By  on September 4, 2009

ATLANTA — Prom was a standout during the apparel market at AmericasMart, which ended its five-day run here Aug. 31, as buyers arrived with bigger budgets compared with recent markets.

Though still buying close to the season, retailers were committed to incorporating fresh accounts into their merchandise mixes with the aim of luring new customers.

Buyers and sales representatives said much of the buzz was generated by social occasion business, but many reported action in contemporary sportswear and accessories, as well.

Key trends included novelty jackets, transitional cardigans, tunics and T-shirts, as well as fashion-forward dresses at lower price points and accessories for quick, affordable updating. In social occasion, including prom, trends focused on bold color, rhinestones, prints in light shades and cocktail-length styles.

The prom and young contemporary categories performed best and overall business was up from last August, said Lori Kisner, senior vice president of leasing at AmericasMart.

She described the bridal category as “soft right now,” but cited strength in trend-driven accessories and moderate-price sportswear and dresses.

Abraham Maslavi, co-owner of special occasion manufacturer Jovani, reported a 12 percent increase over last August’s market and said the prom category generated the most orders. Maslavi said buyers focused on bold solids, lighter prints, one-shoulder styles, big stone embellishments and short cocktail dresses. The firm also launched two new collections, Jovani Separates and Jovani Couture.

Lisa Adams, principal of showroom Therapy with Lisa Adams, said she had a “slow” show and buyers were looking only for immediates.

The mood “was consistent with the cautious attitude we’ve seen in recent shows. They’re buying a little of everything and not buying deep into any line,” said Adams, adding that young contemporary lines such as Glam sold best.

“I bought small and tight,” said Bill Alverson, buyer for Beau Monde, a specialty shop in Andalusia, Ala. “Nothing’s on autopilot here. Everybody likes to say that we’re out of the recession, but our sales are still off, especially because department stores have put so much pressure on the independents.”

Alverson shopped with a slightly lower budget, saying he planned to save bigger orders for the October show. He reordered core contemporary brands such as Karlie, KLD and Michael Stars, but also scoured the marketplace for fresh product, such as fashion-forward dresses from Nelli, with the back-to-school season in mind.

Julie Routenberg, owner of Potpourri, a modern bridge boutique in Atlanta, sought early resort deliveries and also kept an eye out for early spring.

She reported a slight increase in her business, attributing it to the success of three trunk shows last season compared with the usual one per season, and signs of economic relief.

“Women have to have clothes and the pent-up demand has hit them — they really want something new,” Routenberg said. “It’s time now to get the most fabulous, amazing stuff you can in your store.”

She wrote orders from several new accounts, including Kyela item jackets and tunics, mesh pieces from Petit Pois and poplin styles from Linea Blu Sport, and also reordered Elliot Lauren sportswear and denim from Hello Skinny Jeans.

Routenberg said more sales reps were making calls on her store to help bolster business in a mostly cut-to-order manufacturing climate.

“People just can’t sit back and wait for the doorbell to ring any more,” she said. “You have to go out there and make new business happen.”

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