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Swine Flu Throws Curveball to May Market

The innerwear market is coping with a public health scare as well as the recession.

May market is shadowed by rising concerns among innerwear executives about the swine flu outbreak, which has many vendors on edge.

Although a number of manufacturers said they foresee few or no cancellations, there is a growing fear that retailers will postpone appointments for the holiday and early spring market as the number of swine flu cases increases around the world.

At press time, two vendors said they had cancellations, and many vendors said privately they were apprehensive about further withdrawals.

Along with the public health worries, there is the impact of the recession to deal with, as well as the absence of  major stores such as the liquidated Mervyns and Goody’s. However, the market is anticipated to be active.

Guido Campello, vice president of marketing and innovation at Miami-based Cosabella, said retail chain Lane Crawford of Hong Kong and Saks Fifth Avenue in Mexico scratched their appointments on Wednesday. Campello said he would travel to Hong Kong and Mexico to see his clients.

“This won’t stop me from traveling,” he said. “I’ve traveled through the bird flu, the Anthrax scare, and been through 9/11. If we don’t work, we all fall down. But so far, we have the majority of our appointments booked, and we see it as being a busy market. I think retailers have cleaned out their stocks and will start to reorder.”

Asked what her plans were for conducting business at Saks Fifth Avenue in Mexico City, Mariana del Alto Alvarez de la Cuadra, associate buyer of intimates, said, “I am hoping to receive line sheets, and some vendors are offering to send samples so I can see the garments. We’ll be focusing on restocking bestsellers because of our sales projections, which have decreased by at least 50 percent due to the epidemic and the economic crisis. Stores and shopping malls are still open, and people are actually buying because they don’t have anything else to do. But we are preparing for the worst.”

Gale Epstein, co-owner and creative director for Hanky Panky, said, “We haven’t heard of any retail cancellations yet, but a couple of suppliers from the West Coast have canceled their trips to New York. If the situation worsens, we will be working more with regional reps and teleconferencing with major stores.”

Bob Nolan, president of Jockey International’s North America wholesale and licensing operations, said Jockey has not discussed contingency plans because the company previews new collections in advance.

“We preview a lot with the big stores,” Nolan said. “By the time product gets to market, we want to have it all buttoned up. If we didn’t have a market, we would have a team of people go out to see a Macy’s or a Penney’s. But we expect it will be a busy market, and we have all of our spring 2010 products.”

James Martino, chief executive officer of Denton, Tex.-based Russell-Newman, said, “Most of the major stores will be coming in, but let’s realize that we are talking about less stores because of closures of some stores, downsizing divisions à la Macy’s. We will watch for the progression of this [swine flu] situation. No retailers have canceled appointments yet. Any type of a health risk is a concern, but we are expecting most of the retailers to be at market. If the retailers do end up canceling, we will then have to get our product offerings to them in the most efficient manner.”    

Bob Vitale, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Wacoal America, noted, “We’re tracking this issue closely, especially since we’re in New York. Our biggest concern is if it would affect our distribution facility in New Jersey. I don’t think things will change dramatically in the next few days, but if there is a major outbreak, how would it affect our ability to ship orders?”

Michael Herman, senior vice president of sales, merchandising and production at Natori Co., said it was too early to know how the market will play out.

“This is not a major sleepwear market for us, mainly bras for spring,” he said. “It will be a smaller market in part because there will be no trade shows, and because of the economy with people cutting back on travel costs. But I’ve got to believe there’s some concern over the swine flu. Whatever happens we’ll do what’s in the best interest of our employees and retailers. We’ll use phones, Fed Ex, faxes, video conferencing.”

Addressing how the Komar Co. would conduct market week business if the situation worsens, Greg Holland, president of the licensed Donna Karan sleepwear collection and executive vice president of sales at the firm, said, “We would continue to travel. Video conferencing is good but not as good as face-to-face meetings.”

Marcia Leeds, ceo of Richard Leeds International, disagreed over traveling during an epidemic.“If there is a danger in traveling and our accounts cannot come in, I’m sure they will understand if we cannot travel to them,” she said.

Seth Morris, president of The Carole Hochman Design Group said, “I think it will be a normal, busy market for us. Only Dillard’s is not coming in, and we plan to go to Little Rock the week after to work with them. The mood remains cautious with an emphasis on controlling inventories and managing risk by retailer and supplier alike. The consumer is still buying, but is more value driven than ever and needs compelling reasons to spend.”

Asked if he was concerned about a pandemic affecting market week, Victor Lee, president of Viceroy Collections, which distributes Myla and Shock Absorber, would only say, “Not yet.”