-themed in-store event the day after the [presidential] election. We made $10,000.”

Leslie Pittman, owner of Laura Kathryn, a high-end contemporary boutique in Birmingham, Ala., wrote orders for Tibi dresses, Hudson denim and immediate tops from young contemporary brands 213 Industry and LA Made.

“There aren’t a lot of new trends in the market right now,” Pittman said. “Things we saw a year ago, we’re still seeing now. We’re really just trying to find pieces with that ‘wow’ factor.”

Tom Carroll, owner of multiline showroom Carroll Apparel, reported “pretty steady” traffic the first two days of market and noted buyers’ interest in Tolani scarves and immediate items.

“We’ve had appointments scheduled beginning with the first day of the show,” Carroll said. “The people who are here are here to buy.”

Brad Johnson, owner of the Ambrosia & Co. showroom, noted strength from resources such as sportswear by high-end fur and accessories brand Sherry Cassin and its new sportswear division, Cassin, vintage necklaces and earrings by Mary James Designs and Prvcy, a contemporary denim line popular among celebrities.

“So many buyers have come to me, and they either want to buy way too close [to season] or way too far,” sales rep Janine Weil said. “Both ways are impractical. When the economy turns around, the stores that try new things and are smart about their business will be well positioned.”

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