By and  on February 17, 2011

LAS VEGAS — “I don’t know if you’ve heard this or not, but prices are going up,” grinned Doug Ewert, president of The Men’s Wearhouse Inc.

The rising cost of raw materials — cotton pushing $2 a pound, oil and leather prices going up along with labor and shipping — was the primary topic of conversation among retailers and manufacturers at MAGIC, Project and the other trade shows here this week.

Eric Beder, managing director of equity research at Brean Murray, Carret & Co., wrote in a research note that wholesale price hikes for fall could be as much as 25 percent above last year, “the first substantial increase in clothing and footwear prices in over a decade.”

The increases were across the board and unavoidable, giving many retailers pause as they ponder how consumers will respond to the hikes. “It’s the real world,” said Ronny Wurtzburger, president of Peerless International. “Anybody who tries to hold prices won’t be here a year from now.”

As a result, retailers had no choice but to accept the inevitable and scoured the aisles at the trade shows throughout town to find the most appealing items to soften the impact. Outerwear with lots of bells and whistles, nondenim bottoms, chunky sweaters, knit shirts, slim suits and dress shirts were among the pieces they hope will be the solution. In denim, vintage washes were making a comeback over the clean looks that have been popular the past few seasons. In tops, vendors were moving beyond heritage looks like plaid and into trends such as checks and prints.

“We’re looking to lock in at the current prices because cotton costs are through the roof,” said Scott Collins, general merchandise manager for Downtown Locker Room.

“At least the cotton issues are consistent,” said Jonathan Greller, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s for Lord & Taylor. “Everything is up.”

Despite the price concerns, the mood among stores was decidedly upbeat at the shows, which included ENK Vegas, MRket, Capsule and the Off-Price Specialist. Men’s wear sales have been consistently strong for several months, as consumers have become weary of holding back and seek out new fashion looks to update their wardrobes.

MAGIC

SHOW MOOD:
The continued strengthening of sales boosted the spirits of department and specialty stores shopping the show at Mandalay Bay. From the more sedate mood of the Menswear section to the rollicking pulse of the Streetwear and new Ride Unltd. areas, traffic and attitude were noticeably improved this season.

MAGIC International president Chris DeMoulin said pre-registration of new stores was up 30 percent and there was “a lot of dynamic energy,” indicating an improved attitude among merchants. Collins of Downtown Locker Room said business is “tremendous” and he’s investing in brands that are performing right now such as Levi’s, LRG, Parish, Rolling Papers, Adidas and Rocawear. “We think it will be an excellent year,” he added. “The consumer is shifting into a mode where he’s looking for something he doesn’t have in his wardrobe. So new and fresh items are going to sell very fast.”

L&T’s Greller agrees. “We’re keeping our foot on the pedal,” he said, noting men’s sales are still up in the double digits through February. “We’re layering in different price points and looking for new brands in knits, Ts and outerwear.”

TRENDS: Both Rusty and True Love & False Idols showcased washable earphone technology that was attached to apparel for easy plug-and-play of iPods — even while surfing or stand-up paddling in the ocean. (Both brands are produced by La Jolla.) “Our goal is to have everything wired,” said Casey Fleming, director of sales and marketing at Rusty, which incorporated the technology into rash guards, Neoprene jackets, snowboarding jackets, fleece hoodies and backpacks — at retail prices ranging from about $49.50 to $180.

And how safe is skating or surfing while blasting The Offspring into your ears? “Go to any skate park and the majority of skaters are listening to music,” pointed out Fleming.

Surf brand O’Neill emphasized stretch in both its surf and walk shorts, with appealing prints like beer or cocktail motifs on some designs. “Our hybrid group of boardshorts that look like a casual walk short is one of our fastest growing categories,” said Shawn Peterson, senior design director at the brand. “You can surf in it and then go to dinner.”

One thing not in the line was lots of flannel shirts. “They seem to be dying because they’ve become so commoditized,” noted Peterson, highlighting nylon windbreakers that looked like chambray, slim-fit chinos and fleece jackets.

BEST IN SHOW: The new Ride Unltd. skate section of MAGIC was a high energy — and noisy — showcase for brands like L-R-G, DGK, HUF, The Hundreds, Obey, Analog and Gravis. A 2,500-square-foot street course packed with skaters outdoing each other with ollies and kickflips served as a backdrop for buyers shopping the show.

“It’s cool that MAGIC is embracing this market. We can do business here but it’s a little free-form and exciting for retailers,” said Seamus Deegan, brand manager at Zoo York, which had one of its skaters, Eli Reed, performing on the skate course.

The brand, which is owned by Marc Ecko and Iconix Brand Group Inc., showed new licensed sunglasses at the show, which included Eighties fold-up styles that retail for $25. In apparel, wovens featured more texture, shoestring pulls adorned hoodies and magnetic snaps closed pockets.

“It’s the details that bring everything together,” said Deegan.

In the Menswear section, Haggar moved outside its comfort zone with the introduction of a new collection, Life Khaki, for fall. The younger, more-updated assortment of bottoms included five styles and three fits of cotton-blend casual slacks that will retail for $36.99 and include complementary in-store graphics. The Texas-based brand also unveiled its Haggar Heritage collection, a new line that will be exclusive to Macy’s for fall. Available in both casual and dress styles, the line of cottons, cords, twills, flannels and solid wools feature a variety of fits and a slew of details to separate them from the pack. Retail prices will be $39.99 to $49.99.

On the outerwear front, Weatherproof had good success with its ultratech “Obama jacket” as well as microfiber and microsuede bombers and slightly longer versions. Fake wool jackets and the 32 Degrees collection of technical outerwear were also popular.

Dockers showed its Alpha Khaki collection that morphed a dress pant with denim construction to appeal to the guy who is seeking a comfortable fit with a dressier look. Dakota Grizzly offered a more reasonably priced alternative for retailers seeking authentic Americana styling. Originally targeted to outdoors stores, the brand is now branching out to more contemporary retailers with snap-front Western shirts, heavy flannels and vibrant plaid wovens.

In streetwear, Rocawear showcased a collaboration with the Peanuts cartoon, with characters on T-shirts that were emblazoned with corresponding Jay-Z lyrics, such as Linus and “Brush your shoulder off,” or Snoopy with “Forever young.” A varsity program featured leathers, fleece and rugby styles, while asymmetric zippers on the neckline of a hoodie, leather pullstrings on Windbreakers and leather American flag patches on baseball caps injected fashion elements to the line.

“In denim our regular fit has been the bestseller, it’s not the baggy fit that some people still associate with the brand,” said Tanya Bryson, national sales director, pointing out a basic jeans program that retails for $58. “We’ve really held the line on price as other brands go up,” she noted.

At Akoo, the line backed by hip-hop star T.I., denim was priced at $72 to $125, with crossed riding crops emblazoned on back pockets. Suede flaps embellished other denim pockets, while preppy themes like gingham were used for tops.

SHOW BUZZ: The finals of the Maloof High Ollie Challenge, a new pro-am skateboard competition, on the trade show floor drew a crowd to the new Ride Unltd. action sports area.

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