By  on August 26, 2013

LAS VEGAS — Uncertainty about retail prospects for the rest of the year hung over the apparel trade shows here as questions about consumer spending mounted, but retail buyers and apparel vendors aimed to entice shoppers with strong color statements and new silhouettes.

Avoiding making risky investments, the majority of retailers scouting brands at WWDMAGIC, ENK Vegas, Capsule, Stitch, Pool, Liberty and the other expos weren’t thinking beyond holiday. Tess Labeth, owner of the boutique Savoir-Faire in Fayetteville, Ark., concentrated on September, October and November deliveries. “We are in fall mode,” she said, adding that her customers “buy for now.”

Neal Click, international sales manager for Laundry by Shelli Segal, said, “Right now, people are looking for immediates. They did go ahead and pick up resort. They are not ready for spring yet. People are buying closer to season and chasing the business.”

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Price remained a big issue. The delicate balance of offering fashion at a price was in stark display — if not in extreme examples — at the Las Vegas trade shows. On one end, the trends needed to be up-to-the-minute fresh and bargain-priced to compete with fast-fashion retailers. On the other, designers could pile on the details and treatments, especially on denim, to lure consumers to crack open their wallets for special pieces that topped $300 and even $400 at retail.

“The price is very important,” said Jack Hara, president of New York-based junior brand Yoki, which wholesaled end-of-season metallic polyurethane jackets for $8 apiece.

Some designers honed their pricing strategy to allow big mark-ups for retailers. Chip Foster, cofounder of denim brand Chip & Pepper, set the wholesale prices for his namesake denim label launching this fall at between $55 and $60 so that store owners can make a healthy profit that’s two-and-a-half to three times the cost.

Annabelle Lee, designer of junior brand See You Monday in Los Angeles, reduced some of her profit margins in order to keep her made-in-USA line wholesaling between $5 and $48. “You have to be more reasonable than ever [with pricing],” she said. “If I make something special, bold and edgy and I keep [the price] reasonable, why wouldn’t you buy it?”

Despite worries about consumer appetites for purchases, emerging brands reported they got a fair shake. Tanisha Brown, director of sales and operations at Atlanta-based Sylvia Mollie, which presented 14 pieces priced from $38 to $90 in the Launchpad area of WWDMAGIC, said, “A lot of the boutiques are entertaining it. They are very open. They like the sleekness and edginess of the designs.”

While the junior and young contemporary brands were immersed in Nineties grunge, shrouded in slouchy open-knit sweaters, plaid and anarchical motifs such as studs and torn fabrics, the denim labels harked back to the Seventies with flared legs and soft blue dyes. Prints stayed on the scene, and photorealistic images caught the attention of buyers. While novel patterns gave new life to leggings, jeans got baggy. Sweatpants transformed into luxe sport thanks to soft fabrics such as silk and sheer panels exposing the thighs and knees. Black and white proved a popular pairing for the palette.

Randi Siegal, owner of Rapunzel’s Closet in Palm Beach, Fla., gravitated to the sweatpants offerings. “This new sweatpant is dressy. You can wear it out. I think this is a new thing that people are going to want in their wardrobes. It is a great new body,” she said. Discussing the trends overall, she elaborated, “The colors are strong. It is not so glitzy and over-the-top. I think the clothes that we have been seeing are a little bit more conservative, but more fitted, which is great.”

Certainly, the relentless turnover of trends posed the biggest challenge for designers.

“It’s going so fast,” said Tiffany Ferguson, designer of Los Angeles junior brand Ci Sono. “I feel like it’s changing every day.”


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