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The message was clear from retailers who completed intimates orders for spring merchandise in mid-September — nothing too fancy or expensive.
Vendors said the best-selling ideas were key items and categories with a track record at retail, basics with a fashion twist, commodity goods and replenishable programs.
Although manufacturers said merchants continue to be cautious with open-to-buy budgets dedicated primarily to basic sleepwear, robes, daywear, underwear and everyday bras, they noted there was still room for a little indulgence in the fashion arena. But whether it was basics or fashion, price was the motivating factor, with value-enhanced features such as three pair of fashion undies for $24 or $27, compared with $30 or $32 a year ago, or bras formerly priced at $60 or more that are selling at what vendors call the magic price point of $48.
Top-booking items include:
• Dual-purpose tunics and drawstring pants in bright colors with minimal embroidery or specialty treatments.
• T-shirt bras that have a hint of lace at the center or along the wings, allover lace bras, styles with printed lace trompe l’oeil affects and bras with lace cups silhouetted against a contrasting ground.
• Basic and novelty panty table programs.
• White undergarments, especially lace.
• Soft, comfy fabrics such as Modal blends and an abundance of cotton, from knits to lightweight cotton lawn.
• Updated characters like Donald Duck and Tinkerbell on young, contemporary sleepwear.
Describing the demand for value and less expensive prices, Michael Herman, senior vice president of sales, merchandising and production at Natori Co., said, “All retailers, vendors and shoppers are more price conscious than ever today. Price plays an important part of the equation, but is not always the most determining factor of why an item is purchased. Even though shoppers are flipping tickets more than ever, they are purchasing if the item is right. More importantly, all are looking for compelling items with a strong price-value relationship. Just cheaper is not the answer.”
Regarding the outlook for spring business, Herman said, “While business continues to be challenging, the overall mood in the market was more positive, with a proactive roll-up-your-sleeves attitude. The dramatic business slide seems to have leveled out for the time being, but it has not gotten better overall if you are comparing it to business pre-September 2008. When discussing the outlook going forward [with retailers], it will all depend on what past realistic base line you are comparing it to.”
As for what enticed retailers to buy, Herman said, “Fresh, vibrant prints and fashion colors were very important. Customers are purchasing what excites them. They also responded well to the focused collections with strong point of view. The goal is the customers in the stores should get it and want it right when they walk in.”
Addressing the mood of buyers, Jon E. Lewis, president of the D2 Brands division of Delta Galil, said, “New product definitely had to have a strong value proposition, a perceived price value for the consumer and the design had to be something unique to their assortment. We feel that retailers are still willing to test new brands and assortments, but initial placements will be even more conservative, with potential rollouts to be earned with proven performance at retail.”
Lewis said top-booking items in the licensed Tommy Hilfiger intimates brand included panty table styles with a focus on spandex blends with seamless nylon and cotton in signature red, white and blue in a variety of dots, plaids and stripes, with individual styles retailing for $9 and three pair for $24. The spring launch of the licensed Lucky Lounge brand at D2 Brands produced three groups: Vintage Americana, Flower Child and Henna Goddess.
“A strong basic offering will support these fashion deliveries,” Lewis said.
Seth Morris, president of the Carole Hochman Design Group, said several ideas were successful.
“The more color the better, and there was a trend toward a more feminine cycle in detailing and silhouettes,” Morris said. “There also was a strong trend in the gown business toward longer lengths. Special occasion looks across all brand profiles continues to be a very strong category. But the beginning and end of every story ultimately for everyone is about delivering compelling product and design that matches up appropriately to its perceived value.”
Gwen Widell, executive vice president of merchandising at Wacoal America, said there were a number of top items in both the Wacoal and b.tempted lines that had “pretty elastics, bows and bra straps.”
“One of the best drivers for us was a group called Embrace Lace by Wacoal, which is our number-three best-selling bra, and the color white, which was very important,” Widell said. “White represents back to basics in troubled times, and it now looks fresh and new. Shapewear continues to evolve for us, with items like a white waist cincher and a strapless bra.”
Bob Vitale, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Wacoal America, said, “Another best-booking big idea are our value-conscious Wacoal bras retailing at $48. We’ve added three new styles that go up to a G cup: Basic Beauty and Perfect Form, which both have straps closer together at the back for comfort, and a minimizer that goes up to a DDD cup.”
Kay-Lin Richardson, sales director of Panache North America, said the number-one booking bra was Porcelain Lace, a “replenishable fashion basic.”
“It’s a T-shirt bra with a lace center and wings,” Richardson said. “It’s an extension of our best-selling Porcelain T-Shirt Bra, a signature line that has a familiar fit and a little embellishment with a different color and a little different styling. Ninety percent or 300 of our specialty stores picked it up. The full-figure bra retails for $62 and is cup-sized 30D to 38G. Top colors are blush and black.”
Sleepwear designer Eileen West said a best-booking group for spring of 100 percent cotton lawn is called Sheer Satin Stripe.
“We offered this fabric in different styles in previous markets and has sold very well at retail and continues to have a tremendous response at market,” West said.
The size range is XS to XL. Suggested retail for sleep gowns average around $66. Shipments begin in April.
“Our buyers love this woven fabric; it is a somewhat sheer stripe, very lightweight with a lovely drape,” she said. “We use yards of fabric creating a very romantic silhouette.”
Pamela Broder, a former retailer who cofounded the Snug camisole brand with Adrienne Katke, said the camis have been top sellers because “one size fits all, and they come in a rainbow of 50 colors.” The nylon and spandex camis retail for $36. Top colors are black, white, ivory, mocha, espresso, charcoal, suntan and nude.
“Over 33 percent of our entire business at our [apparel and accessories] store was on that item alone,” Broder said. “We did a national launch of the camis at the end of January and sales began exploding. We currently sell to 150 stores, including Bloomingdale’s and Intimacy, as well as fitness supply stores, and several on-line businesses including our Web site, snugcamisoles.com.”
The line will be expanded this year with leggings, two seamless bras and one seamless bandeau, she said.
Jennie Horn, designer of the Second Base camisoles launched in May, said plus-size demi camis have been best-selling items. Retailing for $29, the top color is red. More than 1,600 units have been sold.
“People ordering sizes medium to XL were also ordering 1X, as well,” Horn said. “I think the Brittany style, a classic cropped cami with adjustable straps that is fitted with an elastic bottom to keep it in place, is a bestselling item because you can repurpose it. There are so many dresses you can’t wear to work, but this cami gives coverage and you can wear that dress to work.”