By  on February 17, 2009

All optimism hasn’t fled the sportswear industry.

As better-priced sportswear and knit firms head to WWDMAGIC, vendors who had a strong 2008 are clinging to hope they will grow in 2009 — despite reporting that retailers were waiting longer to order, writing smaller orders and often canceling existing orders.

Take Montreal-based better line Katherine Barclay, which finished 2008 up 30 percent, though October through December was flat. Brand director Larry Liverman is projecting a 15 to 20 percent increase in the second half of the year, hoping to capitalize on the new price sensitivity of the market.

“The bridge market is very soft, so we became that much more important at the opening price point of better,” said Liverman of the brand, which wholesales from $29 to $129. “We’re at the right place at the right time, opening new accounts in all these better boutiques that never would have given us the time of day before.”

Katherine Barclay, which does more than $8 million in volume and is carried in more than 1,000 doors, is increasing its marketing at trade shows this year, hoping to capture these new accounts. For example, the brand is doing a fashion show at StyleMax in Chicago and is doing a slide show in its 30-foot booth at WWDMAGIC.

Meanwhile Boulder, Colo.-based knit line Neve Designs has also had a run of success at recent trade shows, and is projecting double-digit growth in 2009, after experiencing a 40 percent increase in sales in 2008.

“This year our line has shown so well at every show we’ve been to — opening new doors, plus maintaining existing,” said Katharine Garrison, Neve Designs fashion marketing coordinator. “Based on how everything is going so far, we expect MAGIC to be nonstop. We know we will probably take a hit because our retailers are, but we still expect to grow.”

At the recent StyleMax show, Garrison said Neve Designs took more than twice as many orders as it had last year, adding new accounts to its existing approximately 600 doors.

Garrison attributed the line’s success to its versatility — designed to be worn both skiing and as everyday knits — and its reasonable wholesale prices of $44 to $140. The line has also gained publicity in the last few years through its partnership with the U.S. Ski Team and from being included on Oprah’s “O List,” Garrison said. She added that the company had cut costs by trimming the size of its collection by 20 percent, with fewer colorways and a more edited line.

Although Pure & Co. saw a drop in sales in October, the Ontario-based firm ended 2008 up almost 10 percent for its Pure Handknit line and up more than 60 percent for its newer brand Neon Buddha. Going into this spring, the $12 million company is projecting an 8 percent increase in Pure Handknit, which wholesales from approximately $35 to $55, and a 50 percent increase in Neon Buddha. The brands are carried in about 2,000 doors, including Nordstrom and Von Maur.

“We went through a period in the fall when we had some of our retailers delaying placing their orders — even had some brag that they were not buying a piece until January,” said vice president of sales and marketing Lyn Baskett. “We were fortunate, though, that the customers who did book were placing mostly larger orders. We have been very pleased at the various markets in January — numbers have been substantially up as the mainstays continue to book and the ones who delayed are now panicking, as they don’t have any goods coming in.”

Baskett said Pure & Co. has seen more cancellations than normal, plus it has had difficulty getting factor approval on longtime retail customers, “but we are working out arrangements with them to ensure they are able to continue to receive a flow of exciting goods.”

The company cuts deliveries to order and typically does not stock inventory besides its best-selling button wrap. But this season, Baskett noted, “we are making faster decisions on canceling orders to open up their inventory, we are updating our inventory more often to our reps so they can be more current, and we have allowed reps to shorten their order lead times from 90 to 60 days.”

Twenty-two-year-old New York-based knitwear firm Cyrus ended 2008 with a 25 percent sales increase but is projecting a 10 percent decline in 2009 and a 20 to 25 percent decline at WWDMAGIC, after double-digit drops at regional shows so far this year, according to vice president of sales Stephen Hakakian.

Cyrus wholesales from $40 to $60 and is carried in about 700 specialty stores. Cardigans and a new collection of printed knitwear have been bestsellers so far for spring, and Hakakian plans to bring both spring and fall to show at WWDMAGIC.

“We’re trying to be more realistic from the regional shows, because things aren’t trending well — the stores aren’t even coming to the shows,” he said, adding that Cyrus is not anticipating firings or cost cuts.

Cyrus is also not reducing its inventory, so it can fill immediate orders, hoping that they will indeed come.

“In the last 10 days, we’ve been getting a lot of calls about what we have for delivery in the next 30 days,” said Hakakian. “I anticipate people looking for goods, and we’re trying to promote having fresh new product when they need it.”

New York-based better vendor JSong International Inc. is also hoping that upcoming immediate orders will offset the smaller, more hesitant orders the firm has seen so far for spring from its approximately 700 doors. The $2.5 million company, whose outfits wholesale from $80 to $200, is not cutting expenses, as it still hopes to increase its sales this year.

“For the spring, some of our customers are delaying their orders…and are buying closer to the time they sell,” said Edward Kwang, who heads trade and press for JSong, adding that he anticipates less traffic at WWDMAGIC as retailers reduce their travel budgets. “We maintain the same production as last season that should be able to fill the immediate orders. In the beginning, sales might decrease some. But eventually, sales should pick up and be relatively the same as the previous year.”

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