LAS VEGAS — Price check.
This story first appeared in the August 29, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
As retailers seek every edge they can get to beat the struggling economy and the competition, unique merchandise is increasingly important — as long as the price is right for consumers. Retailers attending the string of trade shows here last week — which included WWDMAGIC, Project, Pool and ENK Vegas — praised brands for adjusting to the new reality.
When Suburban Soul’s outpost in the blue-collar town of Enumclaw, Wash., closed recently, its former employee Bridget Peterson, who worked at Gap and Nordstrom as well over a 15-year retail career, learned her lesson: She’d have to bring in cheaper merchandise if her new venture, Bridget’s Boutique, was to thrive. So she turned to brands like Miss Me and Vigoss that offer plenty under $100 at retail — and the formula has worked so far. “I’ve been open for a month and did $20,000 last month,” she said. Asked about the holiday season, she added, “I think it will be good. [The store’s selection] is priced to move.”
Donna Lee, assistant to the owner of Raggs Boutique in Chicago, noticed customers are shopping, but not for just anything. “You want something nice and comfortable, but you want something affordable. If my cost is $100, they are not willing to pay $200 or $300 for a simple dress. For a shift dress, if we charge $40 to $50 at retail, we are fine,” she said. “We are finding things in that [range.]”
Perhaps partly because of the availability of reasonably priced goods and partly because the worst of the recession is hopefully in the rearview mirror, buyers walking around WWDMAGIC at the Las Vegas Convention Center and the other trade shows seemed slightly more positive about their outlooks and were convinced they had a pretty good grasp on consumers’ shopping habits. Barbara Hays, a manager and buyer at Junkman’s Daughter in Atlanta, said, “We are doing a little better this year. Maybe we are taking a few less chances and being more conservative. Our customer is more conservative now.”
Kathi Huntington, owner of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based CedarCrate.com, was searching for clothes and accessories for children and mothers to go into a brick-and-mortar extension of her growing e-commerce business that she’s planning to open in the suburbs of Minneapolis. “In our area, the boutiques are making it. They are not going out of business,” she said. “They are high-end retailers, over $200 [at retail] for the most part. People are shopping at them. In the last two-and-a-half years, retail space is full [on the streets.]”
If there is going to be a hiccup at retail, store owners suggested it could come from the upcoming election. Sylvia Anderson, owner of Pink stores in Boise, Idaho, and Claremont, Calif., said, “Every election year, everybody holds onto their money because they want to know what direction the country is going in.” While she might have sought out dresses from $75 to $125 five years ago, Anderson said she’s homing in on dresses from $38 to $42 to suit the current climate. Overall, she said, shoppers are “looking for a bargain.…I try to offer a good product at a really good price so they feel good about purchasing something.”
At the Las Vegas shows, a change in the opening day schedules — Project and Pool started on Aug. 20, and WWDMAGIC, which usually starts on the same day, began the day after — added a wrinkle that could impact what stores carry. “It was interesting to walk Project first to see those very aggressive and forward lines and what is emerging, so that when we got back to some of the arenas we do play in we had a little different point of view,” said Karen Delaney, who buys for 20 of Apricot Lane’s 74 stores.
For example, she specified that she’d be testing more subtle neon pieces than she would have otherwise. “It made us catch some of those trends on the front side rather than chase them in the season,” she said. “I know that I made some decisions differently.”
Women’s fashion brands carried prints and color into another season, albeit with adjustments to keep the trend fresh. A growing number of designers embraced technology by offering patterns that were transferred digitally onto fabric via high-end printers. The palette took a softer turn with shades that evoked sherbet, but pops of color were also evident in vivid hues of blue and green. While denim designers borrowed liberally from the color spectrum used in sportswear, they also returned to the authentic ruggedness of blue jeans.
Los Angeles’ Lovemarks discovered that retailers were willing to shell out 10 to 20 percent more for the opportunity to be ahead of what’s on the market. “All of our customers want to see the latest,” said Lovemarks co-owner Sam Paik, who fared well with a blazer emblazoned with a green floral digital print ($35 at wholesale).
In the contemporary field at WWDMAGIC, vendors realized that buyers weren’t so price-conscious as long as the clothing made a statement.
Canada’s Moon Apparel gave a new spin to lace in organza eyelet cut into below-the-knee pencil skirts whose lining stopped a bit shorter for a peekaboo effect. Los Angeles’ Karen Kane gentrified motorcycle jackets and vests in black-and white-striped ponte and blue ikat for $110 and $98 at wholesale, respectively. Andrew Marc from New York stood out with a $79 cobalt blue eyelet dress that revealed a contrast lining. Xinnatex, a first-time exhibitor from New York, received a positive response for its open-front asymmetric jacket, blending tan polyester wool with black leather cutouts at the wrist ($185 wholesale). Max and Cleo, of Vernon, Calif., melded different trends into one dress so that the piece could speak for itself. One style that did well was a fuchsia sleeveless number that integrated both lace and pleating for $87 wholesale.
In WWDMAGIC’s juniors section, the proliferation of Los Angeles-based vendors that specialize in trendy pieces and quick turnarounds has caused a number of brands to rethink their positioning in order to corner a niche in the market. At Esley Collection, senior account executive Eunice Kim said a new designer, Janice Kim, was brought in to help it appeal to a younger audience and pointed to studded collars and back slits in tops as elements Kim has added to the line. Kim attributed Esley’s 20 to 30 percent growth this year to the change. “The look is younger and more fun. In the past, we had been known for conservative designs,” she said.
Very J has revamped its offering to become more simple and sophisticated, according to Isabell Kim, who handles sales and public relations for the brand. Very J’s top seller was $16.75 scalloped shorts in fake leather, although an $18.75 tunic with stud accents and cutouts in the collar and a $22.75 wrap dress with studs on the cuffs were also well received. At Ina, designer Elly Sung was focused on catching the trends as they hit. “Sequins are doing well on crop tops to fitted dresses to hot pants,” she said, singling out a sequin crop top for $16.75.
Juniors brands also tried to catch retailers’ eyes with new fits. Denice Wright, head merchandiser of Boom Boom Jeans, said a curvy fit launched in the beginning of the year has really taken off, so the company decided to spread the fit further across its repertoire by introducing it in colored styles. At YMI Jeans, executive sales assistant Naomi Rodriguez said Wanna Betta Butt jeans styles, which are priced at $16 and meant to lift and shift with contour seams on the behind, were “doing great.” Umgee USA launched a contemporary plus-size line with 70 styles that general manager Stan Park estimated could be as much as 15 to 20 percent of the Los Angeles-based company’s sales at the end of this year. “There’s a huge market,” he said.
At the International Swimwear/Activewear Market (ISAM) section of the show, buyers headed to California-based companies like Manhattan Beachwear and RAJ Manufacturing for printed bikinis and one-piece suits in a range of price points. Boosting traffic were regular runway shows that featured trends such as polka dots, colorblocking and black-and-white graphic prints. New to the show were several vendors such as Beach Bash, Beauty & the Beach and Girl Howdy that specialize in retro-style bikinis, one-pieces and playsuits.
In the Accessories section, key trends included envelope clutches, studded handbags, neon belts and mixed material statement necklaces. Booths offering pieces in the $9 to $20 wholesale range were the most crowded, be it for delicate wire and stone jewelry, scarves or hats.
NEXT: Specifics on the Shows >>
PROJECT AND WORKROOM
Mood: Starting a day earlier than WWDMAGIC on Aug. 20 helped rev up activity on the show floor at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, where exhibitors sensed optimism among retailers who sought special items. In a fusion of Project’s denim legacy with its heightened interest in women’s contemporary fashion and accessories, the complimentary show bag made by AG Adriano Goldschmied included a $20 credit for JewelMint, the subscription-based jewelry Web site cofounded by actress Kate Bosworth and stylist-turned-AG collaborator Cher Coulter.
Key Trends: Several denim brands returned to their indigo roots. Turning to the late Eighties and early Nineties for inspiration, AG offered a distressed style in every fit. Paper Denim & Cloth marked its return to the denim market for spring 2013 sans a single print, opting to cleanse the palette with baby blue and tan or varying shades of indigo. Joe’s Jeans loosened up the silhouette with 13 new slouchy bodies while simplifying the number of colors from 55 to 23, mostly in faded hues. Levi’s Made & Crafted interpreted indigo in collarless leather moto jackets and chambray tanks embroidered with horses on the shoulders.
Ever so popular in sportswear, prints evolved with the help of technology, namely digital printers and photo-realism, and artistic collaborations. Surf brand Insight noticed an uptick in demand for T-shirts featuring graphic prints and attention-grabbing slogans (“You will love” as penned by artist Niky Roehreke, for example). Anzevino augmented otherwise plain crewneck Ts, racer-back tanks and tank dresses with a meat print designed by Franc Fernandez, the artist who designed Lady Gaga’s infamous raw meat dress. “You’ve got to take it to the next level or you get left behind,” said William Anzevino.
Show Buzz: The buyers shopping the floor demanded near-immediate gratification. While many vendors highlighted spring collections, Seven For All Mankind and Jet by John Eshaya opted to unveil their spring lineup at Fashion Coterie, which kicks off Sept. 19 in New York. “It’s not 2005,” said John Eshaya, who showed deliveries for September through November for his casual sportswear and denim line. “People are hanging on to their money. They’re seeing how they did this month and then buying for the next month.”
Best in Show: Portugal’s Katty Xiomara designed a playful collection that included an $83.33 cropped vest in cream pintucked silk with contrasting green cotton buttons and $187.49 blue-and-white checker dress accentuated with a tan rope tie and detachable collar. True Religion Brand Jeans pushed the envelope for novelty finishes with a crackle screen print on stretch baby corduroy skinny jeans that are expected to retail for upwards of $250. London-based MiH Jeans merged the trends for leather and denim with a patchwork collarless jacket and matching shorts, wholesaling for $1,056 and $350, respectively. For leather-and-denim lovers on a budget, BCBGeneration covered the thighs and legs of light blue skinny jeans with fake white leather panels at a wholesale price of $63. Courtshop opened the back of $68 cropped jean jackets with lattice detailing. “It’s a way to do something special with jeans without prints and color,” said Courtshop designer Nicole Tondre.
NEXT: ENK Vegas >>
Mood: A steady flow of retailers and editors, including those from far-flung publications such as Tatler Russia, made their way to the Lafite and Latour ballrooms at the Wynn hotel from Aug. 20 to 22. Even a brief blackout from a rare desert thunderstorm that hit Las Vegas on the show’s last day didn’t break the momentum for attendees and exhibitors. Several marquee vendors — J Brand and Current/Elliott, for instance — chose to delay displaying their spring collections until Coterie. Still, the decision to present only resort items at the expo worked with buyers who missed seeing the collections until now and preferred to place orders as late in the season as possible.
Key Trends: The line between sportswear and denim blurred even more. After spearheading J Brand’s ready-to-wear debut this past spring, Donald Oliver assumed the mantle of creative director to oversee both sportswear and jeans at the Los Angeles premium denim company. One motif used to link J Brand’s sportswear to denim was the novel placement of Riri jeweled zippers on jeans. Sherbet shades complemented indigo in denim dyes. Raven Denim treated $94 twill pants in resin with reactive dyes that are baked to create icy colors, and Hudson Jeans applied a sherbet marble swirl on $78 skinny jeans. Equipment added colorblocked panels in mint green, pale yellow and peach to crisp white shirts wholesaling for $85. “People are ready to see more than safe [fashion],” said Tina Yen, national sales agent for Dallas-based Koch, which attracted interest with a $210 pale yellow cotton-cashmere cardigan accentuated with metallic thread splayed into a sunray design on the back. “Store owners are finding that the customers want special. It’s returning to the boutique mind-set.”
Show Buzz: To help retailers who are on a quest for fashion that is made in America, show organizers flagged 30 brands — including 1020 by Nicole and Earnest Sewn — that manufacture domestically in its directory. ENK Vegas welcomed more high-end denim brands. J Brand and Raven Denim returned to the contemporary-centric expo after showing at Project, while Current/Elliott exhibited for the first time and David Bitton launched its spring line of novelty jeans wholesaling from $70 to $100. Accessories saw the premiere of women’s bag lines from Sanctuary and Will Leather Goods. Sanctuary, the North Hollywood, Calif., contemporary fashion brand, is offering, for spring, as many as 20 styles, including hobo bags, clutches and totes, finished in icy pastel colors, bright tropical tints, dip-dyed canvas and fringed leather.
Produced under license by Camuto Group, the bags are estimated to retail between $198 and $398. For the holiday season, Eugene, Ore.-based Will Leather Goods is breaking into the women’s market with 20 vegetable-tan leather bags that mix masculine-feminine aesthetics and retail from $225 to $425.
Best in Show: In its second season, Siwy’s line of tops expanded to include silk charmeuse button-up shirts trimmed with suede on the collar, wrists and shoulder yoke, lace capes and crochet sweatshirts that wholesale from $79 to $155. J Brand spliced the waistband of its $114 deep blue skinny jeans with Riri jeweled zippers and placed leather zip-away hems on $149 overdyed black skinny jeans.
NEXT: Pool >>
Mood: The traffic was sporadic at Pool, but exhibitors remained optimistic about the show serving as a platform to introduce themselves to key accounts across the country and world scouting for upcoming brands.
Key Trends: Eco-consciousness and domestic manufacturing continued to be prominent themes at Pool. Jeweler Tiffany Kunz’s namesake brand uses reclaimed bronze and silver, and vintage chains in pieces made in Los Angeles. Designer Alice Huang, of the Hermosa Beach, Calif.-based brand Mei Vintage, weaved kimono fabrics into a $92 shoulder bag and a $79 clutch with reclaimed leather. Mei Vintage was among almost 40 brands in the budding cash-and-carry section of Pool.
Show Buzz: Although there remains a smattering of ready-to-wear lines, Pool was dedicated largely to T-shirts, jewelry and occasionally absurd novelty items. A standout T-shirt brand was Los Angeles-based Treacherous Minx, which adorned shirts with Sixties- and Seventies-inspired graphics, including designs depicting classic Avon perfume bottles; wholesale prices average $18. In jewelry, F. Is for Frank presented three new collections focusing on arches, dioramas and ropes. The Dallas-based brand’s pieces were priced from $8 to $127. Pool’s novelty items ran the gamut from bright plastic belts by the brand C4 Belts to analog cameras from Lomography.
Best in Show: Pool is a reliable source of trade show newbies. St. Paul-based Jenny Carle Designs made its debut with tops, skirts and dresses updating Forties- and Fifties-era silhouettes. A bestseller for spring was a $56 sleeveless shift dress with a Peter Pan collar. Fallon Frazier broke into the trade show circuit with a collection of predominantly silk pieces in solid colors priced from $59 to $129. Japanese import Loh made its first trip to an American trade show with skirts, pants, jackets, hoodies and tops priced from $44 to $108, most notably a leather and French terry top, and a low-gauge lamé knit sweater.
NEXT: WWIN >>
WOMENSWEAR IN NEVADA (WWIN)
Mood: Buoyant exhibitors reported that WWIN attracted the most buyers in recent memory, especially on the day before WWDMAGIC started.
Key Trends: There was an explosion of prints at WWIN. Montreal-based brand Nueva displayed its take on colorful prints in one-shoulder tank dresses for $66. Another Montreal-based brand, Conrad C, incorporated scarf prints into skirts from $59.50 to $64.50 and floral prints into pants for $44.50. Brands at WWIN also tried to distill trends relevant to other segments of the apparel market. Sherbet colors and metallic detailing, for example, popped up on a $24 tunic from Los Angeles-based Pak International’s brand Hugging Kisses. Conrad C tried out black lace in tops at $49.50 to $59.50.
Show Buzz: WWIN was awash in bright colors. Hallie Shano, director of sales and design for Los Angeles-based Necessitees, said teal was especially popular and, in addition to that color, across many of the brands at WWIN, vivid green, fuchsia and yellow shades were pervasive. In an election year, “Stores want safe. They want happy. They don’t want real dark,” reasoned Shano.
Best in Show: Jana had one of WWIN’s most crowded booths. At the Vancouver-based brand, which started selling in the U.S. almost two years ago and is on track to be in 800 doors in the country by spring, a striped V-neck long dress for $44 and a striped V-neck cardigan for $63 were brisk sellers. “Anything that was novelty people are looking for, whether that be the yarn, the body shape or the detail. They didn’t want something plain that they had seen before,” said Jana vice president of merchandise and sourcing Carol Lenic.
NEXT: AccessoriesTheShow >>
Mood: The show at the Sands Expo featured 386 exhibitors and a 2 percent increase in buyer attendance over last year, according to Britton Jones, president and chief executive officer of show owner Business Journals Inc.
Key Trends: Bib and collar necklaces featuring wood, glass beads and colored stones, exotic print clutches in bright colors, naturalistic gold-tone jewelry featuring hammered and matte finishes and natural stones.
Show Buzz: Buyers were still searching for goods retailing for close to $100, as well as proven bestsellers like leather and woven bracelets and scarves for around $15 wholesale.
Best in Show: Kayu’s raffia- and shell-covered box-shaped clutches ranging from $75 to $200 wholesale, and Lionette’s Peruvian opal and turquoise bib necklaces ranging from $180 to $234 wholesale.
NEXT: Moda Las Vegas >>
MODA LAS VEGAS
Mood: The show featured 342 lines and the same increase in traffic as sister show ATS.
Key Trends: Crochet tops, photo prints, printed maxidresses and printed pants.
Show Buzz: Buyers were snapping up colorful dresses and bottoms in both contemporary-inspired styles and preppy classics such as Tommy Bahama, St. James and Tyler Boe.
Best in Show: A pixilated multicolor coat in a polyester-satin blend by Danish brand MaxJenny for $116 at wholesale, and a Julian Chang tribal print maxidress for $65.
Mood: Nearly 300 vendors gathered at the show at The Venetian resort, which featured lingerie, swimwear, legwear and men’s underwear.
Key Trends: In lingerie, neon bralettes, mesh and black and white lace were prevalent. In swimwear, one-pieces, colorblocking and photo prints sdominated.
Show Buzz: There was an increased swim presence at the show, particularly South American vendors, which made up a quarter of the exhibitors. Colombian brands Saha and Touché were new to the show, as were 30-year-old French swim brand Pain de Sucre and Italian brand Fragolini Pompadour.
Best in Show: Splendid Intimates’ bright mesh and Modal bra and panty sets ($18 to $44 wholesale) and Ella Moss’ summer launch of Under Ella ($30 to $60); Pain de Sucre’s handmade crochet cover-ups ($235).