By  on March 17, 2010

Fast fashion is on the rise at the Dallas Market Center.

The number of young contemporary exhibitors has doubled in the past year, according to Robbin Wells, executive vice president of leasing.

The category is expected to be one of the hottest at the upcoming apparel show, March 25 to 28, which also features virtually every category of women’s and men’s fashion plus Western wear. It also coincides with the Total Home & Gift show to spur crossover buying among softand hard goods stores at the sprawling wholesale complex.

About 200 young contemporary booths showing nearly 1,000 lines will exhibit at Temporaries on 12 during the four-day market, Wells noted. Hundreds more can be found in permanent fashion showrooms on the 15th floor.

“This area continues to grow show over show,” she said. “It seems to have become a real staple in the balance of price points in the stores.”

Young contemporary is generally defined as trendy, item-driven fashion that targets teens to thirtysomethings and retails around $100 or less, though many stores seek wholesale prices from $15 to $35, sales representatives said. Key fall trends include oversize sweaters, jean leggings or “jeggings,” boyfriend shirts and jackets with military details and zippers.

Showroom owner Rick Drysdale was ahead of the curve when he focused exclusively on this category eight years ago. His business today is up “significantly” from last year, largely due to Miss Me’s popular denim division plus growing demand for lower prices, he said.

“What it shows me is if you have the right product, right now you are doing business,” said Drysdale, who shows 13 labels including Free People. “We offer tremendous value for the dollar but we are not the cheapest, nor do we want to be. Now the better stores have come along wanting my product.”

Young contemporary resources enable specialty stores to compete with the likes of Forever 21 and H&M while offering better quality and longevity, Drysdale asserted.

Some contemporary brands are spinning off lower-priced divisions.

Jamie Garrott, owner of Colletta showroom, began to home in on young contemporary about 18 months ago.

“We’re still working with the same stores, but our customers started looking for margin builders,” Garrott explained. “Also, some of the young contemporary lines that were showing on 12 realized they need to move up [to 15] for better branding.”

While she still sells true contemporary labels like Voom, about 60 percent of Colletta’s showroom now wholesales under about $70, led by lines like VaVa by Voom, C. Luce and Glam. Garrott picked up another junior contemporary label for this show, called Freeway, that specializes in novelty tops and dresses with a vintage, girly look wholesaling around $25 to $35.

“Everybody is looking for better price points right now,” said David Rhea, owner of Indigo Agency. “In the last year, the average wholesale price of all the products in my showroom has probably dropped by 40 percent. We’ve consciously gone after more competitive price points that offer better margins for retailers.”

He’ll add another option to the mix next week with Rock by Rock Revival, a lower-priced spin-off that features dark, skinny jeans retailing for $120 compared with $150-plus in Rock Revival’s signature line. Rhea will also introduce a boyfriend shirt line called J.A.K. that wholesales around $25 to $35.

“It’s trendy to be frugal,” Rhea said. “It’s certainly smarter for consumers.”

While the market continues to be challenging, reps see potential in the upcoming show.

“I think business is getting better, no question — way better than two years ago when the market started to implode,” said Brad Ritz, owner of Ritz Group, which specializes in contemporary and bridge.

“We’ve been making calls, and a lot of people are coming I think the market ought to be pretty good,” Garrott observed. “Retailers are a little bit more optimistic.”

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