By  on February 12, 2008

WSD companies see proper pricing and a heavy helping of prints as the keys to a successful season.

In this iffy economy, some women's sportswear companies are counting on two factors to give them an edge this fall — prints and price.

"Prints are very exciting," said Stephen Hakakian, vice president of the New York-based knitwear company Cyrus, "and they're happening on everything."

Cyrus, for example, will for the first time introduce 100 percent cashmere sweaters depicting a bold floral print, an animal print or an optical print.

"This is new for us," Hakakian said. Although the company, which plans to produce 400 styles of sweaters and jackets for fall, usually sells out of its prints, it had yet to place them on 100 percent cashmere sweaters.

Prints also will play a key role for Biacci, a New York-based line expected to show 20 to 25 prints in its fall collection at WWDMAGIC.

Those prints, which show up on shirts and jackets, highlight the line's some 35 to 40 groups within its fall collection. And the prints not only coordinate with pieces in their specific groups, but coordinate back to most pieces in the collection, said Avi Rachmani, owner of Biacci. "It takes looking boring out of it," he said.

At UbU Clothing, Joe Leggo, corporate sales manager, said the company is known for its prints and estimates that its fall collection will contain about 35 different prints populating vests, sweaters, shirts and jackets.

"Everyone loves our prints," Leggo said, noting that this season the Pennsylvania-based business is producing its prints in a new way, pleating the fabric and then printing it. In turn, the prints look more abstract and more contemporary, he said.

"Our fall line will definitely hit the contemporary market as well," he said, noting that like Cyrus, UbU also plans to produce printed cashmere-silk blend sweaters for the first time.

To keep things fresh, UbU consistently adds new prints to its line, generally introducing new styles every two weeks. "We are a huge reorder company," said Leggo, adding that the company requires no minimum order from retailers.Whereas the popularity of prints provides manufacturers some optimism going into the season, the companies also predict their prices will lead to more sales as well.

"Our mood is upbeat, excited and raring to go," said Peter Casagrande, sales director for Toronto-based Pure Handknit. "We have high aspirations for fall 2008."

"We are truly riding a wave right now," he said, noting that business is up 45 to 50 percent.

Casagrande credits that boost to the proper pricing of great products.

Pure Handknit's sweaters, sold at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Von Maur, feature a strong color palette of 23 shades including jewel tones, earth tones and winter pastels, as well as special button treatments such as handcarved recycled coconut buttons and shellacked monkey wood buttons, new for fall, he said.

Wholesale price points, meanwhile, average $34 for a hand-knit scarf or wrap to $62 for a hand-knit coat. Sweaters average $47.

Pure Handknits's newer line, Neon Buddha, a collection of yoga-inspired casual clothing, which Casagrande terms "carpool couture" and that includes such pieces as a shawl-collared jacket, pull-on pants and leggings, also has performed well.

The company introduced the line, which is presenting its second fall collection, after listening to customers and noticing a void in the market for casual clothing appropriate for travel, home and possibly work, he said.

Heavier weight cotton and spandex pieces for fall average $43 wholesale, with bottoms averaging $37, outerwear averaging $52 and layering pieces $20.

Hakakian, meanwhile, believes the prices of Cyrus' sweaters, which average $50 wholesale, are also a strong selling point. "We offer a lot of product at not an expensive price," he said.

Cyrus' more than 400 styles range from cable knits and cashmere to cotton, viscose and nylon styles, as well as sweaters trimmed with leather or patent leather or those offering a more feminine look with pointillé around the neckline.

Jackets — some of which include a leather front or leather braids around the neckline — run from $45 to $65 wholesale.

For fall, the company is offering heavier gauge knits in blues, browns, green and orange. "They're fun, bright colors," Hakakian said, "we are going away from pastel and earth tones into more brights."That's good news for the company, which produces some private label products and sells to Nordstrom, Dillard's and numerous specialty stores. "Especially for our customer base, they love color," he said. "It retails much better."

In turn, the company, which in past years has maintained sales with slight increases, is optimistic going into fall, Hakakian said.

Biacci's Rachmani also notes the power of an accessible price point.

"We try to keep our price point low, yet we will never jeopardize quality," he said, adding that the clothing line positions itself as Ann Taylor meets Zara, and targets women ages 30 to 50 who want classics with an edge.

For shirts, its wholesale prices run from $19 to $45, with pants running $42 to $55 and dress running from $58 to $78. Jackets wholesale from $58 to $78, skirts wholesale from $36 to $55 and knits wholesale from $19 to $29.

For fall, the line will present pieces in wool, silk and rayon blends with an emphasis on its best-selling jackets.

"We're known for our prints and novelty fabrics for jackets," Rachmani said, noting that jacket styles will come in hunter green, eggplant, heather gray, off white and dark pumpkin shades.

Rachmani expects a strong fall season given that jackets are its bestsellers and it is starting to branch out into South America.

Jackets also are UbU's bestsellers, coming in a variety of poly satin, microsuede and fake fur, with an overall emphasis on its travel potential, said UbU's Leggo. Many jackets and vests are reversible, wrinkle-free and can be shoved in a tote bag and pulled out and worn, an important selling point for women on the go, he said.

Predicting sales growth of 15 to 20 percent in 2008, Leggo is excited to introduce his fall collection at WWDMAGIC. "This is the first time we've done MAGIC," he said. "I can't wait."

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